Erik Paartalu goes 1v1 with the PFA to discuss the ups and downs of playing overseas.

Melbourne City midfielder Erik Paartalu goes 1v1 with the PFA to discuss his time in Asia and Scotland and gives us an insight into the precarious career of a footballer plying their trade abroad and illustrates why his resolve has been invaluable.

Q.  How did the move to British football come about for you?

EP: I had been going on trial since I was 17, going across to the UK. The first time I went overseas I went to Leeds, Swansea and Cardiff and there was no real pressure, I was just going to see what it was like to gain an understanding.

At the time I wasn’t playing regularly at Northern Spirit, I was coming off the bench occasionally and possibly in a year or so I would have been breaking into the first team but the NSL shut down and I found myself just trying to go overseas.

At that level I was not ready for the first team at those clubs in the UK but the experience was really valuable as I learnt how far I had to go. I think everyone at 11-12 thinks they are going to play for Man United or Real Madrid but when you get over there, in the big pool of players in the UK, you know what you are up against.

After the first attempt I came back and had to play in the state league with Northern Tigers and Paramatta Eagles, whilst I was doing that I was working part-time and to be honest I was hating life because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do apart from playing. I finished my HSC and had only got average marks because I was away for 70 days of Year 12 due to football, so I didn’t give myself a great opportunity to further my education.

After that I went over to England and went to a whole heap of clubs again and it feel through and I found myself playing in the state league again and then made the jump once more.

Q.  The third time would prove more successful and would lead to you joining Scottish side Gretna, how did you find the will to keep going?

EP: I felt like it was my last attempt, I was 19-20  and I had a really good trial with Doncaster Rovers. On my first day I rocked up to the stadium and they put me on a bus and said ‘you are going to play against Everton Reserves today.’ I ended up scoring and I thought here we go this is going to be a better trip and the Gaffer really liked me and we were getting close to getting a deal done and then he got the sack and the Director of Football took over and he basically said I was not good enough to play.

Next thing I knew I got a call from an agent in Scotland and I was on the next train up to Scotland. After four days of trailing with Gretna I signed with them for two months and then luckily I played every game and scored a couple of good goals and signed a two-and-a-half-year deal.

Q.  Your time at Gretna would prove far from straight forward, with the club experiencing enormous financial problems. How tough was this having finally got your chance?

EP: It was hard there was no stability. When I turned up I was playing in the First Division week-in-week-out and finally earning some money and enjoying football and winning games. We ended up getting promoted that year by winning on the last day of the season and it was an unbelievable feeling.

When I came back for the next season for the SPL, they had brought in an older experienced guy from the Championship to play in my position and I wasn’t really getting a look in. I was 21 at the time and I decided to go on loan and played for Stirling and got to play some games. Whilst I was away Gretna went into administration and all the high earners and the guys on loan got let go. I found myself having two options, one was from Stirling Albion but I would not have been able to survive over there on that money and luckily the other option was a good one from Morton. I helped the club avoid relegation and they offered me a two-year deal and I had an up and down two years at the club.

Q.  After two-and-half outstanding years at the Roar, your next adventure overseas was to China, how did the move come about?

EP: Even before I had kicked a ball for the Roar I had offers in China but I wasn’t ready for it at that stage. I had a few more offers during the height of our success at the Roar but like everyone else in the team I didn’t want to leave, we wanted to stay together and be successful. After the second Championship and Ange left things changed and I kind of thought now is time to move on.

Q.  You signed a long-term contract in China but you only saw out the first part of it, what was your time like in China?

EP: Looking back it was one of the hardest experiences of my life but one of the most rewarding. I played every single game and I had few years left on my contract when I came back for pre-season and they started to mess me about and I just wanted to play so it was time to move on.

Q.  The next move was a surprising one for many – Thailand. What was behind the decision to join Muangthong United?

EP: I was told by 99% of people close to me not to go to Thailand and I had no support for the decision. It was a decision I had to make after I had got out of my contract in China. There was something hopefully in Japan, and couple of A-League clubs were interested but it was already early February and I wasn’t keen to come back to the A-League to a club that wasn’t going to make the finals, play a few games then have another off-season. The Japan thing feel through and the only option was to go play in Thailand. The first three or four months I loved it and I said to my missus I could play here for the rest of my career and then one minute it completely changed. We were sitting top of the league and they changed the coach and he just ran us every day and we started losing games and I stopped enjoying it and I said to my wife I wanted to leave especially after I knew there was interest in the A-League.

Q.  The last few seasons have seen you play and live in vastly different countries, how difficult has that been for you and your wife?

EP: My missus and I have been to Ikea three times in the last 12 months to deck out different houses. You start to think things like I don’t want to go through that again. My focus is now here, at City, and I want the club to know I’m committed and the fans too. I jumped around a lot but I have developed and it has made me stronger.

Q.  Finally, how important is support for players plying their trade overseas?

EP: With most players, when they have any interest from overseas it is literally just the agent and the player making that decision. Unfortunately there are not enough agents in Australia that will go that extra mile for you in terms of going overseas and doing the deal or going over there with you for the first few weeks or being on the end of the phone for a regular chat.

I was lucky with the Thailand adventure that the PFA was there when I needed help, as at that time I needed to know where I stood from a legal point and a player welfare point of view as well. You have to make sure you have a support network and get familiar with the local people.

Each week the PFA will go 1v1 with player to gain an insight in the life of professional footballer.