Worth his Thwaite...

Fatherhood has changed Michael Thwaite, both as a person and as a footballer.

Fatherhood has changed Michael Thwaite, both as a person and as a footballer.

The Gold Coast United skipper used to hang around his house like a bad smell on match days, unable to get his mind off football. But not anymore.

The arrival of his daughter Portia changed all that, and more. He says having kids was the best thing that's ever happened to him. It forced him to mature, it helped him reevaluate his priorities in life - and, yes, match days will never be the same again.

"Now before a game, I'm going to the beach and to the movies watching bloody Happy Feet and being fully active during the day," Thwaite laughs.

Fatherhood also primed the 28-year-old for captaincy. After Jason Culina left the club, Thwaite took over as the leader and figurehead of a squad packed to the brim with teenage talent. But thanks to Portia, now two and a half years old, he already knew what it would take.

"Having kids was definitely the change I needed in my life," he says. "It's been a great learning curve for myself, just the psychology of trying to get people motivated."

Just listen to the way Thwaite speaks about his daughter.

"Seeing them grow up, develop - their language, their physical attributes ... they just grow up so fast. I didn't believe it when my parents used to tell me that but I can see it now. They really flourish from the first minute they're born."

He could just as easily be talking about Gold Coast's new generation. Perhaps the most talented batch of players to come out of Queensland in recent years, the likes of Ben Halloran and James Brown have breathed new life into a club previously dependent on star power and experienced heads.

They've been dubbed "Bleiberg's babes", but maybe that label doesn't give Thwaite enough credit for his contribution to their careers. Just like a father looking out for his own kids, he is always there to lend a helping hand and show his charges the way to the top.

"Michael's always been happy to look after young players," coach Miron Bleiberg said. "He likes it, maybe he should be a kindergarten teacher when he retires."

"It's quite natural in a dressing room for the old guard and the new guard to divide, but Michael was never like that. He always likes to joke with the younger guys, go out to dinner with them, help them out.

"In the past it wasn't that important but this year, with more young players, it's a blessing for Gold Coast United to have a captain who always looks after the youngsters."

His job started from day one, with the challenge of initiating United's youngsters into the full-time world of football. Gone were Culina, Dino Djulbic, Zenon Caravella, Bruce Djite and Steve Pantelidis. Their level of experience - and the importance of experience in a tough, physical competition like the Hyundia A-League - should not be underestimated.

A rag-tag bunch of teenagers - Halloran, Brown, Chris Harold, Zac Anderson, Golgol Mebrahtu, Mitch Bevan - were meant to slip into their shoes.

"It never works that way," Thwaite said. "You need to earn the trust and respect of the league first. There was a lot of pressure on them to perform at the start of the year, maybe too much."

They might have earned their call-up to the big time through the National Youth League, but playing every week, training every day, maintaining the focus needed for a senior player - that didn't come easily.

But Thwaite was there to help in any way that he could.

"I had to pull everyone together on a number of occasions and tell them what it's like - not playing, being injured then coming back, or playing well, being in a winning or losing team and how to mentally react," he said.

"You've got to be positive - negative reinforcement just does not work in football, especially with young players."

Sure enough, with the help of Thwaite and the rest of Gold Coast's older guard, the tide began to turn. Many figures at the club point to their skipper as the number one reason for their recent resurgence. Now people have started noticing the potential of Halloran and the wizardry of Brown.

"You can see them really starting to dictate games now against experienced opposition. The toughness is starting to show," Thwaite said, beaming with the same pride he would have felt when Portia took her first steps.

"It's been a pleasure to work with them."

But just like being a father, his job as a mentor for United's young brigade will never end. New challenges will present themselves. Injuries, as always, will interrupt their progress. Football is not an easy ride, and Thwaite knows that better than most.

"I hope they've learned from their experience because I'm still learning at the age of 28," he says. "I can only give them my experiences. The important thing is they're taking their chances and when I was young, I did the same."

"I remember filling in for previous captains of other clubs and whenever I got a chance, I'd never let it go. Even when they wanted to come back into the team I'd always knock on the coach's door and say 'nah, I'm keeping my position.' This is when I was 18. They need to keep that mentality."

With Thwaite looking out for them - and another baby on the way, due in March - there's no doubt they will.