Australian football has paid tribute to the incredible contribution Professional Footballers Australia (the PFA) President Alex Wilkinson has made to the players and the Australian game.

Wilkinson announced his retirement on Thursday, following over 600 career club matches, 16 appearances for the Socceroos – including Australia’s 2015 AFC Asian Cup triumph and at the 2014 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Brazil – and numerous individual and team achievements.

The centre-back won 12 major trophies and is the only player in A-League Men’s history to win five Premierships. The 38-year-old also won three A-League Championships, two Korean League Championships and an Australia Cup title.

Having made an indelible mark on the Australian game on the pitch, Wilkinson’s impact off the pitch in various representative roles within the PFA has helped deliver two decades of unprecedented growth of the professional game.

PFA Co-Chief Executive Beau Busch said: “Alex’s career has spanned the National Soccer League and the A-League and taken him to the very highest levels of the sport.

“However, he was far more than simply a witness to history. Instead, he has embodied the PFA’s commitment to proactively shaping the game and leaves behind an enormous legacy for the next generation of players.

“Advancing the interests of the players and the game has rarely been easy and the players have been incredibly fortunate to have had the benefit of Alex’s commitment and leadership.”

Wilkinson sat on the PFA Executive Committee in 2007, embedding the players’ voice into the early years of the A-League and the national teams. 

He was instrumental in the A-League’s first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and the subsequent agreements that have since enshrined professional standards across the A-Leagues and the Matildas and Socceroos.

In 2016, Wilkinson was unanimously selected by his peers to lead the organisation as PFA President. Over the past seven years, Wilkinson was pivotal in the negotiation of the ‘Whole of Game’ CBA in 2016, the gender equality deal in 2019 – which delivered the Matildas and Socceroos equal conditions and pay – and the most recent five-year A-Leagues CBA, signed in 2021.

Commenting on his retirement, Wilkinson said: “It’s been an absolute honour to serve the players as PFA President and play a role in helping to support the players and build the professional game.

“Collectively the players have transformed the professional game in this country over the past two decades, with male and female footballers now able to pursue a genuine career path, with the support of their union.”

During Wilkinson’s time as part of the Executive, the Socceroos Committee and President, the Matildas and Socceroos have won two Asian Cups (2010, 2015), qualified for four consecutive men’s FIFA World Cups and five consecutive women’s World Cups as the professional game built new foundations.

Throughout that same period, the A-League has expanded from eight to 12 clubs in both the men’s and women’s competitions, offering hundreds of additional professional opportunities and career paths for Australian footballers, signalling the domestic game’s most stable growth period in modern history.

Despite those achievements, Wilkinson has been always alive to the challenges of building a viable professional game in Australia. Throughout his time representing the players, he and his peers had to navigate the collapse of North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United, and the significant impact of the pandemic on Australian football.

However, under his leadership, the players were able to deliver a new partnership with the A-Leagues that has delivered stability and certainty for clubs, a roadmap to full-time professionalism in the A-League Women and a record investment in players’ salaries during the 2022/23 A-Leagues seasons.

Wilkinson will be recognised for this contribution to the players and the game at the PFA’s Players’ Awards night on 17 July 2023, which will acknowledge the organisation’s 30 year anniversary and celebrate the contribution of Australia’s best players on and off the pitch.