Tarek Elrich on the A-League’s growing strength and doing his bit for charity. By Jack Kerr.

Jersey boy: Tarek Elrich, 29, soccer player

There are no excuses. We [Adelaide United] should have started the season a lot better. We did lose a lot of good players. We gained some too – Sergio Guardiola, James Holland, Henrique – but they came in late and are still learning the style we are trying to achieve here. And we’ve had a lot of injuries to big players too, like Marcelo Carrusca and Sergio Cirio. We obviously haven’t been playing like the “reigning champions”. But in saying that, we’re confident in the players we’ve got, and style we’ve got, that we can turn things around.

It’s just about sticking together, like we did last season. This time last season we were losing by big margins. That was a bit harder. The games are closer now, we are more in the games than we were at the start of last season. But we’re not comparing this season to last. That’s all in the past. It’s about making sure we stick together as a team. At the end of the day, I think we’re one win away from changing things and getting that confidence back.

The A-League goes to another level every year. The old NSL, yeah, it was great. Every club had its own culture, style – Greek, Croatian, Italian. Finish the game, have a souvlaki. But they are two different competitions. In terms of professionalism, pay, conditions, things are getting better and better. 

It’s good to see Australian football getting bigger and bigger. And on the world stage as well, the Socceroos are doing a really good job. Obviously there’s a lot more money now, with the TV rights deals and all that, which wasn’t really there back then. As players, we’ve got to make sure we do everything right and try to improve the game every year, and set up for the future, for the kids coming through.

I’ve been unwanted at two clubs, the Newcastle Jets and Western Sydney. That’s a massive low. No player likes to be told they are not good enough or no longer suit the style that the team want to play. I’ve doubted myself too, if I still have what it takes to be playing at this level. 

But then I came to Adelaide. It was a new coach, new team, whole new start for me – and I made sure that I did everything right to get a starting spot. I was enjoying myself again, gave it my all and got the recall into the national team, which was a massive honour and I hope to build on that.

My brother Ahmad played in the Premier League, and he swapped jerseys with Cristiano Ronaldo when he was at Manchester United. I don’t have quite as big a collection as my brother, but I do have some good ones, like Landon Donovan’s. That’s from when I was with Newcastle and we played LA Galaxy. He signed it, and so did David Beckham, who played as well. I swapped jerseys with Danny Ings at the end of our game against Liverpool.

I’m more of a player who likes to have jerseys of his teammates. Guys I’m good mates with in the team, I might swap my shirt with them at the end of the season. From the Aussie team, I’ve got Tim Cahill’s jersey, James Troisi’s. I got a photo taken with Timmy and Harry Kewell when I was younger and my brother was in the Socceroos. When the team was in Sydney, he would bring some of the players around for a barbecue. I’d like to get all the jerseys framed, and if I have kids in the future, if God has got kids planned for me, I can sit down with them, and talk them through what I’ve done.

My little brother, who was disabled, passed away while I was away with the Socceroos in Kyrgyzstan last year. Because of him, I’ve always been the first one in my club to put my hand up when it comes to a hospital visit and that kind of thing. I see on Twitter that Ronaldo does a lot of charity work too. Obviously I don’t make as much money as Ronaldo does – I wish I did, so I could help more – but walking in and seeing the smile on the face of a kid who is doing it tough, money doesn’t buy that. And credit to those parents who have to be in and out of hospitals with their kids. It’s so much stress on the parents – emotionally, physically and also financially. But at least we live in a good country where our hospital system is unreal.


1 . This week’s highlights…

Motorsport: Rally Australia

Saturday and Sunday, Coffs Coast, NSW

Soccer: A-League – Brisbane Roar v Sydney FC

Saturday, 6.50pm (AEST), Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Rugby Union: Wallabies v France 

Sunday, 7am (AEDT), Stade de France, Paris

Cricket: Southern Stars v South Africa women, 2nd ODI

Sunday, 2.20pm (AEDT), Manuka Oval, Canberra 

Tennis: ATP World Tour finals – singles final

Monday, 5am (AEDT), The O2 Arena, London 

Hockey: International Festival of Hockey

Wednesday until November 30, Melbourne and Bendigo 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 19, 2016 as "Jersey boy".

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Jack Kerr is an investigative journalist with an interest in law, technology and gambling.