Reward in sight for Valeri's Victory gamble

Decisions don't get any more difficult than admitting it's time to give up on a dream.

For some, eventually learning to come to terms with disappointment and a lack of fulfilment is the best they can hope for.

But for a lucky few, fate hands them an opportunity to chase a different goal, and in some cases, more quickly than they'd ever suspect.

In May 2013, Australia international Carl Valeri earned promotion to Serie A with Sassuolo. It should have been the culmination of a career spent in Italy's lower leagues. 

After learning his craft in the academy of traditional powerhouse Inter Milan - before leaving without making a senior appearance - promotion was to be his chance on the biggest stage in Italian club football. 

Here's the catch, though. After he suffered a serious ankle injury on international duty, Valeri had played no part in Sassuolo's promotion charge since November 2012.

Carl Valeri in action for the Socceroos.

He never played for Sassuolo in Serie A. Instead, he signed up for a relegation fight back in the second tier with Ternana in a bid to earn first-team football and push for an unlikely berth at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

At the end of a disappointing campaign and after two years of injury hell and rehab toil, the call from Ange Postecoglou didn't arrive. 

But a man with close connections to the Socceroo boss did pick up the phone, as his successor at Melbourne Victory, Kevin Muscat, sought to lure the holding midfielder home.

Two months before his 30th birthday, signing a deal with a Hyundai A-League club was essentially an admission that Valeri's career in Italy was over.

But in this case at least, returning to these shores wasn't football's equivalent of entering a retirement home. 

After two successive top-four finishes and semi-final exits, capturing the 52-cap international - not to mention fitting him under the salary cap - was a key step for Victory in assembling a squad capable of winning the Premiers' Plate and the Grand Final. 

The first objective was achieved in style late last month. To finish the job, the men in navy blue and white must overcome arch-rivals Sydney FC at AAMI Park on Sunday.

Melbourne Victory celebrate winning the Hyundai A-League Premiers' plate.

After saying a painful goodbye to one long-held dream, Valeri - a certain starter alongside captain Mark Milligan in midfield against the Sky Blues - has no intention of doing so again this weekend.

"To come back to Australia was a big decision, but it's something I made happily when I got the call from Musky and Melbourne Victory," Valeri told reporters on Thursday, three days out from the biggest occasion in the domestic calendar.

"Coming back and doing a week like this in my first season is something special and something I'm not taking for granted.

"I thought the club has always had it in them. They've just been unlucky in a few seasons. This year we've worked really hard and done really well and we're here. 

"In saying that, it's still a big task ahead of us on Sunday. We know that. It should be a fantastic afternoon."

Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold has done his best to try and get inside Victory heads this week, while the two teams' differing formations and approaches are sure to be picked apart before, during and after the biggest match of the season.

Valeri though has a very simple measure of determining how such a high-stakes clash is won and lost.

"Grand finals are different games," he said.

"It's the team that's willing to work the hardest, the team with the more desire that gets you through it. It doesn't matter what you do tactically or any strategies. It's just down to battles. Who's hungry enough is going to win it."

Arnold's mind-games aside, Victory have been forced to contend with a potential distraction of their own making in recent days, after out-of-contract fan favourite Archie Thompson made a public plea to be offered new terms, threatening to play on for a rival club if a deal isn't forthcoming.

Carl Valeri and Archie Thompson

Valeri issued a glowing tribute to his fellow veteran but insisted there is no room for sentiment in the dressing room this week given the prize on offer.

"I personally think Archie will always have a future here [in] some capacity," he said.

"He's a fantastic person. He's a fantastic professional and a great person to have around. [But] he's not thinking about Archie, he's thinking about Melbourne Victory at this point in time." 

Victory supporters will be hoping the rest of the team share the focus and determination of unsung hero Valeri, as the club seeks to bury the ghosts of a penalty shootout defeat at home to the same opponents five years ago.

Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC details