EXCLUSIVE | Occasionally in football, if you believe in yourself and just keep going, magical things can happen. Just ask former Sydney FC player Brendan “Rex” Renaud.
Saturday, February 24 is the 10-year anniversary of a heart-warming tale.
A 10-man Sydney FC traipsed off Suncorp, knocked out in the second leg Hyundai A-League Elimination Final by Queensland Roar (now Brisbane Roar).
A 2-0 second-leg loss on February 8 put an end to the Sky Blues’ hopes of a second championship.
But the loss meant that John Kosmina’s men weren’t quite finished for the season; it meant a place in the inaugural 2008 Pan Pacific Soccer Championships beckoned. In Hawaii, no less. Starring David Beckham and his LA Galaxy.
MLS powerhouse Houston Dynamo and Japanese outfit Gamba Osaka were also confirmed for a tournament arranged to further cash in on the astonishing hype around Beckham, who was still in the England national team and supercharging the domestic game Stateside.
Hawaii, Beckham, sun, sand... sounds glamorous.
CAREER WINDING DOWN
Glamorous is not a word you’d use to describe Brendan Renaud.
Dependable, hard-working, tough: these are more accurate descriptors of the man affectionately known as “Rex”.
The midfielder was in the final throes of a modest career spanning mainly the old NSL and, latterly, the NSW Premier League.
In 2007, Renaud worked in community development at Sydney FC.
He hadn’t officially retired but his career was effectively over. Yet, he kept himself fit in the local premier league; eating right; prehab; correct recovery... you never know, even at 34.
And as a Sydney FC staff member, he was at ANZ Stadium in November 2007 as Beckham curled a famous goal past Clint Bolton in front of 82,000 fans in one of the most talked about exhibition matches in Australian sports history.
Renaud saw first-hand Beckham Mania.
Little did he know what life had in store for him.
KOSSIE COMES A CALLING
The following morning Renaud went back to his job spreading the gospel at grassroots level, but life was about to take an exciting twist.
He was called into the Sydney FC manager’s office.
Sky Blues boss John Kosmina wanted to add some grunt to his midfield, so he arranged for Renaud to be registered as a senior squad player.
“My playing career had finished! I hadn’t officially retired.
"I suppose I never really thought of myself as big enough that anyone would care if I retired or not,” Renaud told www.a-league.com.au.
“But now, I was pretty much a footballer again.”
Expectations were low. After all, he’d never played in the A-League.
“In my wildest dreams, the most I thought I'd be would be on the bench and supporting the team as a squad player.
“But I told ‘Kossie’, ‘I’ll give you everything’.
“I was so pumped to be there and not just to make up the numbers, I wanted to make sure that everything was done to the highest degree of professionalism.
“My first session I literally lost all the skin on my toes because I wasn't used to the balls being pumped up so hard, but I couldn’t care less.
“I was playing and getting paid.”
Renaud was living the dream.
Not only that, he was thrown into the starting XI against Wellington Phoenix after the Beckham friendly. He starred.
“I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
“And it was during the time Juninho was at Sydney FC. I was training and playing with Juninho!
“He used to say, ‘Rexy, you run and I’ll find you'. He was unbelievable quality. And an amazing man.
“That’s what is so beautiful about football. Some days you get it right, some days you get it wrong, but you give everything and just grind away.”
Renaud was suddenly on a roll.
He was part of the Sky Blues' incredible 5-4 win over Central Coast Mariners. And he stayed in the side right up to that Elimination Final.
“I was so grateful to Kossie. If he hadn’t done this, we wouldn’t be talking about this story ten years on.
“I’m so indebted to him and then CEO George Perry. It was a massive risk putting me in there. I could’ve easily broken down and not been up to it physically.
“Still to this day, I can’t thank them enough.”
Renaud's dream run ended after the finals loss to Roar.
Yet, as he trudged off the park the team manager told them to get ready to go to Hawaii to play in a tournament. Beckham would be playing, and they'd be leaving the next week.
“I’m thinking, ‘am I going too?’
“I was asked and of course, I wanted to go!
“I guess it was destiny. The universe was throwing me this opportunity.”
Beckham mania was back in swing in Honolulu as the Sydney squad - featuring Tony Popovic, Alex Brosque, Uffy Talay and Brendon Santalab - touched down at Honolulu International Airport.
Even Hollywood actor, Sydney FC investor, part-time keeper and super-fan Anthony La Paglia was there.
Staying in Waikiki, Renaud and the players were treated like rock stars though Beckham was obviously the star of the show.
“It was pretty cool bumping into Galaxy at the training venue. Ruud Gullit was coaching them. It was very surreal. It was like a celebration of football, that whole week," recalls Renaud.
At the Aloha Stadium (a short distance from Pearl Harbour), the Sky Blues opened the mini-tournament with a 3-0 loss to a top-class Houston Dynamo, conceding three times in the first half as Dwayne de Rosario ran riot.
Renaud played. The loss meant Sydney faced Galaxy for third place, while Gamba faced Houston in the final.
“It was the football Gods. I couldn’t play in Sydney in November but now I had a chance to be on the same park as this global icon," Renaud explains.
"Kossie knew I would have loved to have played against Beckham in Sydney in front of my family.
"So he says, 'you're starting, son'.
“We were all thinking, 'Am I going to make a fool of myself?' This is David Beckham, one of the best footballers in that era.
“I just didn’t want to get toweled up by Beckham.
"But I ended up skinning him. It was almost like an out of body experience.
"I thought, ‘shit, this is a global icon and I’m going toe-to-toe with him. I’m a 34-year-old who wasn’t even meant to be playing'.
“I’m thinking, ‘how good is this?’”
The conditions were hardly suitable for good football, yet Beckham shone on the hard surface covered with NFL markings.
“I remember Beckham whipped a free kick in during that game.
"Out of every ball I’d headed in my career – and I’d headed a few – I’ve never felt anything like it," recalls Renaud.
“It almost ripped the front of my hair out.
“The amount of spin, whip and of course power he puts on the ball.
"Talk about 'Bend It Like Beckham'. It’s actually true; he can hit a ball like no other. My head was spinning. Literally.”
THE BEST GOAL YOU NEVER SAW?
Sydney conceded almost straight away.
Beckham’s inch-perfect, deep cross helped Galaxy to a second-minute lead.
But on 41 minutes, Renaud did something amazing. Something that literally took the crowd's breath away, as Renaud explains.
“The opportunity came up. ’Bimbi’ [Steve Corica] plays the ball across and it just happened. Onto my left foot and I hit it...
“At halftime as we were walking off Beckham came over and said, ‘mate, that’s world class’.
“What else could I say? I was in awe.
“Just a few months ago I was a community development office and sort of retired. Now, this!”
It was a goal Beckham would’ve been proud of.
**Image by Stan Ivancic, Sydney FC.
GOING OUT ON A HIGH
Sydney FC lost 2-1.
But in the mixed zone after the game, all the journos wanted to speak to the unknown Aussie who’d stolen Beckham’s thunder with a goal of absolute quality.
The goal was seen by a smattering of Aussie fans. No social media clips within seconds of it bulging the net back then.
“Not many people saw that game but the ones who did, they mattered. After the game, I was interviewed by you, Aido, and you asked if I was playing again next season, but I knew deep down, that was it," remembers Renaud.
"The only way to top that goal in Hawaii would be to score the winner in a grand final in the A-League. But who's kidding who? The odds of that happening...
“How could you top that goal?” he asks.
And ask anyone, having your family feel proud of you is a special feeling. Renaud got to experience that moment with his family when he got back to his hotel overlooking the water.
“My family in Brisbane watched a stream, but it was delayed. I texted them to watch but didn’t say anything about the goal.
“An hour or two later after the game’s finished my mum and dad – dad passed away a couple of years ago – rang the hotel room and they’re screaming.
“They’re in tears.”
Ten years on, as Renaud sits in a cafe not far from where the Sky Blues train, he looks back with pride on his moment in the sun against one of the world's modern-day greats.
“It’s a good lesson for young kids, how my career ended and my age. Never give up," he says.
“Football can be extremely cruel but also extremely rewarding. I feel blessed to have played our game. It’s as simple as that.”
Renaud retired after that game in Hawaii.
He now works in real estate.