Archie still firing

A myriad of stars have come and gone from the Hyundai A-League, but there is only one player who can say he has been in the top echelon of players in every one of the seven seasons to date.

A myriad of stars have come and gone from the Hyundai A-League, but there is only one player who can say he has been in the top echelon of players in every one of the seven seasons to date.

When Archie Thompson returned from Belgium to become part of Melbourne Victory's foundation squad, few could have expected he would have such a prolonged impact on the fledgling competition.

Sure Archie had a record. In fact he had the most famous record in Australian football history - those 13 goals in an Oceania World Cup qualifier against American Samoa in 2001. But he came back as a little bit of enigma. He was a 26-year-old who despite his five-year journey in Belgium, still had some growing up to do.

While that youthful exuberance was viewed as holding him back in 2005, it is one of the attributes which has kept him fresh and sharp in his 34th year and in some of the best goal-scoring form of his long career.

The child still very much exists in Archie. His grin and often off-beat sense of humour are contagious. His thought process, at least in public, remains a stream of consciousness, equal parts bemusing and amusing. His years in the public eye have not changed the class clown inside, the man who wishes to entertain first and inform later.

But there is now a great maturity in Archie as a footballer. The seeds sewn in his tough years trying to establish himself in Belgium bore fruit in his early years at Melbourne Victory. He has grown into himself and become a player regarded as much for his work ethic as for his skills.

The challenges he has faced in his time with Melbourne are instructive as to his maturity. He has a will to overcome which has turned him from another talented kid into the most prolific striker in the A-League's history.

The relationship between player and club hasn't always been so mutually beneficial. Late in season one, with Victory's campaign slipping away, he opted for a short-term deal with PSV Eindhoven in a bid to improve his chances of making the World Cup.

It turned into a bit of a saga, one which did little for the reputation of player or club, but Thompson got his wish and while he only made two appearances for the Dutch giants, it got him into the final 23 for that historic campaign at Germany 2006.

Unfortunately, he wasn't able to get any game time, but his time in the national team consolidated his great friendship with the man who would become the most influential Qantas Socceroo of the next four years, Tim Cahill.

The two share a connection far beyond their goal celebration, with both possessing a 'forever young' approach to the game.

The fact that Thompson is evergreen at 33 owes not just to his attitude, but arguably to the hiatus he took in his career in his late teens. Disillusioned despite his promise as a junior, he walked away and spent time as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant, learning about himself away from the game.

There are plenty who said those lost years cost Thompson an opportunity to make it to the highest level. But there is also a sense that his time away enabled him to prolong his career into his mid 30s.

If any Victory fans felt a little miffed at Thompson's PSV experiment, he repaid them in spades with 12 months. In the 2006-07 Grand Final, he unleashed the most extraordinary individual performance in an A-League game, scoring five goals and winning the Joe Marston Medal.

It proved a defining moment of his career and one he rates much higher than his rout of the hapless American Samoans six years prior.

He continued to build a striking record the envy of any other marksmen and celebrated another championship success in 2008-09 thanks to a 1-0 win, again over the Reds.

Then 12 months later, he hit arguably the biggest speed hump of his career when he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament early in the 2009-10 Grand Final against Sydney FC.

The immediate pain of a championship lost on penalties was compounded by the probability he could miss up to 12 months of football. For a 32-year-old, it could have spelled the end.

But Archie was not your typical 32-year-old. He still had plenty to give, and while he admits he drove his wife and kids mad, he was back on the field after just seven months.

However, after further setbacks with injuries and then the turmoil that engulfed the club at the end of last season, it was not until the start of this campaign that Thompson began to look like the Archie of old.

But his form this year, despite the fact Melbourne have struggled to win, is arguably a match for any other time during his career with Victory. He has scored four goals, won three penalties and played a role in a couple of other goals this year.

But perhaps the most positive sign is the approach he has taken to his off-field duties. With Kevin Muscat, for so long the mouthpiece of the team, now in the stands, Thompson has taken it upon himself to deliver it straight to his team-mates especially in post-match interviews.

Thompson's expectations of both himself and his team-mates remain extremely high and those standards are the reason he is still playing great football.