Is Jason Culina Australia’s Owen Hargreaves?
The year was 2006 and Owen Hargreaves was crowned ‘Player of the Year’ in England after his stunning performances at the World Cup in Germany.
In fact, Hargreaves was not only voted as England ‘Player of the Year’ but he was also voted as the England’s ‘Player of the World Cup’ in official FA polling, in turn, becoming the first ever player to win both awards in the same year.
In 2006, Jason Culina was part of a Socceroos team who defied the odds at that World Cup and made it to the Round of 16, where they were eliminated by Italy.
Culina was such a vital cog in that Socceroos line-up that he started in all four games, with his ball distribution proving exceptional.
It was these performances that captured the hearts of the Australian people and left a lasting legacy on the Australian sporting landscape. Culina was part of ‘Hiddink’s heroes’.
At this time these two players were at the top of their game, with Hargreaves eventually making a £17 million move from Bayern Munich to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 2007. Finally, one of England’s finest players was to play in England.
Culina was being courted heavily by some of Europe’s biggest clubs with Rangers, Celtic and Premier League sides Aston Villa, Fulham and Portsmouth all showing genuine interest at this time. Rangers reportedly put in a bid to Culina’s club PSV Eindhoven worth in excess of £1 million for the Socceroo midfielder.
Tragically, though, Hargreaves’ United career was constantly jeopardised by injury; it was hardly the dream move that the English midfielder had hoped for. The 2006/2007 brought with it a total of 34 appearances, which was certainly a bright start, as in his first season with Manchester United they won the Premier League and Champions League titles.
Sadly it all went quickly downhill from there, with his recurring patellar tendinitis injury reaching a critical point. The 2008/2009 season would only produce three appearances for the club.
Visits to specialists in the USA and then Sweden proved to be unsuccessful; even world renowned Colorado doctor Dr Richard Steadman, the ‘knee whisperer’, was unable to cure Hargreaves.
The seasons of 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 would produce a total of two matches, leaving his career in the balance. There was catastrophic doubt about whether Hargreaves and his suspect knees would ever play football again.
Hargreaves took it upon himself to play football again and posted online Youtube videos of his rehabilitation for all the public and potential suitors to see.
This proved an ingenious move with West Bromwich Albion making a large pitch for the man, however he eventually settled on a pay as you play deal with Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City. But the highlight of his tenure here was a free-kick against Birmingham in the Carling Cup.
While only making limited appearances, his knee troubles were over with Hargreaves proving invaluable in training and playing reserves. Whilst his comeback was not an entire success, his determination must be admired, and for this a final swansong could beckon for the luckless Hargreaves.
Culina turned down the moves that he was linked to and decided against a contract extension at PSV Eindhoven and left the club at the end of 2009. This paved the way for a move to Clive Palmer’s Gold Coast United, making Culina the highest paid Australian footballer of any code. Culina reportedly put pen to paper on a contract worth in excess of $1 million a season.
This return home is where it all tragically began to unravel for our beloved Socceroo.
Culina’s first season as Gold Coast captain was a sensational A-League debut; he would come awfully close to a player of the year award after netting three goals and countless assists in 26 appearances for the ‘glitter strip’.
The following season would also begin in a flurry and five goals in 18 appearances would set up another potential MVP season. However, towards the latter half of that season the injury curse began to strike.
His final weeks as a Gold Coast player would be on the sidelines, as his knee began to flare up. Culina would then miss the 2011 Asian Cup in January to undergo further rehab.
He would then go on to join father Branko at the Newcastle Jets after signing another mega deal as their marquee player.
But he would not play a game for the Newcastle Jets, however, after being controversially sacked along with his father after both were condemned by owner Nathan Tinkler for selling the club a ‘dodgy product’. The legal dispute with the Newcastle Jets has thankfully been resolved, finally.
These 18 months out of the game have been the toughest in Culina’s time in the game. Much like Hargreaves, rehabilitation becomes the focus of your life. He has been treated by leading Sydney surgeon Leo Pinczewski, and it has worked out well.
Culina has been training with Sydney FC head physio Stan Ivancic, after the complex procedure of having his left leg broken to re-align the limb and relieve the pressure on the articular cartilage.
The 31-year-old is bullish about a comeback and seems to have met all the criteria to return to our game. Jason Culina 2.0 seems rejuvenated and re-energised. This is an inspiration.
Now where does this leave these forgotten stars now? While Hargreaves is once again clubless, despite the no longer dodgy knee, Culina has been working hard trying to make a comeback of Hargreaves proportions.
Hopefully there is one more club stint for Hargreaves, who otherwise is set to be fast tracked by the England FA into coaching.
As for Culina, let’s hope that the worst of his troubles are over, with links in recent weeks to Sydney FC, Central Coast and the Western Sydney Wanderers. He is all but ready to make a comeback to the A-League.
Even a potential Socceroos return has been touted; now this would be a welcome sight.
Now while Culina hasn’t been posting Youtube videos of his rehabilitation, these clubs should take his word for it that he is ready to play.
It is the least that this Socceroo deserves.
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