Sport

Socceroos and Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak on playing for his country and tackling the EPL. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: FOOTBALL FEDERATION AUSTRALIA

Quiet achiever: Mile Jedinak, 30, soccer player

Keeping a low profile? There’s a time and place for everything. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m really very into my job and really care about what I do. Everything is achieved out there by work. I like to keep it about that as much as possible.

I put my body on the line every game. I guess I enjoy it, I don’t shy away from that. I’ve been brought up in that way, and I’m very grateful for that because it gives you that competitive instinct, that competitive edge.

Having two young toddlers keeps me grounded. It’s the reason I do this. I’m glad now my eldest is able to understand what Daddy does. He loves being a part of it: “What does Daddy do? He goes on the grass. He plays kicky ball.” It’s always nice, when you hear them asking where you’re going, why you’re going. And I see that look on their face, that understanding I’m going to play football. It’s very reassuring.

Playing against the Netherlands was the most enjoyable game in the World Cup. It was also the least enjoyable game. We did so well and did so much, then didn’t come away with anything. But every game, everyone out there played their hearts out. I’ve enjoyed every part of it, every moment of it. 

In Brazil, I made sure I took time to take it all in. There are little moments where you do sit down and say: “This is where I’m at, this is what I’m doing, this is who I’m representing. This is what I’m here for.” Being on the world stage puts things into perspective. Even little things – like when the plane first lands, your first training session, when you first head to base camp… You’re able to experience it with 25 others who are not only your teammates, but your mates. That’s really special.

Playing in the premier league and playing for your country? It doesn’t feel so different. At least with the teams I play for. Obviously when you start getting down to technical things, like the style of playing, and day-to-day things, they’re different. But I think the feeling on both sides is similar, they’re both close groups. Everyone belongs, and that’s great. The game should be the easy part.

Going from the A-League to the English Premier League wasn’t a jump – it was a progression. You tick those boxes as you go along, but once you’re there you see another level: the amount of coverage, the popularity of the game, the fans’ passion. It multiplies, 15 or 20 times. 

When you’re playing in that sort of environment, you have to keep a balance – between wanting to be a part of it and enjoying it for what it’s worth, but also not get swept up in it too much. You’re not just there to keep up the numbers. You’re there to do a job first and foremost for your football club, and can’t get too overawed.  

I’ve tried to have a little bit of impact at Crystal Palace. If you had to sum up the club’s culture, it’s this – hard-working. Definitely very passionate, very driven, very determined. On top of that I’d say we’re very together. The people I play with aren’t just good teammates, they’re good people. That’s something I’m hugely proud of. 

Even when the club was coming last, I still believed in everyone around me. I like overcoming all sorts of obstacles, and one of those is climbing out of the bottom half of the table. I’ve always stood by that and I will always stand by that.

My teammates in England kept asking me about Phil Hughes. I had seen what happened and followed it quite closely, how everyone responded at home and abroad. A tribute was suggested, and I was more than happy to do something. Although we are far away it just shows something like that can reach everybody around the world. I was closer to home than I actually thought.

Not everyone enjoys playing football in the same way. I’ve come across that – it goes without saying. I’ve probably encountered it more so in the UK than I had before. That’s how people are, and you’re never going to hold that against someone. To have that mentality or whatever you want to call it – I think as long as you can see that they’re going to give it their all, you accept that people have different motivations.

This week’s highlights…

• Tennis: Australian Open 

Until February 1, Melbourne Park

• Soccer: Asian Cup

Semi-finals, Monday, 8pm, Stadium Australia, Sydney; Tuesday, 8pm, Newcastle Stadium; 3rd place play-off, Friday, 8pm, Newcastle Stadium

• Cricket: ODI Tri-Series – Australia v India 

Monday, Sydney Cricket Ground

• Cycling: Tour Down Under

Stage 5, today, McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill; final stage, tomorrow, Adelaide

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 24, 2015 as "Quiet achiever". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.