Few have had as big of an impact on Australian football as the 2014 Alex Tobin OAM Medal recipient – Mark Schwarzer.

“We owe him a lot,” was his fellow Socceroos Great John Aloisi’s assessment of his contribution. Tim Cahill would echo the sentiment. “He is one of the greatest ambassadors to play the game.” Few would disagree.

In his 109 appearances for the Socceroos he would be centre stage in many of the Socceroos most iconic moments. “It is hard to think of any player who has been more important when it counted,” said Craig Moore of Schwarzer’s time in the green and gold.

In his full debut for the Socceroos, in 1993, the then Marconi keeper would start as he meant to go on – starring in a penalty shoot-out. With Australia’s World Cup hopes resting with him he would make two outstanding saves to preserve the dream of USA 1994. In every sense it was the beginning of what would become a legacy.

Twelve years later with his hair a little shorter and almost 11 years of experience at the top level in Europe under his belt he would repeat the heroics on an even grander stage. This time round the shoot-out would not preserve the hopes of a World Cup Finals appearance rather it would determine them.

Schwarzer would first wait, watching Harry Kewell tuck away the first of the shoot-out. When his chance came he would take it, diving to his left to deny Uruguay leveling. The next of Uruguay’s penalties would squeeze underneath him and the third would be unstoppable. With both Lucas Neill and Tony Vidmar scoring, and then Australian captain and fellow Tobin Medal recipient Mark Viduka failing to score from the spot the equation for Schwarzer ahead of the South Americans’ fourth spot kick was simple – save it and the Socceroos would be just one kick away from ending 32 years of hurt.

The tension and stress would have engulfed most. Schwarzer met it head on, holding his nerve diving to his left again and denying Uruguay with a truly spectacular save. “It’s a huge save,” the commentator of the night and former Socceroo Craig Foster would scream. “It’s as big as we’ve ever seen in Australia, I’m sorry. I’m sorry it is. It’s as big as we’ve ever seen under pressure. It’s the kind of heart you need to make World Cups. Mark Schwarzer, you are a champion.”

Foster’s sentiments would have been echoed by every Australian football fan, who would soon be sent into delirium as Aloisi blasted his penalty past the Uruguay keeper to seal Australia’s place in the 2006 World Cup.

In what would seem likely to have been the absolute highpoint of any player’s career Schwarzer would continue to reach new heights for club and country. His phislosphy of continued improvement would ensure this would remain the case. “The aim is to continue to get better; I don’t want to stop getting better.”

In Europe his commitment to improvement would see him rise steadily to the top of club football. After departing Marconi the shot-stopper would spend two seasons in Germany before eventually moving to England with Bradford City. In his one season with The Bantams he would attract the attention of Middlesbrough and would eventually sign with the club.

For Schwarzer and Boro it would mark the beginning of a hugely successful period for both. With the Aussie between the posts the Teesside club would win the League Cup and be a runner-up in the UEFA Cup. Penalty kick heroics were also once again part of his act. On the final day of the 2004/2005 Premier League season with a UEFA Cup place at stake he would save a Robbie Fowler penalty in the dying moments. Afterwards one commentator would describe him as “the greatest Australian hero since Ned Kelly.”

After 11 years at Middlesbrough he would depart the club for Fulham, who the season before had finished 17th in the Premier League. With the man between the posts who then Fulham boss Roy Hodgson would declare as “a top English-based goal keeper,” they would be hugely improved.

In his first season at the club the Cottagers would finish the league in seventh place and seal a hugely unlikely place in the Europa League. Schwarzer played a starring role and was named as Fulham’s Player of the Year and would also be awarded the Order of Australia Medal for outstanding service to football. “He has been fantastic all season and that is the mark of the man,” Roy Hodgson would say of his debut season with the club.

As has always been the case he would not rest on his laurels and would continue to be a pivotal player for the club in his second year in West London. In an season where Fulham would make it all the way to the final of the Europa League Schwarzer would continue to win plaudits for his displays being named PFA Player of the Year and Premier League Player of the Month for February.

His form during this period was far from confined to club football. As the Socceroos undertook their first World Cup Qualifying campaign through Asia he would play every minute of every qualifying match. When the pressure was on he would again rise to the occasion making vital saves as the Socceroos secured consecutive World Cup Finals appearances, where they would narrowly miss out on a place in the knockout stages in South Africa.

Fresh from the World Cup his form for both club and country would see Arsenal table an offer for his services. Desperate to keep hold of their keeper Fulham would resist their offers. Many would feel it was last chance at Champions League football. However, as he would later say “you never say never.” After rejecting contract extension with Fulham in 2013 he would sign with Chelsea.

At 41 he would became the oldest debutante in Champions League history. Far from letting the occasion get the better of him it would be business as usual – a clean sheet. His Champions League run would go beyond his debut. An injury to Petr Cech cast him into the semi-finals of the competition, where despite his strong performances he was unable to prevent the club from bowing out of the competition.
This time round his heroics for Chelsea would not be replicated for the Socceroos. On November 6 2013 after ensuring qualification for a third consecutive World Cup he would announce his retirement bringing the curtain down on his illustrious National Team career.

For most it would come as a shock. “I still believe he’s our best keeper,” Harry Kewell would say of the announcement. “He’s playing at one of the greatest clubs in the world.” For Schwarzer the rationale was a simple one. “I’ve always been 100 per cent focused; I’ve been able to focus all my energy on playing for my country, getting in the best possible condition I can be in and be committed to do all the travelling and do the commitment of being a Socceroo,” he said at the time. “I felt that if I can’t do it justice and have the right mental approach to play for the national team, then I shouldn’t be playing.”

Whilst his Socceroos career has come to an end, his achievements that likely predecessor Matt Ryan described as “out of this world,” will ensure his legacy lives on with the countless young Australian footballer’s who have been inspired by his success.

As John Aloisi said ‘we owe him a lot’ and there could be few more deserving recipients of the players’ highest honour.