What motivates an athlete in todays sporting world? Is it money? To earn enough that he will be set up for life? Is it success in the sport that they play? To play at the highest level possible and pit their wits against the best, to know exactly how good they really were when they reflect back on heir career? Is it all about winning trophies? To be honest each individual is different, so there is no definitive answer.
Australian striker Nikita Rukavystya is no doubt asking himself many of those questions at this very time, as he ways up a possible return to Australia from a career in Europe, and then whether he opts for Western Sydney Wanderers or the club he left in his hometown Perth, Perth Glory.
In the back of Rukavystya’s mind will be the fact that he was overlooked for the squad that new Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou took to the World Cup in Brazil. To many this was a baffling decision as Rukavystya’s blistering pace late in a game when defenders are tired is always likely to earn a penalty or see him outstrip a defence and possibly score. Did the two fall out after the Western Australian made himself unavailable for a camp? Opting to play in Australia and scoring regularly would put him under the nose of Postecoglou and make it hard for the coach not to select him.
Yet a return to Australia would bring to an end Rukavystya’s European dream at a time when he should be at his peak aged 27.
It is interesting to compare Rukavystya’s career path with that of his former Australian Institute of Sport colleague Nathan Burns who opted to return to the A-league in 2013-14 on loan to Newcastle Jets. Burns is a year younger than Rukavystya at 26.
Both attended the AIS in 2006. Burns joined Adelaide United after his one year in Canberra while Rukavystya joined Perth Glory after his two years in the nation’s capital. Both spent two seasons with their A-League clubs, Burns played 35 games and scored 9 goals, Rukavystya played 42 and scored 16; The latter was an out and out striker, whereas Burns was often used wide or as a second striker.
Burns moved to AEK Athens on a four year deal Rukavystya went to FC Twente. Both players were loaned out to other clubs, Rukavystaya was eventually sold to Bundesliga 2 side Hertha Berlin while Burns contract was terminated, and he headed to South Korea and signed for Incheon United. Rukavystya was a regular starter at Herha and helped steer them back to the German top flight, yet right on the transfer deadline he switched clubs and joined Mainz. He has struggled there and spent a season on loan to Frankfurt back in Bundesliga 2. Burns struggled at Incheon and was loaned to A-League club Newcastle Jets and has now signed permanently with Wellington Phoenix.
Both of these players were selected for the AIS because they were stand out players in their age groups around the country. Both were destined for higher things, yet some may say have not quite managed to fulfil their potential. Was this bad management, in the choice of clubs they signed for? Were they sent to top flight clubs too soon? Did the AIS prepare them adequately for a career in top flight football?
Both of these players at 26 and 27 should be at the peak of the playing powers. Yet instead of playing their football amongst the best in Europe, there is a chance that both could be back in Australia playing. As much as many will say it is great that some of our most talented players are back in Australia playing it is very sad that they are. They shouldn’t be here. We should not want them back here playing at 26, 27 28 years of age. This is when we need them playing at the highest level so that our national team benefits from that experience, and the standard at which they are used to playing.
Burns had moments last year where you saw the player that excited as a youngster at Adelaide, but in the main he looked a shadow of that talent. This year under Ernie Merrick expect him to be revitalised.
It will be hard for Rukavystya if he comes back to Australia. There will be huge expectations attached to his performance, and inside there would no doubt be huge disappointment that realistically he is unlikely to ever play in Europe again. His best option if he wanted another move overseas would be Asia, but unless you are playing in Japan or possibly Korea, it is again a questionable move and one that is usually made purely for a retirement plan.
One cannot help feeling that if his management was more careful and thought about which team would best suited his skills and temperament, he could still carve out a successful career in Europe; yet some agents will always opt for the easy option, which is a return home and security in a regular game and good money.
Many will celebrate if Rukavystya returns, yet there are those of us who will be very sad to see it happen. He showed the year Hertha Berlin won promotion back the Bundesliga that he can play, and hold down a regular place in a side. He was second highest in the league with assists that season. He should be at the peak of his playing powers, and therefore he should be playing at the highest level possible. Whatever anyone says the A-League is a big drop from the level he can and should still be playing at.
The final hard decision will be his. How he reaches that decisions only he will know but ultimately it may all come back to that key question, what motivates a player?