IN HIND­SIGHT: MARK SCH­WARZER

Inside Sport - - Contents - – Jeff Cen­ten­era

H

E HAD a pro­fes­sional ca­reer that spanned more than two decades and took him to the heights of club foot­ball. But Mark Sch­warzer will for­ever be as­so­ci­ated with the Socceroos fi­nally end­ing its luck­less run in qual­i­fy­ing for the World Cup. In 2005, in the play-off be­tween the

Ocea­nia cham­pion and South Amer­i­can fi¡h-placer, Sch­warzer and his team-mates stared down Uruguay in a penalty shoot-out, a trip to Ger­many on the line.

The then Mid­dles­brough and later Ful­ham goal­keeper saved the first and fourth penal­ties, se£ing up John Aloisi’s eter­nal high­light. Sch­warzer back­stopped the Socceroos’ cam­paign four years later, and be­came some­thing of a totemic vet­eran pres­ence in his last play­ing years at Chelsea and Le­ices­ter. He now lends his foot­ball savvy to Op­tus Sport, where he’ll serve as host for the net­work’s com­pre­hen­sive, ev­ery-game cov­er­age of the World Cup in Rus­sia this month. He spoke to In­side Sport about his World Cup days, and what’s in store. We spoke to you just be­fore Brazil four years ago, just as your play­ing days were wind­ing down. You noted that you were go­ing to en­joy the World Cup as a spec­ta­tor. Cov­er­ing the event this time around for Op­tus Sport, how have you found the tran­si­tion to the me­dia?

I think the big­gest chal­lenge has al­ways been, par­tic­u­larly when you’re a player and you do the odd ap­pear­ance on com­men­tary, you tend to be very neu­tral and you didn’t want to of­fend any­one. You wanted to ba­si­cally brush over things, par­tic­u­larly when they were dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Whereas now, be­cause it is your job ... I still want to be very fair, I still want to be hon­est, but I also want to give hope­fully a bit more of an in­sight as to why I would be crit­i­cal of some­body. Rather than just the stan­dard throw­away ques­tion com­ments, like “he should have done beer” or “that was rub­bish”.

Dur­ing your long ca­reer, did you ever make it to Rus­sia?

I played once, a Europa League game for Ful­ham against a team called Amkar Perm; the most east­erly Euro­pean city – dur­ing the Sec­ond World War it wasn’t even on the map be­cause it was ap­par­ently where they pro­duced a lot of the am­mu­ni­tion for the Rus­sians. So it was an in­ter­est­ing place. It’s based on a lot of chem­i­cals that they pro­duce there, pes­ti­cides.

We played at Amkar Perm on an ar­ti­fi­cial pitch, be­cause the weather there can be very ex­treme. And it was lit­er­ally a place that popped up out of the mid­dle of nowhere. It was a smaller club, so it wasn’t a huge at­mos­phere, wasn’t a packed sta­dium. But it was kind of that East­ern Euro­pean feel, they have a par­tic­u­lar num­ber of hard­core

“It’s funny, you look at 2006 and 2010 and the par­al­lels are al­most iden­ti­cal: the re­sults were the same in terms of how many points we got, but ob­vi­ously we lost one game 4-0 to Ger­many. That was the dif­fer­ence.”

sup­port­ers, fa­nat­i­cal, I sup­pose. And that was very much the case. We turned up the air­port, there were guys all dressed as the Grim Reaper.

You were a part of dress­ing-rooms that had blokes from ev­ery­where. Do play­ers of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties re­late to each other dif­fer­ently these days?

It’s def­i­nitely dif­fer­ent now com­pared to 15-20 years ago be­cause there weren't as many for­eign play­ers, of course. When I first came to Mid­dles­brough, we only had four or five for­eign­ers. But I was never re­ally classed as a for­eigner. They’d talk about the for­eign­ers, and I was like, “Hang on a sec, I’m a for­eigner.” And they’re like, “No you’re not, you’re an Aussie.”

So it was very dif­fer­ent. Back then, there wouldn’t be a huge num­ber of play­ers from one coun­try, nec­es­sar­ily. You may have an­other team­mate from the same coun­try, all the rest, gen­er­ally from all parts of the globe. So the in­ter­ac­tion with play­ers was far greater back then. Now it’s a liŠle bit less be­cause you tend to have big­ger groups of for­eign play­ers. It’s not that play­ers don’t in­ter­act, it’s that there doesn’t seem to be that ur­gency to re­ally kind of get to know your other team-mates so much be­cause you’ve got your own liŠle com­mu­nity within that group of play­ers.

With so much big-time foot­ball these days, does the World Cup still maer as much to play­ers?

I still think it does. It’s still re­garded as the tour­na­ment ... The World Cup, it’s ev­ery na­tion on the planet that par­tic­i­pates, 200 nations or what­ever it is on the planet com­pet­ing for that one tro­phy.

I think the dan­ger is in the fu­ture – and there’s a lot of sound com­ing out and noise com­ing out of FIFA – that they want to ex­pand the groups, more num­bers. I think that’s the dan­ger, ac­tu­ally, of tak­ing a bit of gloss off it. Par­tic­u­larly the early stages of the tour­na­ment – it no longer be­comes this tour­na­ment that is such an in­cred­i­ble ac­com­plish­ment to just to get there, let alone to win it. We’re in dan­ger of in­creas­ing the num­bers and los­ing that mys­tique of geŠing to a World Cup.

I don’t think it should be nec­es­sar­ily just a tour­na­ment for num­bers – it needs to be a tour­na­ment of a cer­tain level of class. You want to have nations con­tin­u­ously try­ing to push them­selves to get beŠer year a•er year, cam­paign a•er cam­paign to make the next one, if they miss out on the pre­vi­ous one. Or if they’ve made it, to re­alise how good it was, like we did with Aus­tralia ...

What are your mem­o­ries of qual­i­fy­ing in 2005? Was it re­lief, joy or were you just locked into the process?

It was all of the above be­cause of the jour­ney we’d taken. And I’m not talk­ing about just that qual­i­fi­ca­tion part, I’m talk­ing about how many failed cam­paigns, nearly cam­paigns, we’d been a part of. The ela­tion of qual­i­fi­ca­tion, fi­nally, a•er 32 years, to fi­nally break the so-called hoodoo. To have done it in the most dif­fi­cult way, through Ocea­nia and the play-off, where the level of com­pe­ti­tion all of a sud­den goes to the likes of 

the fi h-best team in South Amer­ica. And Uruguay is one of the big names of world foot­ball.

There’s so many dif­fer­ent emo­tions, so many dif­fer­ent feel­ings that you go through qual­i­fy­ing for that par­tic­u­lar World Cup. I don’t think – you can never say never – but it’s go­ing to be in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for any Socceroos team to repli­cate that, un­less we go through a pe­riod of time where we don’t qual­ify, then there’s that, you know ... that pe­riod of hav­ing missed out for so many times, for so many years, and then you wake up and fi­nally it's your turn. Then there's that sort of adren­a­line, that sort of ex­pe­ri­ence, again. But it's un­likely.

How was the ex­pe­ri­ence of a World Cup cam­paign? One thing we o en fail to ap­pre­ci­ate is how quickly it can pass, three matches at its short­est ...

There aren’t a lot of games, and the pres­sure that’s on each in­di­vid­ual game is enor­mous. The longer you go on into the tour­na­ment, whereby you start to see how many points you need, what re­sults you need, the pres­sure grows even more.

Ger­many was an in­cred­i­ble World Cup for so many rea­sons. And one of the rea­sons be­ing be­cause of where it was: the ac­ces­si­bil­ity, the at­mos­phere in the sta­di­ums, our first World Cup in 32 years, the type of play­ers in the squad, and that pres­surised sit­u­a­tion where you had a man­ager who had ex­pe­ri­ence, knew he was up against it with a team that had never qual­i­fied out of the group stages, but had po­ten­tial. So the pres­sure that was put on us was enor­mous, purely by virtue of the fact of be­ing at the World Cup. But also the en­vi­ron­ment that you’re in: the com­pe­ti­tion for places, the man­ager pu‰ing pres­sure on play­ers to per­form. That is re­ally tough to ex­plain, one of those sit­u­a­tions that I don’t think any­one will re­ally fathom un­less they're in that po­si­tion them­selves.

You’ve made the point be­fore about how sim­i­lar the Socceroos’ 2006 and ’10 World Cups felt, even if the out­comes were not.

It’s funny, you look at 2006 and 2010 and the par­al­lels are al­most iden­ti­cal: the re­sults were the same in terms of how many points we got, but ob­vi­ously we lost one game 2-0 to Brazil and 4-0 to Ger­many. That was the dif­fer­ence. That was why we got knocked out.

That was our prob­lem (in 2010), the worst re­sult we’ve ever had was in the first game. It was a rude awak­en­ing for us. We all know that was the game that cost us. You can lose 2-0 to Ger­many, there’s no shame in that. But 4-0, and the way we did it – player sent off, then we con­tin­ued to try and press and get back in the game – it was ul­ti­mately go­ing to cost us.

If you look at our next two per­for­mances, we were equally as good as we were in 2006. Against Ghana, we were in­cred­i­bly un­for­tu­nate to have had a player sent off early in the game. But we dom­i­nated the game, even still should have won the game with ten men. And then we beat Ser­bia, and it wasn’t a dead rub­ber. We needed enough goals to knock out Ghana, and vice­versa, Ser­bia could have qual­i­fied if they’d beaten us. A‚er the Ger­many game, we li‚ed and we played as well as inƒ2006 ... But peo­ple don’t judge it on that.

And to see what the Ger­mans be­came at that World Cup, and four years later ...

When you talk about 2010, for a lot of peo­ple, it’s kind of those tour­na­ments that peo­ple want to write off and put it down to be­ing a bit of a dis­as­ter, when it ac­tu­ally wasn’t. I thought the man­ager (Pim Ver­beek) was un­fairly crit­i­cised for a large pro­por­tion of the tour­na­ment, and the play­ers. When you an­a­lyse the games, it was as plain as that – it was one re­sult, and un­for­tu­nately for us, it was the first game. If we had four points go­ing into our last game against Ger­many and lost 4­0, I don’t think the neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion would be as ex­treme.

You had a fan­tas­tic van­tage point to one of the great un­der­dog tales in re­cent sport, Le­ices­ter City in 2015-16. How did that hap­pen?

In­side Le­ices­ter, gosh, I don’t think any of it was rocket science. It was a com­bi­na­tion of in­cred­i­ble team spirit, hard work ethic, a cul­mi­na­tion of every­body reach­ing their peak at the same time and do­ing it for preŽy much the course of 38 games through­out the sea­son. And the fur­ther it went on, the greater the self­be­lief be­came.

There was very liŽle ex­pec­ta­tion from any­one, even in the change rooms. Even un­til the last cou­ple of games, re­ally. It was a case of, right, let’s just go out and play and con­tinue along this in­cred­i­ble jour­ney and see where it takes us. No pres­sure, be­cause week­in, week­out every­body kept writ­ing them off.

Could an un­der­dog tale – and we’re cer­tainly talk­ing Socceroos – hap­pen in Rus­sia?

Def­i­nitely, even more so at a World Cup. With a knock­out se­ries, you get out of the group, then it be­comes knock­out. And I think any­one can beat any­one in 90 min­utes or 120 min­utes ...

The Aussies, start­ing off in their group – of course, you can’t look beyond that – they are the un­der­dogs. We're prob­a­bly per­ceived as be­ing one of the weak­est teams in that group from the out­side world. I don’t have a prob­lem with that. I like it when peo­ple write us off, when peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate us.

But the guys need to do the work; there’s no doubt that the guys are go­ing to work in­cred­i­bly hard, go­ing to be as fit as they pos­si­bly can be go­ing into a ma­jor tour­na­ment. The man­ager will have them tac­ti­cally as best­pre­pared as he can in the pe­riod of time that he’s got. With the Aus­tralian sort of aŽitude and the way they qual­i­fied, that will ac­tu­ally put them in a great po­si­tion be­cause that con­fi­dence, that ex­pe­ri­ence, that high­pres­sure sit­u­a­tion, it’s gonna be fun.

"We're prob­a­bly per­ceived as be­ing one of the weak­est teams in our group. I don’t have a prob­lem with that. I like it when peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate us."

Sch­warzer keeps out Marcelo Zalayeta’s at­tempt in that penalty shoot-out of 2005.   ­ With Sut­ton United man­ager Paul Doswell be­fore an FA Cup match in 2017. Ž‘  ­ “Guess what? We’re go­ing to the World Cup!”

A farewell lap with Brett Emer­ton and Ja­son Culina in 2014.  With Petr Cech at Chelsea train­ing in 2013.   ­€‚ƒ Sch­warzer on high alert against Ger­many’s Sami Khedira at the 2010 World Cup. BŠ ‹  ­€‚ƒ Tim Cahill, Lu­cas Neill and Sch­warzer cel­e­brate against Ja­pan in ’06.

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