Mile Sterjovski: celebrating a Socceroo journeyman
Last week Mile Sterjovski signed what is likely to be his last professional contract in the game, joining the Central Coast Mariners.
This will give him the opportunity for a final swansong, something that this former Socceroo undoubtedly deserves.
Originally from the Wollongong area, Sterjovski was never in the limelight. He was a relative unknown in comparison to Socceroos stars such as Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka.
Sterjovski won me over in 2006. In fact he probably won thousands over with his performances in Munich and Stuttgart at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Sterjovski and his fellow Wollongong compatriot Scott Chipperfield were the most underrated and unheralded performers in Germany.
Dutch maestro Guus Hiddink loved a role player, someone who could be set a task and stick to it. This player would fulfil his duty in an admiral and effective manner. Sterjovski was such a player.
Sterjovski was always a willing performer for the Socceroos, with a third place in the 2001 Confederations Cup and memorable goals against Liechtenstein, Bahrain and Ghana as the significant highlights.
He earned a much-deserved 43 caps and eight goals in total for the national team.
At club level Sterjovski also showed up to every game with the same attitude and desire that he orchestrated at the national team level.
He was always hardworking, clever and ever reliable. He was to be the top scorer and under-21 player of the 1998/1999 NSL season for Sydney United.
A move to the Paramatta Power followed, and then finally Sterjovski’s big break came in 2000 when he left the NSL after 31 goals in 68 games in three seasons.
He signed for French powerhouse Lille OSC. Today, he remains one of only eight Australian players to ever play in Ligue one.
Sterjovski would notch up over 90 appearances for Lille with some memorable goals. His dependable performances as a wide man and versatile second striker in France paved the way for a big move to Swiss powerhouse F.C. Basel.
In his debut season in Switzerland Sterjovski and F.C. Basel would go on to win the 2004/2005 Super League title, before coming runners up in the two following seasons.
They went against the odds to make the UEFA Cup Quarter-finals in 2006. But it would be Mark Viduka’s Middlesbrough that knocked F.C. Basel out 4-3 on aggregate.
It was in Switzerland where Sterjovski created a real name for himself, with his club-level form being showcased at the national-team level. Sterjovski would appear for Basel over 70 times and score plenty of critical goals.
Turkey followed for Sterjovski, who signed for Gençlerbirliği OFTAŞ in 2007. Here his form was still consistent, but conditions were reported to be far from ideal.
Sterjovski shortly left Gençlerbirliği OFTAŞ and signed for English club Derby County in the January transfer window of 2008.
Sterjovski would have a mixed spell for Derby County. However the move meant he was able join the elite crop of Socceroos to have played in arguably the world’s toughest league, the English Premier League.
The League Cup Semi-final of 2009 would no doubt be the highlight of his brief English cameo. Sterjovski put in some very admirable performances on the wing for Derby County, with fans often admiring his performances.
While eventually managing to claim a starting spot for Derby County, financial concerns at the club meant players had to leave; Sterjovski saw this as an ideal time to return home.
Enter Tony Sage and the Perth Glory. While many fans will attack his reported $700,000-a-season contract as the marquee player deal at Perth Glory, Sterjovski began to repay the faith over his three seasons.
Signing a three-year deal in 2009 brought much hype to Australia and the ‘Wild West’; his profile lifted the league and was a catalyst for more future returning Socceroos.
While performances were mixed, Sterjovski brought much-needed leadership and profile to Perth; the disasters of 2009-2010 could not be attributed to one man, with other high profile players such as Robbie Fowler not even performing.
It was the 2011/12 season where Sterjovski put in some more-than-commendable shifts for Perth Glory. He led a recovery that generated playoffs for the Perth Glory and a tidy transfer fee for his move to China.
His time in Perth generated 15 goals in 61 appearances with some wonderful strikes. I fondly remember a few cracking strikes against Melbourne Victory.
In January of 2012 Sterjovski left the Perth Glory and signed for Chinese club Dalian Aerbin F.C for an undisclosed fee.
Sadly the rapid end of his tenure in China made it evident that Chinese food and Sterjovski did not mix. Only 15 appearances were made, paving the way for his move back home.
The Central Coast Mariners and former mentor Graham Arnold this week welcomed back a favourite son of regional NSW, tying him up to a one-year deal.His signing is one that many Mariners fans are very happy about.
Sterjovski can tell you that there is definitely no place like home after such an extensive career abroad spanning over a decade. Foreign surroundings have always proved challenging for him, both physical and mentally.
Sterjovski has now entered the status of a Socceroos journeyman. After his brief Chinese holiday in Dalian, Liaoning, it seems he is finally ready to settle down in Australia and give it his all in his final years in Gosford.
Let’s hope he can enjoy a season to remember.
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