By CHRIS KARAS
SYDNEY FC’s Alex Wilkinson has still got plenty of football fuel in the tank, with the Sky Blues announcing they’ve re-signed the dependable defender for another two years.
“This club is like family to me, it’s my home, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be playing,” Wilkinson says.
“There’s a great journey ahead of us in 2018/19, we’ve got the majority of our squad sticking together and I want to be a part of the title successes to come.”
Among the most reliable and consistent performers in the A-League, fans of Sydney FC’s defensive rock would’ve been quietly hoping he’d be selected in the Socceroos squad in the lead up to its Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup mission next month.
That was not to be, with acting Socceroo coach Bert van Marwijk opting for youth over experience in a 26-man squad, being put through its paces in a training camp in Turkey, to eventually be culled to 23.
But the intensity of do-or-die football in a pressure-packed FIFA World Cup cauldron is an experience already familiar to the 33-year-old Gladesville resident.
He was part of the Socceroos’ short-lived 2014 World Cup finals campaign in Brazil, appearing in Australia’s group stage losses to heavweights Chile, The Netherlands and Spain.
“It was the toughest football I’ve ever participated in but a privilege to pull on the green and gold in the biggest international football competition one can play,” he says.
Despite the Socceroos coming away from the South American experience empty-handed, Wilkinson says he’s a better player for the experience.
“You learn so much by playing against these world-class opponents,” he says.
“Their incredible skill levels and ability to produce the goods under pressure has to be admired.”
Wilkinson says the Aussies showed tons of courage as they pushed their highly fancied rivals to their limits.
“The colour, excitement and magic moments at a World Cup are something I’ll always treasure,” he says.
The highlight for Wilkinson came during the 3-1 opening round loss to Chile at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba.
After clearing what appeared to be a certain goal off the line, FIFA took the opportunity to test its new goal line review system.
It confirmed his defensive feat and etched him in history as the first ever player to trigger use of the new technology.
Wilkinson was involved in some of the Socceroos’ World Cup qualifying matches under former national coach Ange Postecoglou, but didn’t figure in Van Marwijk’s plans.
With 16 caps for his country, including an AFC Asian Cup winners medal in 2015, Wilkinson is still ready and willing to don the green and gold in future international campaigns.
“It is such an honour to represent the Socceroos and I know Bert was looking to invest in younger defenders when he took over the coaching reins and that’s fine by me,” Wilkinson told The Weekly Times.
“As long as I’m playing good football at A-League level I’ll always be available for the Socceroos if required.”
Having wrapped up another successful and arduous season with A-League giants Sydney FC, amiable Wilkinson is looking forward to some down time with his family.
And he’ll be cheering on the Socceroos from afar when the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks-off in Russia next month.
“The Sydney FC boys all hope that midfielder Josh Brillante makes the final cut and goes on to do Australia proud,” adds Wikinson.
Wilkinson was a key ingredient in Sydney FC’s A-League championship triumph in 2016-17, with his solid showing at the back earning him a spot in the Professional Footballers Association ‘A-League Team of the Year’.
His skilful displays and coolness under pressure last season were just as impressive, helping Graham Arnold’s Sky Blues claim another Premiers’ Plate plus the FFA Cup.
But Sydney’s heart-breaking extra time loss to eventual champions Melbourne Victory in the recent Grand Final qualifier at Allianz Stadium is a painful reminder for Wilkinson and his team mates of the pitfalls of finals football.
“We won the premiership comfortably but it goes to show you have to bring your A game to a sudden death final,” he says.
“This will make the team even hungrier for success next season.”
Sydney FC resumes pre-season training in July under new coach Steve Corica.