The choices he made allowed his talent to be fulfilled. Two World Cups, 95 Socceroos caps and 247 English Premier League appearances followed as a result during a remarkable career. Recently retired Socceroos legend Brett Emerton shares with the PFA how he made the decisions that ensured he made it to the top.

Starring in the old NSL for Sydney Olympic the offers to take one of Australia’s brightest young talents to Europe were constant. He resisted the temptation. The right league, the right club and the right time were his big considerations. However, they were not his only concern – he wanted to be mature enough to handle the pressures of European football.

“I had the opportunity when I was 15 to go to Leeds with Harry Kewell and experience what life as a professional footballer was like and that was a bit of an eye opener for me,” said Brett Emerton. “I knew that it would be a massive move for me to leave my friends and family behind.”

Instead of rushing abroad when he was not ready Emerton waited until when the timing felt right. Focusing on his commitments with his club and as captain of the Olyroos ahead of the Sydney Olympics he set about ensuring he was ready for European football when the right opportunity came along.

“I decided to stay in Australia for a few more years then most people would have, just to make sure I was at a maturity level to deal with all the pressures outside of football as well,” said the third most capped Socceroo of all time. “I had the opportunity to go overseas before the Olympic Games but having the opportunity to captain my country at the Olympics was something that I thought was going to be really special so I chose to stay in Australia and wait until after.

“I think when the opportunity came up to join Feyenoord I had spent three years in the NSL and I guess I was performing at a level where I was one of the better players in the league so for me at that particular time if I was going to better myself then that was the right opportunity at the right time. I couldn’t make the move to England, where I eventually wanted to play due to work permit reasons so I saw Holland as the perfect stepping stone.”

Once there Emerton would make a near seamless transition into life with the Eredivisie giants. He would go on to make over 90 appearances for the Dutch club, with the 2002 UEFA Cup Winners Cup triumph amongst his many highlights in his three years at the club.

Emerton concedes it was not always easy, especially early on in his time in Holland however, he said his preparation had made the move much easier.

“It was difficult and exciting all at the same time. I don’t think I realised how big a club Feynoord was and I was just amazed and how big the club was and how passionate the fans were and I was really excited about that. I felt ready for the move after playing consistently with my club for a number of years in the NSL and also because of being involved with the National team.”

His three seasons in Holland would follow the plan he had established before he left Australia. He would focus on improving so he was ready to achieve his next goal. Holland was designed to be a stepping stone to what he had always dreamed of – the Premier League.

His performances for Feyenoord had alerted clubs in England to his ability and many had tried to lure him before he eventually signed with Blackburn Rovers.

“There was a number of reasons as to why I didn’t end up going to other clubs not for myself not wanting to leave but not being allowed to. I may have ended up in the UK twelve months earlier if I had had my way but it wasn’t meant to be.

“I guess it was similar to what I did in the NSL. I spent three years in Holland and was obviously doing quiet well and at that time I was ready to move to England and was ready to play from the very beginning and I didn’t look back from there.”

His time in England would prove to be just as successful as he had been in Holland. Emerton would spend almost nine seasons with the Lancashire club firmly establishing himself as a fans favorite before departing for Sydney FC in 2011.

Having recently retired after he succumbed to a debilitating back injury Emerton is likely to take on a role with Football Federation Australia to help assist the next generation of Australian footballers. His goal is to help them make the right decisions.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand how difficult it is. Players like myself, who have experience can pass on advice to the younger generation to hopefully prepare the younger generation better.

“I think if players are looking to go overseas first of all you need to be playing regular football in the A-League and need to be performing at the top of the A-League for several seasons before you even try to make the move overseas. Maturity is also important. You need to be prepared to leave behind your family and friends and deal with how hard that is during the early years.”

Brett Emerton
Born: 22-Feb-79, Sydney

Socceroo honours: 100 appearances (21 goals) [1998-2012] 95 A internationals (20 goals) / 5 non–A internationals (1 goal)

Other Australian representative honours:
U/17: 1995 U-17 World Cup (Ecuador)
U/20: 1997 U-20 World Cup (Malaysia), 1999 U-20 World Cup (Nigeria)
U/23: 2000 Olympic Games (Sydney)

Club career:
1996  Australian Institute of Sport
96/00 Sydney Olympic (Australia)  94a (16g)
00/03 Feyenoord (Netherlands)  92a (11g)
03/11 Blackburn Rovers (England)  247a (13g)
11/14 Sydney FC (Australia)  57a (7g)