Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Shayne D'Cunha: Bombay to Blacktown

Image Credit: Quarrie Sports Photography

There are not too many sports in the world or this Great Southern Land of Australia that can meld the many diverse cultures together like football.

Rather than describe football as the social conduit of cultures, I like to think of it as the high-end optical fibre than connects us all through the wonder of the round leather ball.

There are many young footballers whose backgrounds, stories of adversity and struggles have led to a strong sense of persistence and deep will to achieve results through a lot of sweat and tears along the way.

Enter Shayne D’Cunha whose own story is one that many Australians can relate to. Shayne was born to hard working Indian parents in one of the busiest cities in the world, Mumbai. The young defender’s journey from a young boy to being selected in a Young Socceroos squad is one worth telling.

At the tender age of four, Shayne’s parents made the giant but seemingly easy decision to leave Mumbai and commence a brand new life in the beautiful harbour city of Sydney. It was a decision that some 13 years on they are still relishing.

Australia Day means a lot to most Australians and for the D’Cunha family it is an important time for reflection and to appreciate the simple things that their chosen country delivers each and every day.

Quality of life, weather, relaxed nature of the people and a safe and healthy environment with which to live are just a few things they hold dear.

 “The sacrifices were huge for my parents but they soon made plenty of friends through other families. The lifestyle, freedoms and opportunities we are able to enjoy are endless in this wonderful city and country,” said Shayne.
 “I have returned to Mumbai on a few occasions and it is immediately apparent that I could never have enjoyed the same freedoms, rights and sporting pursuits I’ve enjoyed from growing up here. For the youth in Mumbai the focus is squarely on study and unfortunately football doesn’t sit high on the priority list."
 “My father and his brothers were all handy footballers back in the day and I guess their love and football DNA is alive and kicking on in me thankfully!”

While hockey is unofficially known as India’s national sport, it never appeared on Shayne’s sporting radar growing up and apart from a brief dabble in junior cricket it was clear from the outset that football is and always will be top of the tree.

Not surprisingly Shayne’s biggest source of inspiration is his tight family unit as he sets his sights on gaining that all important professional football contract with the Wanderers.

 “There any many challenges that come with chasing a sporting dream but having the support of family is most important to get over the challenges. There can be many high and lows along the journey but family always keeps me grounded and focused."

 “To realise my ultimate goal of one day playing for the Socceroos, I know it comes down to working hard at every session and doing everything right on and off the pitch.”

When asked who his favourite players are here and abroad, Shayne didn’t need to look to far from the Wanderer’s dressing room with Matthew Spiranovic easily commanding his attention and admiration.

 “Matthew has a wonderful understanding of the game and as a centre-back has tremendous vision and positional awareness on the pitch."
 “I certainly love watching his game to focus on the areas of my game that need improvement."
Away from the game it is the simple pleasures that help Shayne relax and unwind from the day-to-day schedule of football life.

 “Playing my acoustic guitar is the ultimate tool to take me away from solely thinking about football."
 “As important as it is to put the ultimate effort into all my sessions, the down time should be relished and used to refresh the body physically as well as mentally, and music really helps me do that!”

For now the task for Shayne is to continue training and playing hard each week with his Western Sydney Wanderers team in the Foxtel NYL.

 “The great thing about the game of football is that you share the whole journey with great mates who all understand what it takes to do well.”

Western Sydney Wanders Website Link:

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Lawrence Hanna: All about the basics

Image Credit: Quarrie Sports Photography

I never tire of speaking with young footballers; the common thread is that their love of the game dominates the conversation over the talk of making it big.

Almost all hold the belief that any spoils are a by-product of thousands of hours of hard work, patience and sacrifice.

Lawrence Hanna is a mature 16 year-old attacking midfielder with the Western Sydney Wanderers who has the football world at his feet.

As a young over-active boy his parents suggested he burn off his endless energy stores and choose a sporting pursuit. He played his first game of football at grassroots level for his local Bankstown Greenacre Eagles U6s and still to this day gets the same level of excitement at lacing on a boot and dribbling and juggling a ball.

He is relishing his time at Wanderland under Youth Head Coach Trevor Morgan and has benefited from his strong ethic of executing the basics of the game perfectly.
“Trevor’s emphasis on a short, free flowing football style has been a huge key to my improvement and maturity as a footballer,” said Lawrence."

“After each training session and game I always leave thinking about how I can improve on the mistakes I made and how I can help the team further.”
A key ingredient in getting players to perform is making them happy within the club environment and the Wanderers have worked hard to achieve a very harmonious balance in the dressing room. For the coaching staff getting the best players on the pitch at senior level and developing young talent can prove difficult but Lawrence feels they have the right recipe for success right

Lawrence’s immediate goal is to play senior football for the Wanderers and after training with the squad feels it is more a matter of when and not if.
“Tony Popovic gives you plenty of confidence as a player as he genuinely believes in your football talent."

“I just go on the pitch to prove myself for the team, always try do the little things well and never get casual or complacent.”
Asked what his ultimate football utopia would be he was quick to point out that it is every footballer’s dream to play for his country and that he hopes to be part of Paul Okon’s Joey’s squad for the U20 World Cup in New Zealand in 2015.

Despite that passion to wear the national colours he would love to one day play for his beloved Arsenal FC.
“It would be a dream to play with a club that I have enjoyed watching since I was a young boy!”
His hero is Shinji Ono who he says is professional in every aspect of his game and life.
“He is a perfect footballer to watch and learn from at the club and approaches his football in such a positive way that it is hard not follow his lead.”
Of course the name of Arsenal and French great Thierry Henry is high on the list as well as the exuberant personality of Swedish goal scoring sensation Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

To relax away from the pressures of intense training and schoolwork Lawrence loves to watch movies, listen to plenty of R&B and dabble in writing and performing freestyle rap with teammate Alusine Fofanah.
“I don’t take it all too seriously but we love writing things down and hearing how it sounds."
“As important as it is to train and work hard at the game it is also important to give your body and mind time to recover so it is the perfect release for me.”

 Western Sydney Wanderers Website Link:

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

World Cup 2014: Australia coach Ange Postecoglou facing tough challenge following unforgettable sporting summer

Following a summer that has seen Australia regain the Ashes and Rugby League World Cup, Ange Postecoglou's side can expect a harsh reality check this summer

Tim Cahill - World Cup 2014: Australia coach Ange Postecoglou facing tough challenge following unforgettable sporting summer

High hopes: Tim Cahill, the former Everton forward, can expect to make Ange Postecoglou's final selection for this summer's World Cup 


It is fair to say the Aussie sporting public is on a Bondi wave of summer sporting euphoria. The recent 5-0 whitewash of England in the Ashes series, the Wallabies winning practically all their matches on the spring tour and Oh! the Kangaroos rounding it out with a victory in the Rugby League World Cup at Old Trafford have made it a few months of sports viewing to remember. Maybe unfortunately, the Australian sporting public demands as much from their heroes in the Socceroo’s shirt, and despite their team drawing the might of world football in Group B (for Bad, Brutal and Brilliant if we can get out of it), they expect solid competitive performances.

Australia’s World Cup hopes began to fade quicker than a fake summer spray tan when they were pulled from the bowl after Spain, Holland and Chile. Realistically, when comparing the sides of our greatest World Cup triumph back in Germany 2006 with today’s squad, there are plenty of variables that set them apart.

The final squad for Brazil is yet to be decided by new coach Ange Postecoglou, but it is fairly certain that former stars Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton will not be listed on the team sheet. Tim Cahill, Marco Bresciano and Lucas Neill’s prospects are brighter but there’s an unsettling storm brewing over Neill’s captaincy as he struggles for competitive club football in the countdown to Brazil. Neill continues to reassure fans and administrators that he is the one to lead the side, but his fate could be decided in the boardroom rather than on the pitch.

The other notable absence is the sentimental favourite Mark Schwarzer. The Socceroos brand has dined out on Schwarzer’s commitment to the national football side since his debut in 1994 against Canada in a World Cup qualifier (a time when he and a few more of us weren’t so follically challenged). The 41 year-old and the first Australian to join the Premier League “500” club, held his No 1 spot on solid, consistent performances, the kind he recently turned in for Chelsea in their fourth-round FA Cup win against Derby County.

The veteran together with Jon Aloisi were responsible for one of Australia’s most memorable sporting moments after their penalty save and subsequent shot heroics ensured his country would be represented at their first World Cup finals campaign since 1974.

The obvious difference between the teams competing in Group B is the staggering disparity in team values. Australia is certainly the footballing poorer cousins. In Aussie dollar terms Spain is worth a staggering $623.5m, while the Dutch and Chileans hover around the $200m mark. The Socceroos’s collective value, at around $28m, is probably more in line with the worth of the Spaniard’s kit man. Money isn’t always an indicator, though, and converting wealth into results and trophies is never assured, but given Spain are the current world and European champions, it’s clear it certainly can help.

Australia’s young talent prospects appear to be healthy with Robbie Kruse performing well for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, although rising star Tom Rogic has been struggling to gain the much needed playing time for his adopted Scottish Premiership club Celtic.

In some real positive news just in off the January transfer and loan wires has Celtic manager Neil Lennon agreeing to a loan deal with Rogic’s former mentor Graham Arnold’s J-league side Vegalta Sendai. This is wonderful news that will no doubt benefit the 21-year-old in getting match hardened before the June tournament kicks off.

Another recent bolter to the squad is A-League Brisbane Roar midfielder Ivan Franjic. He played right back in the Socceroo’s recent friendly against Costa Rica, but his versatility and goalscoring ability could add an extra dimension to the squad’s attacking options.

One thing for certain is for the Socceroos to be competitive in Brazil, they require players at the peak of their powers on the pitch. Just warming the lush leather seats on the substitution’s bench will not please a hugely competitive minded Postecoglou as he defines the make-up of his side. Not many are confident of a knock-out stage berth, but limiting the goal margins to something other than resembling a tennis score is high at the top of the wish list after the disastrous “friendly” 6-0 6-0 losses to Brazil and France last year.

Deep down us Aussies love nothing more than being cast as the perennial underdogs. Our performances, whilst poor to learned football pundits, were all cleverly designed to lull our more fancied talent rich opponents into a deepening false sense of security.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Jaushua Sotirio: No rest for the talented

The last couple of weeks have been a perfect pre-cursor to the Christmas festive period but there certainly won’t be any relaxing in the Sotirio household.

18-year-old Jaushua Sotirio is planning on training hard after his debut appearance for the Wanderers against Newcastle Jets. That, coupled with his selection and attendance at the Young Socceroos training camp under coach Paul Okon, has seen a massive increase in his training workload of late but that is just how the self-confessed football workaholic likes it.

‘Ja Ja’, as his sister dubbed him from an early age, made a nervous and anxious start after replacing playmaker Youssouf Hersi in the 77th minute at Hunter Stadium in Newcastle.

The nerves were cast aside after only one minute as he claimed his first touch when he pressured the Newcastle defence into a turnover. It wasn’t long before he got another possession that saw his speed and skill to force Jets’ glove man Mark Birighitti into making a diving save.

“I felt so blessed to play in my first Hyundai A-League game with the Wanderers and am honored that the coaching staff has shown faith in me,” said the young forward.
“All I want to do is repay that faith for their confidence in me."
“I was a bundle of nerves sitting on the bench but the boys like Iacopo La Rocca and Kwabena Appiah tried to keep me nice and relaxed."
“When I was eventually called on by Popa, I was bursting with energy and enthusiasm as I hit the pitch.”
While some players may dream of a home debut, Jaushua said Newcastle was perfect.
“The best thing about playing for the Wanderers is the support you get from the loyal fans. It is hard to believe that the club is only in its second full season."
“People often think that you enjoy playing at home more, that may be true, but for me the travelling Wanderers fans make every game feel like a home game such is their commitment to their team.”
The biggest things Jaushua noticed about the huge step-up from the Foxtel National Youth League to the Hyundai A-League are the intensity on the pitch and the physicality and imposing nature of your opponents.
“You have to forget who you are up against and concentrate on doing the basics right and trusting your ability and the teammates around you.
“I always try and concentrate on three key qualities when approaching my football; determination, attitude and good mental strength are the attributes I live by on and off the pitch, whether at training or on game day."
 “You have be professional with every aspect of your game if you want to succeed.”
Jaushua comes from a football loving family, and decided to take up the game as a wiry 11 year old after being diagnosed with chronic asthma.
“The doctor told me that in order to improve my condition I should take up sport so I heeded his advice and dived headfirst into football”
With a mother and father who hail from New Caledonia, his upbringing has always had a big French flavoring to it.
“I speak fluent French and a little Italian also so I’d love to play in the French Ligue 1 someday. Perhaps at PSG but I’m not too fussy!”
When asked what player inspired him to go further in his football journey, he predictably leaned toward one of the legends of French football; Zinedine Zidane.

The Real Madrid and World Cup winning star was also emblazoned on the very first kit his parents gave him. Not surprisingly it was in the proud blue of the French National team.

No questions though of what country he would play.
“That without doubt would be the Socceroos!"
“To one day play for my country would be the ultimate honour, especially given the high calibre of players who have worn the shirt in the years past."
 “My time in the Young Socceroos camp under Paul Okon has been a wonderful experience and I have learnt so much from being around so many talented young players and coaches.”

For now Jaushua will put his head down over the hot summer months and continue working hard with his teammates and if given another chance in the senior ranks will make every post a winner.