Socceroos defender and PFA Executive Alex Wilkinson goes 1v1 with the PFA to reflect on a stellar 12 months for him on the pitch and to give his insights into the historic Asian Cup triumph.

Q. It has been a hugely successful 12 months for you, have you had the chance to reflect on it yet?

AW: It has been an unbelievable ride and been by far the best 12 months of my professional career. Eighteen months to two years ago to think that I would have the chance of going to a World Cup and an Asian Cup and winning the domestic league all in one year I would not have though that it was possible.

Q. Having thought you were a long shot to get called up for the Socceroos, what was that moment like coming out on the pitch to play Chile in the opening game of the World Cup?

AW: It was pretty surreal. Walking out onto the pitch the atmosphere was something I had never experienced before, the noise and the hype was unbelievable. The stadium held about 50,000 but it sounded like there was 200,000 people in there. There was a lot of Aussies in the crowd and they made a great noise. I had only started my first games in warm-ups for the World Cup so it all happened very quickly.

Q. How difficult was the opening 20 minutes of the match with Chile, and how did you all find the resolve to turn the match around?

AW: Going into tournament we had a lot of players like myself, who it was their first time at a World Cup and we didn’t start as well as we could off. We were two nil down by the 18th minute and I was thinking this could be a long game but we dug in and dug deep and stuck to the game plan that Ange had given us. Credit to Timmy he always pops up when he is needed and after he scored that header it gave us the belief that we deserved to be there and that we could give this a real shake. The second half was good and we put them under a lot of pressure and the result could have been a lot better.

Q. Did the attention of the squad turn to the Asian Cup straight after the Spain game?

AW: The Spain game was probably the worst performance of the three games at the World Cup. I think everyone forgets that Spain were the best team in the World and can really hurt you when you are not 100 per cent. Straight after the tournament Ange addressed us and said now the next six to eight months is all about preparing for the Asian Cup.

Q. The friendly results in the lead up caused some concern from the public, what was the feeling like amongst the players?

AW: Ange has come out recently and said the biggest problem he had at the World Cup was squad depth. After the World Cup he went about trying to create depth in the squad and getting guys in from all over the world to experience international football and when that happens and there are changes every game it is always difficult to get results but it was all about getting guys in and getting guys to understand what he wants. After each game we would do our video analysis and after each game the players and the coaching staff could see improvement in each game even though that was not reflected in the results.

Q. Your club form was sensational for Jeonbuk in the lead up to the Asian Cup, did that give you a lot of confidence?

AW: It was a very successful season for me in Korea. I have been here three years and I had managed to finish second and third so it was good to go one better and we ended up winning it by 14 points so it was a great achievement by us. I was happy to be playing regularly, Ange has always said that if you are playing regularly and playing well then you are a chance to be selected, so I was just happy to be in a team that was winning regularly and I was playing, and it was a very proud moment to be voted in the best 11 for the K-League.

Q. Has your time in Korea exceeded your expectations from when you first came to the K-League?

AW: When I first came I didn’t know what to expect. I went through a stage for six months when I wasn’t playing or in the squad. I was luck there was a change of coach who got me back playing. I guess when you go through the tougher times it makes you cherish the good times when they come along. Looking back now I’m really glad I made the move from the Mariners. I had been there 6 or seven years and I was looking for a new challenge, I wasn’t sure at the time whether Korea was the right challenge but looking back now it has been a great move for me.

Q. Did there feel like there was a lot of pressure when you arrived into camp for the Asian Cup?

AW: Going in we were under quite a bit of pressure, with the results over the last six months not being what the public wanted. Every chance we had we were saying we were working towards the Asian Cup so it was time to show what the six to eight months before had been for.

Q. Having performed so well at the World Cup and coming off a great season for your club, were you disappointed not to start the opening couple of games?

AW: On the first day of camp the boss sat us down and said ‘when you come into the National Team you leave your club, you leave your individual aspirations behind and it is all about the team’ and I think that was a theme for the tournament. I was disappointed not to start the first few games but Sains (Trent Sainsbury) came in and did unbelievably well and it was a proud moment for me after having seen him grow up at the Mariners. He has always had a lot of talent and to see him produce on the International stage was fantastic, and he was one of our best players and he is going to be there for the next 10 years.

Q. In the final most people would have thought that South Korea’s goal would have been a killer blow for the Socceroos having been so close to full-time, how did the players find the strength to overcome this disappointment?

AW: It is horrible watching from the bench because you can’t do anything about it. I though we were home and hosed and then Korea scored and it was bringing back nightmares of the Central Coast grand final from a few years ago and I thought I had cursed everyone. Ange got the whole squad in and said keep going, we looked over at the Korean boys and they were struggling big time, they were all getting rubs and had cramps and our boys looked like they had a bit of petrol in the tank. Ange said it will now just be more special if we can win it.

Q. Finally, what do you think is the key for further progress for the National Team?

AW: With Ange in charge I’m pretty sure he is going to oversee all the National Teams to make sure everyone plays in the same way, with the same beliefs and I think that is a good start. If players can progress through the ranks and then come into the National Team into an environment that is quite familiar tactically then it makes the transition a lot easier.

Each week the PFA will go 1v1 with member to gain into the lives of professional footballers on and off the pitch.


Image by Chad Gibson/Local FC.