One To One with: Luke Wilkshire

It’s fair to say that Guus Hiddink knows a thing or two about football. As a manager, Hiddink has achieved more than most and boasts an impressive resume to match. When he took over as Australia manager in 2005, his goal was to qualify for the World Cup the following year, something the Aussies hadn’t managed to do for 32 years. And he did just that. Along the way though, he discovered a gem of a player; someone he would describe as ‘one of the most technically gifted in the squad and a complete and modern player”.

That player was Luke Wilkshire, the no nonsense defensive midfielder whose tough tackling approach and ability to break up the play was viewed as essential to Hiddinks plans. Wilkshires journey from Albion Park, New South Wales to a starting berth at the World Cup is dramatic to say the least. We caught up with him recently to talk about that journey to the World Cup and beyond including his time in Holland which transformed him as a player, his spells in what he calls his second home Russia and the return to Australia and move into management. Enjoy!

Back Of The Net: You began your career at Albion Park, your local club before joining Wollongong Wolves youth team. From there, you moved to the AIS program in Canberra which was responsible for bringing through a lot of Australian talent over the years. What was your reaction when you heard that the Football Federation Australia was closing it down? Do you support Mark Viduka in calling for it to be reinstated?

Luke Wilkshire: I, like Mark and every other player who went through the AIS don’t understand or believe it should have been shut down! It was a massive massive part in preparing me for professional football and definitely should be reinstated.

BOTN: After only a  year at AIS, you moved to England and joined the Middlesbroughs youth team. How did that move come about? Did you have any trepidation about joining?

LW: I had been over before i went to the AIS and Middlesbrough wanted me then however due to visa reasons i couldn’t go until 17 years old. I had no hesitation at all because all i ever wanted was to be a professional footballer and to play in the English Premier League.

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BOTN: When you joined Middlesbrough, fellow Australians Mark Schwarzer and Brad Jones were at the club, and Tony Vidmar joined the following year. Did it help you to settle in to the club with them there already?

LW: Of course, for sure it helped. Brad and i actually lived together the first year and Mark was like the father figure for us there.

BOTN: With the arrival of Juninho, Geremi and George Boateng, competition for places in the midfield meant it was harder for you to establish yourself. Eventually you moved to Bristol City, dropping down a couple of divisions in doing so. What were your emotions at the time about that move and did you feel that you had not been given the chance at ‘Boro to prove yourself?

LW: It was great having that competition and drove you to improve in order to challenge these guys for places. I had my moments and played a few games. However Steve McLaren i felt wasn’t giving me a fair deal. I wanted to play regularly and that was never going to happen with him always resorting to the established players no matter my performance.

BOTN: Those first two season at Bristol appeared to be full of highs and lows – establishing yourself in the first team but missing out on promotion through the play offs.  You also won your first of 80 full caps for Australia after playing at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. How influential were those years on the future direction of your career?

LW: Those were actually my worst three years in football. However it pushed me mentally to another level which definitely helped me going forward in my career.

 

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BOTN: What happened in your final year at Bristol under Gary Johnson? How delighted were you that made the 2006 World Cup squad despite what was happening at the Gate?

LW: He was unhappy because i wouldn’t sign a new contract and as a result he tried to ruin me by not playing me. He even had me on the bench for the reserve team after being a first team regular. Ultimately hard work paid off and Guus (Hiddink) gave me my break (for Australia).

BOTN: Speaking of Gus Hiddink, he picked you for that squad stating “that he admired your flexibility, quality and technique”. How rewarding was it to hear that from your national manager ahead of the tournament? Did you expect to play a major part in it after hearing this?

LW: Of course it’s nice when one of the best coaches in the world has such words for you. I really didn’t expect anything, i just worked and was ready for whatever would come, determined to take any chance that presented itself.

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BOTN: The game against Italy must be a match that people ask you the most about. You were close to progressing to the quarter finals only for it to be snatched away deep into injury time due to a rather dubious penalty. How hard was that game to process after the final whistle had blow? 

LW: I still can’t believe we lost that game… It just felt like a matter of time before we got our goal. I still haven’t watched it back and i have no wish to. Just move forward

BOTN: Your performances at the World Cup earned you a move to FC Twente in Holland where under the advice of manager Fred Rutten you switched from midfield to become an attacking right back.  Was it an easy transition for you to switch positions? Do you feel that it developed new parts of your overall game?

LW: Fred pulled me aside and said for me to go to the next level he felt i could be a top modern day right back. I enjoyed the position as i still loved to go forward.

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BOTN: The move to Russia in 2008 was unexpected especially as no Australian had ever played in that league before. What was it about that challenge that interested you the most? Was it purely to get out of your own comfort zone?

LW: I love a challenge and everyone was telling me not to go including my mother. I’ve never been one to listen to others. I felt the challenge was exciting and rewarding and was the best decision i ever made.

BOTN: How would you describe the differences between the Russian League and the others that you have played in? More physical?

LW: It’s more like the (English) Premier League than Dutch Eredivisie. Fast and physical but also with a lot of quality. There are many top players playing the the Russian Premier League.

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BOTN: You moved back to Holland to play for Fred Rutten again this time at Feyenoord. The move didn’t quite go as planned with injuries hampering your chances there. When you left the club after only one season, did you consider retirement or did you feel that you still had enough to compete?

LW: I wanted to return to Russia when Fred left Feyenoord and i felt i wouldn’t play. I’m not a player who accepts sitting on the bench. I was dreaming of a return Dynamo and eventually i got just that!

BOTN: A move back to Russia with spells at Terek Grozny and Dynamo Moscow followed then eventually you returned to Australia to sign for Sydney FC. Did you always want to finish your career back in Australia? It ended up being a good move as you picked up silverware as Sydney won the league and cup.

LW: I never wanted to and never thought i would. I was retired after Dynamo and when Arnie (Graham Arnold) called about the opportunity, my initial reaction was no. Then my wife convinced me to play another year.

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BOTN: Since retiring, you have made the transition into management with the club you started out at Wollongong Wolves. What lessons have you taken from your career into management? Have you sought advice from any of your former managers?

LW: I have taken everything i have been through and seen. Naturally i draw on those experiences and try to take that into what i am doing now.

BOTN: What is your take on the current pandemic that has shut down football globally. Do you believe that the A League should I restart and finish the season? 

LW: We need to when safe to be back playing. People live for football. They should finish the season, play midweek games and it can be done within a month.

BOTN: How much does the financial uncertainty around the league sponsorship guide that decision in your eyes?

 

LW: Everyone is aware of the financial stress on the game, that needs to be addressed but ultimately players need to be able to play!

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BOTN: Finally some quick questions. You switched from being a tough tackling holding midfielder that broke up the play to an attacking wing back that set up chances for the forwards. That requires a lot of adjustments – tactically, mentally, visually, technically etc. What was the hardest thing for you to overcome with this switch?

LW: Hard to say, I just wanted to play and be on the pitch so adapted to whatever got me in the team.

BOTN: Do you have aspirations to manage abroad or manage your country in the future? 

LW: I dream about managing my former club Dynamo Moscow one day.

BOTN: Which young Australian players do you rate highly and who will be the next big star?

LW: I like Awer Mabil (plays for FC Midtjylland) and think he has an x factor about him.

BOTN: Lastly, do you have any regrets about your playing career? 

LW: None at all.

BOTN: Thanks Luke, pleasure talking to you. 

Follow Luke on his official Instagram account.

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One on One with: Jos Hooiveld

The road to success is never an easy one. It’s a path that many travel, but few reach the end. Many give up along the way when road bumps or blockages stop their path. Others persevere with the belief that one day they will make it. Jos Hooiveld is one such player. Early setbacks and false dawns could have stopped the 6ft 4in Dutch centre half in his tracks, but instead he pushed through. He found success at Finnish side Inter Turku, then in Sweden at AIK winning team and personal accolades. A move to Glasgow Celtic followed and although that didn’t go quite to plan, it would turn out to be a small bump along the way, as his next move to Southampton would eventually turn him into a cult figure. A highly likeable guy off the field, but a solid no nonsense defender on it. We caught up with Jos recently as he starts his latest challenge in Los Angeles with Orange County.

BackOfTheNet: Jos, thanks for sitting down with us.

BackOfTheNet: You were born in a very small village in Holland called Zeijen which is close to Groningen. From there you played for a few youth teams in the neighbouring towns of Assen and Emmen before settling in Heerenveen. What was it like growing up in Holland, and was your family supportive of your dreams to become a footballer?

Jos Hooiveld: They were very supportive. My family is football mad and so is the whole of Holland actually. There was no problem haha!

BOTN: They must have been proud when you represented Holland at under 19 level. How did that feel pulling on the famous Oranje jersey?

JH: Yes, I was really proud of that, unfortunately it was only with the under 19s. But representing your country is something else.

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image from Jos Hooiveld

BOTN: After a few seasons at Heerenveen you made the move to the Austrian Bundesliga with Kapfenberger. That move didn’t quite go to plan. What happened there?

JH: I went there at the wrong time. There was a change of coach and if I’m honest we didn’t have a great connection going there.

BOTN: You eventually escaped to Finland with a move to Inter Turku, which gave you your first taste of success: lifting the Finnish League Cup and Veikkausliiga title as well as securing personal success with back to back Defender of the Year awards. Did you feel that, finally, your efforts were paying off?

JH: Yes, I always refer back to that period on which my career started. Things fell into place there and I set my base for confidence.

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image from Jos Hooiveld

BOTN: Before long, AIK came calling and you helped them to their first title in eleven years, then the cup, giving them their first ever domestic double. That led to a money spinning move to Scotland with Celtic. Talk us through those few years. In your opinion, why did the move to Celtic not pan out as hoped?

JH: When I came to Celtic the season in Sweden was already finished for two months. I came and needed a proper pre-season which I didn’t get. After 3 games in 6 days I got injured and it lasted a good three months before I came back fit. In the beginning of that following season I played my first games without rhythm and without confidence. In a club like Celtic that means move on… haha.

BOTN: Eventually you moved to England with Southampton following a successful loan move, and played under Nigel Adkins, as they secured promotion back to the Premier League. You were part of the squad when Adkins was sacked and replaced on the same day by Mauricio Pochettino. How did the team react on that day? How did you feel about how the club handled that situation?

JH: It’s always a sad day when you as a team can’t keep a good manager and good person in his seat. But his replacement took us to the next level at that moment, so considering that, we didn’t complain about it and moved on. As anyone does in football.

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image from Jos Hooiveld

BOTN: You seemed to have really enjoyed your time at Southampton. What was it about that club that helped you flourish as a player?

JH: We had a squad that was very close and helped each other develop instead of criticizing each other. The coach and the chairman were also very helpful which benefited the team as a whole.

BOTN: Subsequent moves back to AIK then home to Holland with FC Twente followed. Did you feel that you were returning home to Holland having proven something and made a name for yourself?

JH: Well football isn’t really much about names and proven things in my opinion. It’s more taking everything out of it as long as you can. Because life after football is way longer than life inside of football, that name won’t bring you anything then. Football never owes you anything after.

BOTN: So, what’s next for you? We see you have moved to the US with Orange County. What made you move to LA?

JH: A new adventure and to experience the sports culture here.

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image from Jos Hooiveld

BOTN: Finally, some quick hits if we can. Toughest opponent?

JH: (Romelu) Lukaku.

BOTN: Best stadium you played in?

JH: Emirates stadium.

BOTN: Closest friend in football?

JH: I have a few and won’t want to sell anyone short.

BOTN: Thanks again, Jos. and all the best for the rest of the season.

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Remembering Chieck Tiote

I still remember that goal to this day.  As the minutes ticked away towards the end of a thrilling match, Newcastle were awarded an opportunistic free kick on the right hand side. Barton hovered over the ball as Coloccini, Nolan and others jostled for good positions in the Arsenal box with their markers close at hand. The free kick was unsurprisingly tame; floated in speculatively before being headed away with ease. It sat in the air for what seemed like an eternity as Chieck Tiote made moves towards its downward path. Just knock it back into the mix Chieck was what most fans were thinking but the midfielder had other plans. He connected with the ball brilliantly and before Arsenal could react, the ball flew past Szczesny and into the net. 4-4!! What a comeback. Newcastle had pulled off the comeback of all comebacks. From 4-0 down at half time to level the game in such a fashion is why many consider that match one of the best the league has seen. Tiote’s goal was magical like the player himself which makes his death so much harder to take.

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That strike by Tiote (Image from Tumblr)

Newcastle were full of characters and leaders at the time of the game with Nolan and Barton in particular big voices in that changing room. But it was Tiote who grab that match by the scruff of its neck and shook it violently into submission. His battling spirit and crunching tackles made him a firm favourite with the Newcastle faithful who will remember him for all that he contributed to the club during his seven-year stay.

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Tiote arrived in England following an impressive spell in Holland with FC Twente. A fee of £3.5million was been agreed for the player and in August 2010 he pulled on the black and white striped Newcastle jersey. By that point he was already an international player having made his debut for Ivory Coast the year previous. Tiote would play a key role for his country over the next five years as he amassed 52 caps, not an easy thing to do in a star-studded team like that. His career in the north-east of England was just as fruitful with the player a mainstay in the Newcastle side for the majority of his time there. Injury prevented more appearances for the club but it never seemed to bother Cheick who former boss Steve McLaren (who managed him at FC Twente and Newcastle) described as “always having a smile on his face”. Another former boss Alan Pardew referred to him as a giant and a dream player to have in your squad. Fitting words for a player who meant so much to the club he gave his all for.

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Tiote took pride in representing his country (Image from Tumblr)

Selling Tiote was a hard choice for Rafa Benitez but one he felt made sense both for the club and for the player. A move to China could provide the player with a consistent run out as well as a massively increased pay packet to boot. Tiote could have gone to Russia or Turkey and had his options but the money in China could set his family up for life. Family to Cheick was everything so China was simply too good to turn down. He may have only spent a short time in the Far East at his new side Beijing Enterprises but he had already won over the fans in the handful of games that he played for the club.

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Tiote made his move to China in February 2017 (Image from Tumblr)

In football there are different types of players from the adventurous wingback who loves nothing more than running down the byline or six yard box strikers to seize on scraps thrown their way. But the type I like the most are the workhorses, the grafters who battle for the ball in the middle that break up the play, turning defence into attack. Chieck Tiote was very much a work horse, a  central figure in the Newcastle side whose job was not to be fancy but instead to hassle and harass the opposition midfield. It’s a job he did brilliantly. Much like a pit bull clambering to get its jaws around a juicy bone, Tiote never gave up until he got his prize. That’s the type of player he was.

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Over a seven years period with Newcastle he would make 141 appearances for the club but only score one goal – that strike against Arsenal. Clips of that strike are now doing the rounds on Twitter and various sports websites as fans pay homage to Tiote. But look beyond that game to the other clips that show Tiote at his best – hunting down opponents, biting at their ankles continuously until eventually exhausted they release the ball. He was more than just that goal, he was a fantastic player who will be sadly missed by all those who played with him and all of those who watched him play. Tiote was 30 years old.

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Je Suis Joey – You Understandy?

In 1957 John Charles transferred from Leeds United to Juventus to become one of the first british players to try his luck on foreign shores. The accomplished striker/ centre half is widely considered as one of the greatest all round players that Wales has ever produced. His move to the Turin giants turned a lot of heads at the time as it was for a then British record £65,000 transfer fee. Charles wasn’t the first (that honour lies with John Fox Watson who moved from Fulham to Real Madrid in 1948) but he is recognised as the trend starter. Following Charles’ move, several British nationals have moved to other countries with various degrees of success. For every David Beckham (Real Madrid) and Paul Lambert (Borussia Dortmund), there is Darius Vassell (Ankaragucu) and Scott Booth (FC Twente).  Some struggle to adapt to the lifestyle or style of game that their new country plays but for a majority, the language barrier often is too hard to grasp.

Paul Lambert had success in Germany with Dortmund

A few footballers have adapted well, picking up the language like Michael Owen (he learned Spanish in three months after moving to Real Madrid) or David Platt (picked up Italian after his move to Bari and is now fluent). Then there are people like Joey Barton. The fearless midfielder, who left the UK to join Marseille on loan in the summer, has adapted to life in the south of france. He appears to be getting on well with his new teammates (so far) and has avoided trouble that appeared to be constantly perched on his shoulders at all times during his spell in England. He has even picked up the language, well sort of. Like most Brits abroad, when the language becomes a problem, there are one of two approaches – talk louder in a desperate hope that they will understand you or do as Joey did and speak English with a french accent.

Oh dear Joey…

The latter usually fools the press in that country allowing the player to get away with not knowing the language but unfortunately the media is now global so it doesn’t take long before they find out. This is what happened to poor Joey. Asked to speak to the french press after his long-awaited league debut against Lille this week, and so far unable to speak French, he decided to conduct the interview in English but with a french accent. The results are comical.

Barton starts off his interview talking about the game, highlighting key aspects of his performance:

“For me it’s important that people speak about the qualities I bring as a footballer. As i say, yesterday i make one tackle and all everyone speak about is this tackle, and no speaks about the 50 yard pass that kills Balmont and causes a red card for him” 

Joey was asked about the former Manchester United and Marseille player Gabriel Heinze, a solid tackler like Joey in his day, and if Joey felt he was like him in any way as a player:

He’s Argentine, i’m English. Big Difference, Big Big difference. Big Ocean. The Atlantic. It’s different”

The infamous Atlantic Ocean – very big

The interview and in particular the way Barton speaks brings back memories of another Englishman abroad, Steve McLaren. After joining FC Twente of Holland  as manager in 2008, Steve was asked to take part in an interview with Dutch TV ahead of a crucial Champions League game against Arsenal. McLaren did the interview but again, like Barton, spoke english but this time with a dutch accent. The clip became a Youtube sensation and has haunted McLaren ever since.

” I sort of knew, when i came here… Champions League… Liverpool, Arsenal…i thought maybe one of them we would draw and it is Arsenal. I think, one of the toughest teams in the draw and i think it will be very very difficult for our players. For young players, big games, champions league… Arsenal… at home.. the emirates…”

Spreekt u Engels??

Asked about his team’s chances of beating Arsenal, McLaren replied:

” I say, i think we are not just, what you call, underdogs, but massive underdogs”

Barton to be fair has been quick to ridicule himself on Twitter boasting ” Steve McLaren, eat your heart out” but it will not detract from the media attention which he will get from the British press after this interview. Barton has 6 months remaining of his french loan so has enough time to learn the language. But if he is unsuccessful, then perhaps a transfer to Holland to work with Steve McLaren is exactly what he needs. At least they speak the same language, sort of.

To see Barton’s interview, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3U-r8T31Ns

To see McLaren’s interview, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZnoP4sUV90