The Australia international goalkeeper speaks to Gary Meenaghan ahead of the crucial World Cup qualifier with Oman about why cricket pushed him to follow his dream, and the prospect of swapping the Premier League for the Pro League.
Pro League proving a lure for Australia's up and coming footballers, admits Adam Federici
It is a mispronunciation that has long grown tiresome to Australian goalkeeper Adam Federici.
Whenever the 28 year old travels home to Nowra in New South Wales, friends, family, fishermen and any other folks who live in this sleepy beach-town make the same old error. “You play for a club called … Reeding?”
“They just have no idea of the concept of how big football is outside the country,” Federici, who has played for the English Premier League side Reading since 2005, told The National ahead of Australia’s crucial World Cup qualifier tonight against Oman.
“I get it a lot, to be honest, Even from my own family.”
Federici does not even enjoy books. The 6ft 2ins shot-stopper prefers music; playing the guitar and listening to Hootie and the Blowfish.
Such is his friendship with the band Secretion, he regularly calls upon one of its members to add ink to his already heavily tattooed frame.
Federici will test his vocals as he sings the Australian national anthem at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Tuesday. Having lost to Jordan in Amman and managed only a draw with Japan at home, the Socceroos’ place at next year’s World Cup is far from certain.
Five points from four games sees them sitting second in Group B, eight points behind Japan, who have played a game more. A win tonight though, would provide breathing space in the fight for qualifying: Iraq and Oman each are on five points, and Jordan on four.
“Oman is a big game for us,” said Federici, who could have played for Italy. “We have to win our home games. Obviously, travelling all the way back to Australia in the middle of the season is not great, but it’s a game we need to win and hopefully we can get to Brazil.”
Australia lost out to Qatar in its bid to host the 2022 World Cup, but it will host the 16th iteration of the Asian Cup, in 2015. The hope is by the time the tournament swings around, football’s reputation will have grown in the region and progress is already underway; helped by high-profile signings such as Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey.
“It is trying to be big in Australia, but it’s nowhere near rugby league on the south coast,” Federici said. “Del Piero has improved it and Heskey is doing quite well and seems to be enjoying it. The quality is improving and the crowds are getting bigger, too. I’m sure in a few years it will be up there with rugby league.”
Del Piero told The National on the sidelines of the Australian Grand Prix this month that he is enjoying his experience with Sydney FC and dismissed talk of a future move to the UAE. Several Australian players, however, have relocated to the Middle East in recent years, including Alex Brosque of Al Ain, Lucas Neill of Al Jazira and Al Wasl and Mark Bresciano, who plays for Qatar’s Al Gharafa and earlier played for Al Nasr.
Federici has visited the Emirates “countless times” both on vacation and for professional reasons and has been left with a positive impression. While the region used to be renowned as the final stop on the road to retirement, this perception, he says, is gradually changing.
“It’s a beautiful place. I know a lot of the boys who play out here and they all say the quality is getting better. If it was ever a possibility, I’d love to try it one day,” Federici said.
“It’s not just players on their way home any more, either; there are a lot of young players who could go to Europe or Asia, but are playing here and enjoying it. Brosque is doing well and a few others, as well. They all speak highly of the league; the quality has been building for quite some time. It’s great to see – especially with the World Cup coming to the region.”
Federici made his own move abroad when he was 18. He had tried his hand at “every sport you can possibly think of” and found inspiration in the leadership qualities of his country’s cricketers. Yet he settled on football after “going further quicker” while playing for Huskisson Soccer Club.
“Where I grew up, we didn’t actually get football out there, so my inspiration came more from the Ricky Pontings and Shane Warnes, who had that grit and determination inside,” he said. “These are the guys every kid looks up to: athletes with leadership qualities. In Australia, those characteristics are embedded in you.”
Federici’s upbringing did not always work in his favour, though. With a pocket full of money from his parents and a dream of playing in the Premier League, he moved to England, but found himself forced to flit from hotel to hotel as he tried to secure a contract. “It’s not easy when you come from the middle of nowhere on the south coast of Australia with absolutely no reputation. It took a long time for me to establish myself,” he said.
Eventually, Federici’s native determination paid off. “It’s a quality that England likes – you’re hurt, but you keep playing; do anything to win – and that probably helped me. That’s our mentality in Australia, as well; you go in hard or you don’t go in at all. It’s something I was brought up with and if you look at the Warneys, it applies to every sport.”
The goalkeeper is hoping his drive pays off once again. If Australia can beat Oman and strengthen their grip on automatic qualification for Brazil 2014, the friends and fishermen in New South Wales will be reading a lot more about football and Adam Federici.