Gold Coast United captain Jason Culina declares: “I believe this team is going to be great."
The time for talk is over. Months have passed, (a lot of) words have been spoken, and column inches have been filled. The time for Gold Coast United to walk the walk is here. And the team-s captain can-t wait.
“For whatever reason, we-re the team that everyone wants to beat and that-s a good thing, it means we-re doing something right,” Culina tells AFW ahead of the match against North Queensland Fury.
For Culina, especially, there-s added incentive: he-ll be the first captain to lead Gold Coast United out in front of their home fans, as well as some other friendly faces. “To be captain is an honour in itself,” he admits, “but to be playing in Australia in front of your friends and family is something a lot of players strive for.
“I-m going to be super focused and absolutely determined to get the best possible result, because we want to win games and be a club of winners.”
There-s been plenty said about Culina-s decision to return home at the age of 29, but the attention hasn-t fazed him so far: “It-s a new chapter in my career,” he says simply.
This new chapter mirrors that of the Hyundai A-League, but for Culina it represents a bigger change as he remembers the days of the NSL. “I-ve been very impressed with the Hyundai A-League,” he says. “The set-up, compared to the NSL, is greatly improved and you only have to look at the way clubs are run to see how much it has improved.
“The players have improved and everything is a much better package to what the NSL was.”
Culina should know, too, he-s been a keen observer throughout the A-League-s previous four years, keeping an eye on developments from Holland where he was playing for one of Europe-s top sides, PSV. “I-ve been following it every weekend by watching highlights packages online. I-ve seen a big improvement.
“The most important thing is that teams keep performing and with the two new teams it-s going to increase the competition and level of the league.”
And quality is something Culina will bring to Miron Bleiberg-s side this season. Will he be able to make a difference league-wide?
“One player? No. But one player can play his part,” he says with a wry laugh. “I-ve always been a believer in teamwork and that everybody plays their part, but perhaps me coming back is a piece of that puzzle.
“I feel like I can definitely do that, because of my experience of playing at the highest level for a number of years.”
But it-s that same quality critics are saying will be lowered by playing in the A-League, particularly with a World Cup looming. Culina scoffs at such claims. “In no way do I intend to lower my level,” he says, “and I will be watched closely, perhaps more so than in the past, but I-m prepared for that.
“I know what I-m capable of and that-s what-s most important.”
While Culina admits he-s “ready” for the extra responsibility his much-publicised arrival has brought, there still remains the question of his Socceroos place. If you believe what the papers are saying, it-s in jeopardy.
“I spoke to Pim about the move and I felt that he had a valid point at the time, and he still does, but Pim knows me well enough to know my level won-t drop,” he explains with conviction. “For Pim it wasn-t a problem and I think things were written and blown out of proportion because there was nothing else to talk about.
“I will be ready for the World Cup.”
First things first, though: negotiating the huge weight of expectation currently hovering over Skilled Park.
“We thrive on that sort of stuff,” he says of the hype. “But what is pressure? Pressure is only what you make of it. I-m older and more experienced now so there-s less pressure.”
But then there-s the owner-s boast of winning the title in the first year…
“There-s no doubt it-s a big ask,” Culina says. “We know we-re a good team and we know we-ve got the players with the potential to win things, so it-s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”
FAMILY AFFAIR Come round four, Culina Jnr will be leading his side out against Culina Snr-s team when Gold Coast travel to Newcastle to face the Jets. Nothing like a bit of (healthy) family rivalry to spice things up. Culina, though, has history on his side.
“It-s happened before,” he says. “Dad was coach at Penrith and I was playing for Sydney United and we came up against each other.
“Lucky for me we came away with a win and I got a goal too.
“When we play against them in round four everything will be forgotten and we-ll both go out there to try and get the three points.”
This article appeared in Issue 2 of Australian Football Weekly (AFW) for the Hyundai A-League 2009/10 season. Australian Football Weekly, on sale at every Hyundai A-League game for $5.