Skoko leaves with respect

If respect among one's peers is the greatest measure of a player's quality, then Josip Skoko will be regarded as one of the finest footballer's Australia has produced.

If respect among one's peers is the greatest measure of a player's quality, then Josip Skoko will be regarded as one of the finest footballer's Australia has produced.

If you ask any of the Australian 'golden generation' about Skoko, they will fall over themselves praising the midfielder's poise and technical ability and the impact he has had on the Socceroos over the past 15 years.

Until this season, Australian fans have only really experienced him at international level, but his return to the Hyundai A-League to play for Melbourne Heart this year given them a chance to catch a glimpse of what his peers have always raved about.

But soon that window of opportunity will close, with Skoko confirming this week that this season, which has been curtailed by injury, will be his last as a player.

However, A-League fans should be glad they got their chance given Skoko was seriously considering calling it quits before Heart coach John van 't Schip came calling last year.

"Probably at the end of last year, when John came to see me, I was probably thinking of ending it at Hajduk Split, this Melbourne Heart franchise came along and I wanted to be a part of it," he said.

"It-s been a unique experience. It-s not that often you get to be part of a club which is setting up from scratch. Just that experience in itself has been great. Meeting a whole bunch of new people, making new friendships, that's invaluable. Just getting back into the system of Australian football, and just getting in touch with that has made it worth while."

Skoko fits the perfect mould of the term 'journeyman'. Leaving Australia as a teenager having not played NSL, he arrived at Hajduk Split in Croatia, the land of his parents' birth. Spells in Belgium, with Genk, Turkey, with Gencerbirligi, then in the Englsih Premier League, with Wigan and Stoke, followed.

He returned to Split to what he thought was his final days, only for the Heart to come calling.

All in all, he played over 400 games of top-flight football in Europe, a career that few Australians can match. He attributes his longevity to fortune and fitness.

"When I left the institute that was the first time maybe I thought I could go professional. I was just happy to get overseas, one thing leads to another, you move on and you get better and better," he said.

"I think I'm lucky I didn't have any major injuries along the way and that gave me the opportunities to move to different countries and to play as many games as I have."

While he achieved a lot at club level, he feels that his best moments came in his 51 appearances for the Socceroos, during which time he represented Australia at three Confederations Cups and one World Cup.

"Every club had its own moments. I had Champions League in Belgium, I had a relegation battle in the UK, that we came through, a good run with the UEFA Cup in Turkey, a cup victory with Hajduk Split," he said.

"Then there's the World Cup qualification. We had some massive wins with the national team in the early days, when we were outsiders, nobody knew us, but we had some big wins away from home. Nobody took notice of it, but for us they were huge at the time."

Skoko has seen many changes to the Socceroos' set-up over the years, but believes the major shift occurred after the World Cup, and he believes that will serve the interests of the national team well.

"I think the changes started after 2006, when some of the older boys started retiring. The new guys started coming in and that's why I said I wanted to be part of that team for an extra year, I didn't want to retire form the national team straight away, because of the young boys coming in and because of the change," he said.

"It's a good experience to see when a team goes through those changes, to see how a team reacts and that whole experience was important for me. It did change and when every generation changes, it's strange, but it-s hard to judge the two. Football changes and you move on, and I'm sure this next generation is on the right path, especially when you look at the completed Asian Cup campaign."

Skoko's appearance in the Hyundai A-League has not proven the success some would have hoped, with injury preventing him from playing the football he would have liked. However, he feels he has shown enough to demonstrate the quality of player he has been over his long career.

"I've definitely I've showed parts of it, I would have liked to show a little bit more, but you can't control when you are injured. In general I've been happy with the way we-ve gone and what I've been able to add to it," he said.

And he feels the best measure of what he has achieved is by speaking to those who played alongside of him, whether it was when he was 19 at North Geelong or now as a 35-year-old at Melbourne Heart.

"I think that's very important. The players you play with, they train with you, they actually know what sort of a player you are. Sometimes you get asked, 'what sort of player is this guy; but if you haven't played with him, it-s hard to know. It-s fantastic to hear that," he said.