An interview with Bruce Kamau: “City’s ambition was the reason I moved”

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By , Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    In a league where – more often than not – age and experience are more richly rewarded than youthful exuberance, it can be tough for an up-and-comer.

    As the A-League grows, with more marketable stars arriving every season, the general scrutiny intensifies. Increased competition for places only urges on the grinder, with the most promising starlets thrust – often prematurely – into the spotlight.

    Australian football still has rose-tinted memories of that Golden 2005 Generation, and the expectations for the national team players succeeding them are cranked up higher and higher. The life of an athlete is one constantly teetering over a number of yawning chasms; the threat of injury, of a wrong career move, of a string of bad performances.

    Bruce Kamau, relaxing in the Melbourne City facilities in Bundoora, sits in across from me, having finished training on what has suddenly become quite a warm, blustery September day. His career – just four years young – is already glittering.

    He has won every senior domestic trophy Australia has to offer, the Premiership and Championship with Adelaide in the 2016-17 campaign, and the FFA Cup with City last season. It seems a rather smart thing to do, to collect the full set of winners medals at the beginning of your career.

    Placed as he is at the very centre of the richest club in the country, Kamau is in an enviable position. Walking into the facility, the players are funnelled into a building architecturally designed to flow with the needs of the daily routine; a stroll past the manager’s office, then past the shelf where pre-prepared vitamin supplements and protein shakes stand in name-tagged pigeon holes, then through a room filled with GPS gadgetry, then finally into the boot room and out onto the $2million training pitch.

    The place is filled with an air of luxury and expectation.

    But we were in the cafeteria, so it was less luxury and expectation in the air, and more the scent of quickly petrifying muffins.

    You were born in 1995, arrived in Australia from Kenya when you were four years old. You’re placed right in the middle of the generation that were in their formative years when the A-League began; you were 10 when it started? What were your impressions of it in those years, did you go and see A-League games as a kid?

    I watched a bit, but not so much when I was young, like very young. More when I started playing. My brother was actually in the Adelaide United youth team before me, so through that I started watching a few of their games, and then more when I was in the youth team.

    We’d go as a youth team together and watch the senior team play. That was more my experience watching the A-League.

    Because for the generation before you, a high-level career in professional football almost always meant looking to move overseas at a young age. Your teammate Tim Cahill is a good example of that.

    It still happens today, of course; we’ve seen Riley McGree opt to move abroad quite early in his career. Is the attitude among young Australian players looking to launch a football career different now, with the success of the A-League, or is Europe still the first preference?

    I think it really just depends on the individual. You mentioned Riley; he got the opportunity to go overseas at a young age and I think anyone in his position would do the same thing and take that up. But for other players, I think developing in the A-League is a better avenue, and then moving over to Europe once you have a bit more experience.

    It really just depends on the individual situation.

    I think that the league has gotten better. And it’s more competitive now, so being a younger player and doing well enough to get yourself out there and noticed by a European club, it’s maybe a bit harder than what it would have been when the league first started.

    You’ve had an extremely successful first four years in the A-league. What was it like becoming such a key part, especially as the season went on, of a double-winning Adelaide team in just your second campaign?

    Yeah, it was really good. I mean, I’d been playing in the youth team for a while, and season before I’d just started playing in the first team.

    The style that we play there is present right throughout the youth and the first teams, so making the jump wasn’t too much. I was given an opportunity and I just tried to take it with two hands.

    Obviously, you moved to Melbourne City at the start of last season and have become a key part of the attack here. From the outside, the investment in both the squad and the club facilities show the ownership group are trying to build something pretty grand here. Do you get a sense of that ambition as a player?

    Definitely. You can see that from the outside, and when you’re here within the group, within the playing team, you can get that sense as well. It’s something that – when I was making the decision whether to stay in Adelaide or come here – I took into consideration.

    It was one of the main reasons I moved here, because of the ambition and the vision that the club and the City Group has.

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    You won the FFA Cup last year, but City were eliminated in the first round of the A-League finals. Did the team feel they fell short of the admittedly high expectations, and has that spurred you on for this season?

    I don’t know whether I’d say the expectations were high. I think any team goes into the season wanting to win, and when you’re at a club like this you expect to win. Falling short and losing in the finals is something we looked at, and we were obviously disappointed with. But you move on from that, and you come into the next season looking to remedy the mistakes and fix what you need to.

    You are part of the Australian U-23 team that qualified for the AFC U-23 Championships next January, topping the group with a perfect record.

    I don’t think fans really have an insight into what it’s like going from your club team to an international team; what are some of the challenges inherent in making that transition as a player?

    First of all, you’re going in and playing with a bunch of players you’ve never played with, and some of the time you’re meeting a whole new bunch of boys, and it’s a new coach and so he can have his own system, his own style of play, and his own way of doing things.

    Luckily for me, I’ve worked with Josep Gombau before, so the system and what he was implementing before I joined was something I was already familiar with.

    We’d had a couple of camps leading in; I went to one of them in the central coast. You train a lot, but it’s tough because you only see each other for maybe a few days, and then you’re back with your club. So it’s hard to be consistent. It’s a credit to the coach and the [U-23] playing group that we managed to go there and get the job done.

    As you said, Josep Gombau is the U-23s head coach, and he’s a coach you worked closely with in Adelaide. Is his style different as U-23s coach than it was as Adelaide manager?

    Not really, to be honest. I think the only difference that I can say is that when I was at Adelaide and he was there, you had more time to work on things; it’s a bit more refined.

    Whereas at the national level, you only see each other for a few days, like I said, so you kind of have to cram everything in, and get that base level of what you want, more than getting all the refinements in. There’s not really that much time.

    Josep has spoken out on how important it is to have a national footballing philosophy, and a unified approach to the game throughout the national set-up. He’s been present at all of the Socceroos matches, and appears to be following the lead set by Ange Postecoglu. Did you get a sense of this playing for the U-23s?

    Somewhat. We play a bit of a different system than what you see the national team currently playing, with the three-at-the-back. But obviously Gombau is involved with the Socceroos, so there are some principles there that are the same as those that he brings into the U-23s.

    The latest FIFA 18 ratings have come out, and players all over the world are reacting to the stats they’ve been given. Melbourne City signed an e-sports FIFA player this year, who represented Australia at the FIFA Interactive World Cup.

    Do you play FIFA, what do you think of how intertwined it’s becoming with real-life football, and do you pay attention to your own or teammates’ in-game stats?

    I think a lot of footballers play FIFA, it’s a game that, even if you don’t play football, a lot of people tend to enjoy playing with friends and stuff. Being in the game, when you’re young; it’s something you always dream of achieving.

    So when you’re on there, personally, I don’t go out of my way to look at the stats, but when it’s brought up or something, I’ll always know, you know, what I’m like in the game. Yeah, it feels good to see myself ranked, I think, top five in the league.

    The club have just announced Marcin Budzinksi as a new marquee. What do you know about him, and are you excited about playing with him in the upcoming season?

    To be honest, I don’t know too much. He trained with us yesterday and today, and he looks the goods, so we’ll see how he settles into the team. I’m sure he’s come here with ambitions to do well.

    The 2017/18 A-League season begins on October 6, when Melbourne City take on the Brisbane Roar.