There were four senior players in the A-League who played their last league matches at the weekend. Four very different individuals, at four different clubs, all with very different career paths behind them. Interestingly their departures were also incredibly different.
It was in fact last weekend that Perth Glory skipper Jacob Burns waved goodbye to the fans at NIB stadium for the last time as a player. The team he has lead since his return from Europe saw him out in style with a rare victory in a tough season. Burns career started in the old NSL before he headed over to Leeds United at a time when the club were a force in British football. He made his debut in the Premier league aged 22 but his appearances were limited. No doubt his appearances against Real Madrid, Barcelona, Lazio and away to Manchester United, Besiktas in the Premier League and Champions League games will have been highlights. During his time in England he also achieved the honour of representing his country. Prior to returning to Australia he had a successful spell at Barnsley and Wisla Kracow in Poland where he again played Champions League football. Returning via Romania Burns led the Perth Glory to their first A-League finals appearance as well as the Grand Final in 2011/12 where the team lost, but he won the prestigious Marston medal as player of the final. He led the club to another finals appearance last year, but a change in policy at the club to bring through young local talent meant a repeat this year was always going to be hard. Burns combative style on the pitch meant that he was either loved or hated by sections of the supporters. It also saw him pick up many a yellow card. Sadly his performances may not receive the recognition they deserve that is not until he has been gone from the midfield a while. His professionalism and the way he looked after himself from a health and fitness level was an example to all, and that was why at the end of every game he was still running box to box. The send off he received was muted at best, which was sad for a man, who love him or hate him, had been dedicated to the club and its heartbeat in midfield.
Jacob Burns’ good friend, and ex Glory player Mile Sterjovski has also announced his retirement, but he still has finals football to enjoy. He played with Burns at Sydney United and Parramatta Power before he headed to France and Lille. He then moved to Switzerland where he found success with FC Basel. He won the Swiss Super League and in his second season was part of the team that reached the UEFA Cup Quarter-finals. He moved to Turkey and then to Premier League side Derby County. Some clever negotiations which saw Derby pay Sterjovski’s wages for his first year at Perth Glory saw him signed as the marquee player. Sadly Glory fans never saw Sterjovski at his best, they were only given glimpses of his undoubted skill. He showed more consistency at the Central Coast Mariners and lifted the A-League Championship in 2012/13. Sterjovski was a player blessed with skill and who on his day could destroy teams, as he did against Croatia for Australia at the World Cup in Germany in 2006. Sadly he will not be listed along with the great Australian players, something maybe his talent should have warranted, but that may well be how he wants it, as Mile has never been about headlines. He quietly goes about his business in an unassuming way and has always been about quietly walking away when the game is over; and don’t be surprised if he leaves the game in the same way once the Mariners season comes to an end.
Another former team mate of Jacob Burns at Leeds, Harry Kewell, also bade farewell to football at the weekend playing his final game in a 2-3 defeat against Western Sydney Wanderers. To many Harry Kewell was Australian football, as his name was the one non-football followers all knew. He was immensely talented and became the third youngest Australian to play for the Socceroos – not the youngest as many have said – when he debuted under Terry Venables against Chile. Thanks to the English heritage on his father’s side Kewell was able to take up and offer from Leeds United while Brett Emerton returned to Australia. There is no doubt that his time at Leeds United was his finest hour. He was part of one of the most exciting young teams in British football and a key component of that team. Twice Leeds made it to the semi finals of the Champions League and on the first occasion in the 1999–00 season, he won PFA Young Player of the Year was selected in the PFA Team of the Year. At that time it was rumoured Italian giants, Internazionale, had unsuccessfully bid £25m and that Leeds had rejected the offer. Three years later it became clear Leeds had been spending beyond their means and after 8 years at Elland Road he left when his contract had expired meaning Leeds received nothing when he left, something that angered fans who felt he owed them something for the time spent nurturing his talent. From this point it would be fair to say Kewell’s career suffered, he upset Leeds with his comments when he left, upset many with the believed deal he had with his manager Bernie Mandic to get him to Liverpool and took England hero Gary Lineker to court for defamation; a matter settled out of court. He became the first Australian born player to win the UEFA Champions League in 2005 but injuries plagued his time at Liverpool and he rarely showcased his incredible talent. A move to Turkey before heading home to Melbourne Victory a move that was heralded as the return of the Messiah, but once again the hype outstripped the performances. He left after one season to be close to his sick mother-in-law, but then popped up at Al-Gharafa in the Qatar Stars League; again a move that upset many in Australia who felt he had left Victory under false pretences. Having played very little football in a year and still wanting to play at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil He returned once again to Melbourne but this time with the Heart, but even though he still had plenty of skill his best was behind him. Kewell was a superb player, but sadly never really reached the heights many fans and coaches feel he should have; although he feels he did and that is all that matters. His goal against Croatia to see Australia through to the final sixteen in the 2006 World Cup will be a moment to remember. His farewell was to some degrees sad for one who meant so much to the game for so long. As much as it appeared everyone was trying to build up to the big finish, it just never came; very much in line with his career.
Interestingly the only non-Australian to bow out at the weekend probably received the biggest and most emotional send off of the four. Terry McFlynn was one of only 30 players left from the inaugural season of the A-League, but was the only one to have been with the same club for all that time. McFlynn had never quite made it in professional football in England and was playing non-league football prior to coming out to Australia and following his now wife. He trialled with Sydney FC and Pierre Littbarski liked what he saw and signed him. He won the inaugural A-League title. In 2008 he signed a new two year deal and a year later a new three year deal, in 2010 he became an Australian citizen and also Sydney FC captain. Although he had lead the team in the Grand Final a year earlier when both Steve Corica and John Aloisi were injured. Through the highs and the lows McFlynn was the constant for Sydney FC. He was loyal, he was industrious, he was a leader, he was passionate, he knew what was needed in the big games and he always gave it. By not being a superstar the fans connected with him for what he gave them week in week out on the pitch. He has played more games for the club than any other player and has been there as managers have come and gone, but he has been consistent throughout on and off the pitch, someone to rely on. His reward was clear on Saturday as “the Cove” bade him farewell with scenes that are rare these days in football. The work that must have gone into the banner they produced was testament to what the fans thought of Terry McFlynn.
Sydney FC should take a bow and so too should their fans for that display it was a credit to them and the game. This celebration of a career also proves that heroes cannot be manufactured, reputations mean absolutely nothing, but honest endeavour and humility still go a very long way with the average football fan.
All of these players have left the game and all are leaving behind different memories for different people, hopefully we will be talking about them all for years to come and remembering their contributions. Its the least they all deserve.