Jason Culina's trial game for Sydney FC earlier this week represents the beginning of the end of an arduous journey for the Culina family.
This Saturday-s "Big Blue" against Melbourne Victory might be too soon for Jason Culina to make his long-awaited return to first-team football, but his trial game for Sydney FC earlier this week represents the beginning of the end of an arduous journey for the Culina family.
When Jason finally does run out on that field in a Sky Blue shirt, there will be no one more satisfied than his father Branko.
But along with that immense pride, there remains an underlying sense of injustice at the way they were both discarded by the game following their controversial sacking by Newcastle Jets on the eve of the 2011/12 season.
Without wanting to dwell on the past, Culina admits that the events of the past 18 months have taken their toll.
“If I hadn-t been involved in the game for so long I would have probably been suicidal, but I know you have to expect the unexpected,” Culina told a-league.com.au.
“On top of that I had to worry about how Jason would handle it. People talk about marquee players coming back and putting something into the game when they-re 34 - Jason was 28, at the peak of his career in Europe when he decided to come back.
“He-s a Socceroo, played in two World Cups, 32 Champions League games, was regarded as one of two Australians to be the most outstanding contributors at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and for him to be treated that way without anyone sitting down and explaining it, it was hard.
And Culina is adamant his son could have returned to the field sooner had he received adequate support in his rehabilitation from the knee injury he first suffered playing for Australian in January 2011.
“There-s no doubt Jason would have been back a couple of months earlier after he had the second operation in October,” he said.
“But he did nothing until he started working with Stan (Ivancic, Sydney FC physio), so that was six or seven months of inactivity, and not knowing where his future was going to be.”
What still rankles is the suggestion that Culina had prior knowledge of Jason-s injury before he signed for the Jets and how that has affected the family-s reputation.
“There was speculation that because Jason-s injury prevented him playing that we may have known about it, which is nonsense. The club had all the information that was needed about passing Jason-s medical.
“But there is a perception out there that we were guilty of something. And even since we-ve been cleared - you don-t stay in this game as long as I or Jason have if you-re not doing the right thing - it still sticks today.
"I-m just delighted for Jason that he has the opportunity to prove that he can play at the highest level again.”
One aspect of this story that perhaps has been overlooked is the effect it all had on Culina himself. A coach being sacked is big news for a week but it quickly fades from the public consciousness.
Culina-s termination by the Jets, however, was so abrupt, it is easy to understand why the frustration might linger.
“I got sacked at Sydney FC after eight games - it was hard to take but I accepted it because I had eight games to prove that I could coach or not.
“But at Newcastle I took over a side that finished last and took them to the finals the following season. The hardest part, even to this day, I-d love to know why (my contract was terminated).”
With Jason finally on the verge of making his comeback, however, Culina is now ready to move forward, to find another role in football and enjoy his son-s return to the game.
“I just want to be involved in the game. I am doing something at Premier League level (with Rockdale City) because I-ve waited a fair while to get things sorted and hoping that an opportunity would arise.
“I love the game and I-ll be back somewhere. I love the Australian game otherwise I could have easily gone overseas. I-m Australian through and through.
“It-s out of my control. If it happens I-ll value it, treasure it and give it everything - if it doesn-t that-s life, I-ll move on and you-ve got to be grateful about what you-ve got.
"There-s no point being bitter. It-s about Jason at the moment, we-ve all got our fingers crossed he-ll help Sydney and get back on his feet.”