Rising Stocks

After spending his early career on the outer, midfielder MILE JEDINAK is now an integral part of the Central Coast Mariners and is ready to step up for the Socceroos

After spending his early career on the outer, midfielder MILE JEDINAK is now an integral part of the Central Coast Mariners and is ready to step up for the Socceroos

How long ago it seems that Mile Jedinak was battling it out at trials for no pay, while in the process transforming himself from ambitious state leaguer to Hyundai A-League star. After trialling for months without reimbursement for Central Coast Mariners, Jedinak finally earned a place in the side, and his uncompromising performances last term not only helped Coast to a grand-final berth, but caught the eye of national team boss Pim Verbeek.

While others were resting tired bodies, Jedinak spent much of the off-season with Socceroos squads, desperately trying to lift his stocks in the eyes of the Australian coaches. Three international caps later and he-s back on deck with the Mariners, ready to tackle his second full season of A-League football and keep himself firmly planted in Verbeek-s plans.

Jedinak says his hasty rise might have exceeded some people-s expectations, but not his own. “I wouldn-t say it-s a great shock,” he says. “In terms of making the A-League and being competitive, I always had self belief that I would do that. Of course, the Socceroos games have been a little bit surprising because I-ve only played one full season in the A-League.”

Verbeek sifted through dozens of the A-League-s best Australian players in the latter stages of last season and Jedinak was one of the few that stuck. He debuted in the March friendly against Singapore, in which a number of first team hopefuls were tested.

Jedinak-s bustling performance on a bumpy pitch convinced Verbeek to book him on a flight to China were he sat on the bench during Australia-s World Cup qualifier stalemate.

“Since I-ve been called into the squad I-ve just done the job Pim has asked me to do,” Jedinak says. “I think I did that beyond his expectations against Singapore, because I was only told I was going to China after that game; initially I wasn-t in his plans.”

Socceroos legend Tony Vidmar played his farewell season with Jedinak at Central Coast and he believes Jedinak has positioned himself as the best of the rest in Australia-s defensive midfield stocks.

“There-s a good pecking order there,” Vidmar says. “Vince Grella is No.1. Carl Valeri is starting to put himself up there as well, and Jason Culina can play there. I think Mile is just after that.”

The Mariners- stuttering start to the 2008/09 campaign was no doubt connected to Jedinak-s absence through injury. The man the fans call “Jedi” succumbed to osteitis pubis - a condition caused by overuse of the groin - during Coast-s pre-season and was ruled out of the first three rounds.

Jedinak admits his involvement with Australia, after a tough A-League season, may have caught up with him. “I stopped straight away and got on top of it, so luckily for me it settled down quickly. I hope I-ve seen the last of it,” he says. Vidmar says Jedinak-s presence was visibly missed in the opening matches.

“In the first few rounds it affected the way the Mariners play,” the Adelaide United Youth assistant coach says. “He-s a massive player for Central Coast. He-s a big influence in the team, on and off the field.

“We called him the ‘enforcer- at the Mariners due to the way he doesn-t get bullied and very rarely loses any challenge. His short passing is good and he can score goals too, which is invaluable.

“He-s good at winning the ball from the opposition and then also distributing the ball. There-s not too many players around who can do that.”

Vidmar says this makes Jedinak the ideal A-League player. In a competition where chances and goals are often brought about by a change of possession and a quick pass in broken play, the master of the turnover is king.

Jedinak amassed more than 100 effective tackles last season with daylight between he and his nearest rival in that statistic. John Aloisi-s first A-League goal was

a penalty against Adelaide United created by textbook Jedinak - the midfielder stripping Nathan Burns of the ball before releasing a precise pass to the run of Aloisi in the area.

Newcastle Jets boss Gary Van Egmond told an FFA coaching conference earlier this year that part of his grand-final strategy was to use Joel Griffiths to drag Jedinak out of position.

Few bigger compliments could be paid to a player than having the opposition move its Golden Boot striker away from goal to nullify him.

If one thing equals Jedinak-s effectiveness, it-s his ambition. He had a stint in Croatia with NK Varteks Varazdin and says he would eventually like to have a second tilt overseas - with Socceroos selection among the pressing factors.

“I still have a desire to go overseas when the time is right,” he says. “I know Verbeek does look at the boys in the A-League, but I think you do have a bit of an advantage playing in a so-called strong league to be on the coach-s radar.”

Vidmar, who played in Belgian, Dutch, Scottish and English leagues, agrees that time spent abroad could benefit Jedinak.

“Depending where he goes, if he-s playing around even better quality, his game can go even further.

You play more games in Europe too, which is another influence. Somewhere on the continent would best suit Mile, but if he went to England he can battle, too, with his physical qualities.”

For now, level-headed Jedinak is sternly focused on the season ahead and his self-set goal of consistency - starting with Perth Glory on Friday.

“I-m trying to contribute as much as I can, whether it-s by talking more on the field or controlling the play,” he says. “I want to have a great influence on the team that will get us over the line and help us win games.”

Vidmar says this campaign is critical for Jedinak-s star to keep rising on its current trajectory.

“The thing with Mile is he-s just come into the A-League. This season is so important for him because he-s done so well the first year, now he-s got to reproduce that for the second year and not drop his standards. If he can do that it shows this guy-s definitely got something.”