The brief nature of a career as a professional footballer leaves little margin for error. Make the wrong career choice and it is difficult to recover. Make the right one and your dreams may become reality. Former Central Coast Mariners star Rostyn Griffiths shares with the PFA what its like to make a decision with so much at stake.

Rostyn Griffiths celebrates scoring for the Central Coast Mariners. Image (c) Getty.
“I did worry a lot about what impact it would have on my chances to go back to Europe,” Rostyn Griffiths says of the decision to leave the Mariners for Chinese club Guangzhou R&F.

Having rarely given playing in Asia much thought the goal was always to return to Europe, where he had spent six years with then English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers. “I had always said that I didn’t want to go to Asia at that stage in my career,” Griffiths said. “That was something that I thought was better left until later.”

With only a couple of months left on his contract at the Mariners the midfielder was eager to explore possibilities in Europe. “It was all up in the air,” he said. “I wasn’t sure whether there would be options in Europe or whether I would stay at the Mariners.”

With nothing concrete, the offer from the newly promoted Chinese club came in. “It felt a little too good to turn down at the time. I had concerns but when it was sat in front of you it was difficult to say no.”

The financial rewards were substantial and experiencing life in a vastly different culture was appealing but Griffiths knew it could come at a cost – his hopes of a  return to Europe. With few players having successfully progressed from the CSL to Europe the midfielder knew it was a big risk. Just how big was difficult to gauge at the time.

He had seen little of Chinese football and was going into the unknown. Making things even more difficult was the fact that there was no time for research. An offer was made and the next day he would be heading to China for a medical and to take a look at the club.

“It all happened in the space of two days. There was not a lot of time to weigh things up. I went to China signed the contract and the next day I was living there. It was all unknown, you are not really sure what the level of football is going to be like or the standard of living or whether it is going to be a bad move for your career or a good move.”

Thankfully for Griffiths football and life in China surprised him and exceeded his expectations.

“It took time to adapt. Training was a big shock compared to what I was used to. It is not as intense so you have to get yourself up for it a bit more. The language barrier is quite a big thing, when I first arrived there would be three different languages spoke before they spoke English to me. Once I got used to things like that it became easier.

“I think it’s a much better standard then people give it credit for. There are very good technical players, the crowds are big and I have played with top players like Yakubu, I worked under a top manager in Sven (Goran Eriksson) and played against the likes of Anelka and Drogba. Off the pitch I enjoyed life in China, especially once I found my way round the city and made friends and finally tracked down a golf course.”

With his contract with R&F having now expired the former Mariners midfielder is now weighing up his next move. Despite having thoroughly enjoyed his time in China Griffiths said he was still unsure of the impact his two-and-a-half seasons in the CSL would have on his ability to make a return to Europe.

“I’m still trying to work out whether it is going to make it more difficult to maybe go to Europe.  I think previously it definitely would have but I think people’s perception of the CSL is changing. They have had the right foreign coaches come out and help improve it and I think overall they have increased their standard quite dramatically. You still don’t see players making the move from there to Europe but I don’t think it will be too far away before that becomes more common.

“For me what it did do was set me up so that I can now take a risk and go on trial, or take my time to find the right move. As opposed to when I was in the A-League I had to get a contract sorted straight away because I would not have been able to survive more than a couple of weeks financially.”

Whilst eager to investigate any options in Europe Griffiths said he would not rule out a return to Asia. His destination will be determined by where he sees the best opportunity to improve and where gives him the best chance of catching the eye of Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou.

“I just want to play football where I am going to get better and also if you look at the National Team anybody who is playing at a good level and is playing well has pretty much got a shot. Already Ange has shown that with his team selection and if I could be part of the squad in the years to come I would be a very happy man.”

Despite having enjoyed his adventure in China Griffiths said he would recommend to young Australian players looking to do the same to give it plenty of consideration before doing so.

“I would ask them first about their own ambition and what they are trying to achieve. If they are going there with the hope of bouncing to Europe I would say it could make it a little harder. But if they are keen to go I would say you need to  consider what the city is like, who the manager is and also how are you going to get paid. They are the big things to consider.”