December 15, 2014
Senior sports reporter with The Age
Full circle: Josh Kennedy has returned to Melbourne to continue his stellar soccer career. Photo: Supplied
It’s been a long and winding road, but after 15 years in Europe and Asia Josh Kennedy’s soccer journey has taken him back – almost to the exact position where it all started.
When the gangling Socceroo front man first broke into the big time with Carlton in the old NSL, he was a 17-year-old hopeful.
Fast forward a decade-and-a-half and Kennedy – now 32 and a veteran of two World Cups and seasons at the top level in Germany’s Bundesliga and Japan’s J League 1 – is returning to the Olympic Park precinct where it all began, having signed for Melbourne City.
Of course the game has moved onwards and upwards since Kennedy first drew attention to himself. Now clubs like Melbourne City play in swanky new stadiums like AAMI Park, a stone’s throw from the old Olympic Park venue where Kennedy cut his teeth.
But the lean, lanky striker is as self-effacing and laid-back as he was when he was a teenager.
Injuries have plagued the second half of the Kennedy career and caused him to miss the World Cup in Brazil – a particular frustration given that it was his headed goal late in the game against Iraq in Sydney a year earlier that sealed Australia’s qualifying spot.
He joins City while on the recovery list, not having played for his last club, Nagoya Grampus, since September, when the back problems that ruled him out of the Socceroos’ Brazil campaign flared up again.
Now he is regaining fitness and because his new contract starts on January 6 – when the Asian Cup forces a cessation in the A-League – he has another six weeks to get himself fit enough for a scheduled City debut when hostilities resume after the continental championship.
“I am not available until the game on February 1st. I missed a lot of football towards the end of the season,” he said on Monday at City’s La Trobe University training centre.
“I came back to almost full training before I left Japan, so the next two weeks will start things slowly here and hopefully by the new year I will be back to team training.”
Although he was named in Ange Postecoglou’s provisional 46-man squad for the Asian Cup, his chances of being ready are non-existent, he said.
“I haven’t had the Asian Cup in my head. The target for me was always to come back for City and be fit for the Feb 1st game.”
Kennedy, who is married to former Australian Opal Jacinta Hamilton (the couple have three young children) always wanted to come back to live in his home country. But Kennedy, who was born in Wodonga, never thought he would finish his career here.
“Initially no, but I think the older I got, the longer I was away, there were a lot of things wanting me to come home. The opportunities weren’t there five, six, or seven years ago.
“With City coming in and starting things up, the planning, timing, everything came into place very well.
“Australia was always going to be home. I wanted to play overseas for as long as I could to a decent level.”
And Melbourne was always going to be his venue of choice. When Victory snapped up Besart Berisha and signed Mark Milligan as its Australian marquee player, City was always the more likely option for Kennedy.
“I was definitely committed to coming to Melbourne. If I had told my wife I was going to go somewhere else it would have been the same as staying in Japan or playing overseas.”
It’s been a peripatetic career, spent mainly in Germany with various Bundesliga clubs before he moved to Japan before the 2010 World Cup.
And it is the latter country where, he says, he improved more as a player and enjoyed his career the most.
“Definitely in Japan. I was at the one team for 5½ years and that probably made it the most enjoyable,” he said. “Germany, if I played well I moved on, if I didn’t play well I moved on as well.
“Those things were a bit up and down … I had my apprenticeship there in the first couple of years to learn life, the language, football as a young kid.
I had ups and downs there, some great experiences. Plenty of good and bad things. Japan took off from day one. I never really looked back.
“I think in Japan I improved a lot in the first 12 months to two years being there, technically, with the ball at my feet. I think that opened another aspect of my game.”
Despite his height, he doesn’t expect City boss John van ‘t Schip to use him as a traditional target man.
“I don’t think City is a team that wants to hit long balls and wants to flick things on. They try to play football, and I hopefully can be at the top of that attack and play my part in developing things.
“The boys are not just a team to whack it and hope for something, that’s not the way I want to play. It’s more enjoyable if we try to play some decent football, and that’s what the coach wants to do.”
Most of the City players will be strangers, although he is mates with two of them – diminutive midfielder Massimo Murdocca, with whom he played in the Carlton youth team all those years ago, and skipper Paddy Kisnorbo, who lined up alongside him in several Socceroo games.
He will come in mid-season, and warns that fans should not expect him to solve City’s problems at a stroke.
“People need to be realistic. One person isn’t going to come in and change things, but once Robbie Koren comes back as well, and he gets fit and I can slot in, hopefully we can bring in a bit more stability to the team.
“Hopefully the longer the season goes we can improve and gell a bit better. It will take the whole team to work hard and grind out some results.”
While the Asian Cup will come too soon, Kennedy still believes he can do a job for the national team in the next phase of World Cup qualifying if required.
“I would never say no to the Socceroos. It’s a matter of if the body is right, I can physically take it and I am playing well enough to merit selection.
“I would definitely never say no. It’s one thing that’s inbuilt into me. It’s not a switch you turn off and say it doesn’t interest me any more.”
Source : The Canberra Times