For seven years, Alex Wilkinson served his fellow professional footballers with a deep level of commitment and distinction as PFA President.

Widely considered as one of Australian football’s great leaders on the pitch over 20 years – in the National Soccer League, the A-League and the Socceroos and for clubs overseas – Wilkinson was acutely aware of the opportunity and responsibility of improving the conditions and outcomes for Australia’s professional footballers during his time at the helm of the PFA.

As President from 2016 through to June this year, when Wilkinson officially retired from professional football, he was, as the President, the voice of the players, alongside his peers on the Executive Committee.

When selected for the role of President, then PFA Chair Craig Foster said that Wilkinson was the “unanimous pick” of the players due to the defender “consistently demonstrating his commitment to bettering the lives of Australia’s footballers” and “strengthening the profession”.

After securing significant outcomes for the players since 2016, Wilkinson has passed the baton of leadership to newly minted President, Socceroo and FC St. Pauli midfielder, Jackson Irvine. Irvine will be joined by Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams, who will assume a Vice President role.

“I’ve had a great time at the organisation for a number of years now and I think it’s really rewarding to look back and see everything that you’ve helped achieve over the time that I’ve been involved,” Wilkinson said.

“I implore the new President to do the same: enjoy it, enjoy pushing the game forward and supporting the players in getting the best conditions and experiences that they can throughout their career and push to leave the organisation in a better place than when you first came in.”

Wilkinson believes being “a good people person” and a good communicator are critical to leading the players in the role as President.

“You’re obviously dealing with the playing group [700 active PFA members] as a whole quite regularly. Communication skills are important because you’re the leader of the organisation. It’s important that you can communicate your views and the views of the organisation to everyone involved.”

For Wilkinson, his biggest achievement came when the domestic game was in one of its most difficult positions – when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the A-Leagues and international football to a halt.

“The whole time through COVID was obviously a pretty memorable time for probably the wrong reasons. But it was great to come through that period, keep the game running and keep the game pushing forward in what was a really difficult circumstances for the players and the game in general. 

“It was a pretty rough time for everyone involved in the game, but I think that tough period really showed the unity of the playing group, and it really pulled the playing group closer than we’ve ever been before. 

“Everyone was really on the same page to come back and get the game moving forward. And I think in the end, it’s definitely been a landmark occasion in the last few years of football.”

Despite being able to get the game back on the rails after the impact of COVID, and celebrating the incredible progress of the Socceroos and Matildas, Wilkinson believes for Irvine, Williams, and the broader playing group, there’s plenty of work to do to ensure Australian football fulfils its potential.

“I think there’s still a few [areas for improvement]. I think the youth development pathway still needs a bit of work, creating more opportunities for more players. 

“That’s a big one that’s going to help us create better players moving forward and therefore strengthen our national teams and generate more revenue in the game here locally through selling them overseas. 

“That’s a really important part of the game we need to focus on, but equally as well, growing the revenue in our game at the A-League level as well, finding ways to grow the game, get more fans through the gates and bringing more money into the game, which can only help us push forward.”

For now, Wilkinson is focusing on his new job as the Head of Football Operations at Sydney FC, and so far his transition into his new career has been positive. 

“I think being in the same organisation and within the same club has made the transition much easier.

“I’m so familiar with everyone, all the players, all the staff, all the admin side of the organisation as well. So that’s made it really easy, which has been good.”