Back from Romania and loving life

Wellington Phoenix defender Jon McKain has followed a varied and unconventional route to Hyundai A-League football.

Wellington Phoenix defender Jon McKain has followed a varied and unconventional route to Hyundai A-League football.

After originally beginning his professional career in Brisbane, the Australian came to the New Zealand capital via a lengthy stay in Eastern Europe.

McKain was born in Brisbane, and started his career in the old NSL competition. He had a four-year stint at the Brisbane Strikers between 1999 and 2003, where he made 67 appearances and chipped in with three goals.

However, the lure of European football was strong, and McKain found himself winging it to Romania where he donned the shirt of FC National Bucuresti. It was a big change for the young Australian, but a challenge that he relished.

"The lifestyle was difficult but the football was good and that was the main reason I went there. The football there is good, it's a good level. But there are a lot of other things that detract from the football in terms of how clubs are run and players are managed," he said.

"The Romanian league was rated the fourth-best league in Europe last season, so it's a good level. I suppose people might criticise it because they're ignorant of just how good it is."

McKain's European adventure saw himself battling against some of the world's best. Playing against Kaka and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whilst taking on the likes of AC Milan and Juventus, was a particular highlight for the 26-year-old.

"Playing against AC Milan in 2004 just after they'd won the Champions League is the biggest match I have played in. We drew 1-1 and they were full strength, so I got to play against guys like Kaka, (Andriy) Shevchenko and (Filippo) Inzaghi just to name a few," he said.

"I also played a game against a full-strength Fiorentina and Juve when Ibrahimovich was in his peak there."

McKain then spent several years at fellow Romanian Divizia A side FC Politehnica, before making the decision to head back to the Hyundai A-League.

Given that he has played several matches for the Socceroos, including the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2005 Confederations Cup in Germany, the decision to return from Europe was partially influenced by his desire to wear the green and gold strip again.

"Playing for Australia had something to do with returning … I felt I needed a change and the Phoenix was a good fit. The A-League has appeal and it's getting better all the time," he said.

"I've got a young family, too, which was another reason I wanted to come home. Getting back in the Socceroos is something I would like to achieve, but that's something that will take care of itself if I play well."

The move to Wellington and the immersion back into Australian football has been enjoyable for McKain, and he has adapted quickly to life in his new surroundings.

"It has been a very smooth transition since coming back from overseas. The people have been friendly and the club has been excellent, so it's been very easy for me and my family," he added.

"In terms of the A-League, it's obviously improved a lot since I left Australia from the old NSL. I think the addition of two new teams next season will be good because an eight-team competition is too small."

"It's competitive - any team can beat any other on their day - and the standard of football is really good."

The Phoenix find themselves on a run of victories, and it is a run which McKain hopes that he and his team-mates can take advantage of, in their push for a top-four placing.

"We've got on a bit of a run now but we're still nowhere near our potential. If we can maintain the run we're on then I think we'll be a good chance of realising our goal of making the top four. We've got the belief that we can do it."