MIDFIELDER Carl Valeri on making an impact on the Road to Rio.
Carl, you have quietly established yourself as a Socceroos starting regular since the World Cup – you nearly have 50 caps to your name now…
I feel settled with the Socceroo. I am familiar with the surroundings and have been involved for five or six years now. In that time I have seen different coaches and some fantastic players in the squad. But to feel entirely comfortable would be a mistake. My attitude every time I come into camp is that I have to work hard to belong here. You cannot think you are destined to be in the Socceroos forever – if you do you are not going to be playing your best football. Each time I have to come into camp and prove to the coach and the players that I belong in the squad.
How do you define your role within the Socceroos now? What does Holger ask you to do ahead of each match?
Holger asks me to play my normal game and to work hard so things keep ticking over. I have played in central midfield all my life so I know what is expected. Holger makes things look easier than they really are – to manage 23 players for such a short period is tough. The way we are and the way our culture is, we make it as easy for him as possible.
You are still plying your trade in Serie B in Italy. How would you describe the standard of play in the league?
The standard is good. There are six or seven teams that play a standard of football that could even match the Serie A teams. The level is just as good as the Championship in England or the second league in Germany. Unfortunately, over the years Serie B has lost support in Italy, which is a shame considering how good the league is standard-wise. It is still Serie B though and for me, my dream is playing in Serie A.
You mention Serie A being the dream league for you, but would you like to play elsewhere in the world too?
It was always my dream to play in Serie A. I am going to be 28 next season, so I have modified that dream a bit. I am on my last year at Sassuolo as my contract runs out in June 2012, so this is an exciting time for me as I do not know what is going to happen. I have been doing well with the Socceroos and my club side. The Socceroos have been doing well and my club is second in the league at the moment.
Have you developed an Italian mentality to your play? What does that entail?
Definitely. My mentality is a mix between that Australian humble way of life with a hard-working attitude, combined with the Italian passion and tactical side. That is a good mix and has worked well for me. Italy is a lovely place to live and it will be hard to leave after spending ten years here. I am still away from home right now – Australia is still my home and that is never going to change. I am not going to end up living in Italy. But I have a lot to thank Italy for – including meeting my wife here – but it is all temporary.
You played in your hometown recently when the Socceroos beat Malaysia 5-0 in a friendly in Canberra – how was that experience? Did it mean more to you?
It was great to see the stadium in Canberra. I have played there before and always get a great buzz. It was a great flashback to play there again and I had a smile to myself. There was a good turnout too. Obviously the game was not as important as a World Cup qualifier but it was just great to see the Canberra crowd. I ended up getting about 140 tickets for my family and friends – I copped a lot of stick from the players for that!
What were the toughest aspects of the first stage of World Cup qualification?
As I have always said, Asia is tough route to qualify for a World Cup. It is a very unpredictable region. I went into the first stage thinking that Saudi Arabia were going to be our toughest opponents, but when we came up against Thailand they were even tougher. We beat Thailand both times but they probably deserved to go through. The travelling is also tough. In the two recent games – Oman then Thailand – we went from Dubai to Oman, then Oman to Bangkok over the course of a few days. I then arrived back in Italy on Wednesday and I have to play on Saturday. To keep doing that is tough on the body, but we have done the job. Perhaps we did not play the best football at times, but no-one remembers how you play, they remember the results and what you achieve. The second round will be a lot tougher and we want to keep improving. If we keep improving we will be tough to beat for any team.
Without getting ahead of yourself, have you thought much about what a Brazilian World Cup would be like in 2014?
To be honest, no! I have not thought about it at all. That is the way I approach everything in football – do not get too far ahead of yourself. I made the mistake earlier in my career when I did think too far ahead and then it really hurt when it did not happen. You end up thinking: ‘why did I do that? I should have taken it match-by-match’. In the next stage of World Cup qualification we have a group of five, so that will be a tough group where we will face eight tough games. Australia expects us to qualify and some people think it is a given that we will qualify, but there is a lot of hard work to be done. I remember the feeling when we qualified for South Africa and I would love to feel that again.
This article appeared in the January 2012 issue of Australian FourFourTwo magazine. To buy back copies of this issue call 03-8317-8121 with a credit card to hand.