SINCE the English Premier League formed nearly 20 years ago several Australians have made their name in the world’s finest league. But who was our finest export to the Poms?
10 Tony Dorigo
Clubs Leeds United, Derby
A controversial inclusion for a man who represented England at U21, B and senior level, but Melbourne-born Dorigo leaned on his British passport to boost his Premier League career before Australia’s recent rise in football.
Before the Premier League formed in 1992, the flying left full-back had already accumulated a staggeringly impressive career in England’s top flight, including well over 100 games apiece for Aston Villa, Chelsea and then Leeds – where he won the final version of the old First Division. He makes this list for his continued Premier League career at Leeds for a further five years, before a short stint at Derby after playing in the 1990 World Cup.
9 Stan Lazaridis
Position Left winger
Clubs West Ham, Birmingham
Anyone who has seen the square shouldered Perth-born left winger with his head down, bolting down the flank like an old fashioned English wide player from the ’50s could tell he was perfect for their game. Lazaridis was spotted during West Ham’s tour of Australia in 1995 when coach Harry Redknapp was impressed with his dribbling and pace. ‘Laza’ spent four seasons in east London, before his career really took off in the Midlands at Birmingham, where he was instrumental in the Blues’ promotion back to the Premier League in 2003. On Birmingham’s return to the big time, despite several major signings, he kept his place on the left flank. Adored by Hammers and Brum fans during his time at their clubs.
8 Robbie Slater
Position Left winger
Clubs Blackburn, West Ham, Southampton
Robbie, you’ve made our Top 10 Premier League Aussies list. You’re number eight, which isn’t a bad effort, is it?
That’s pretty good. If you were doing the best Aussie players to grace the French league I would have come first!
When you were a youngster growing up, how much was playing EPL football an aspiration for you?
It was the EPL that completely drove me. Growing up the English top flight was what I watched and Liverpool were the team that I got up to watch. It was always a dream and as a kid it felt like a pretty unattainable one. However, that’s where I ended up.
When you signed for Blackburn in 1994, did you actually believe you could fulfil big-spending owner Jack Warner’s dream of winning the title?
I didn’t think it was that unlikely. They came close the year before. They were second behind a very dominant Manchester United side. I actually nearly signed for Aston Villa to play with Bozza [Mark Bosnich]. I had nearly agreed terms with Villa before getting the call from Blackburn. I went straight up the motorway and signed for Blackburn as being a Liverpool fan I wanted to play under Kenny Dalglish. We just signed Chris Sutton too to play alongside Alan Shearer, so I felt we were on the cusp of something at Blackburn, but that United side was going to be hard to stop.
How do you look back on that title winning season now?
It was brilliant. I would have liked to have played more games, but being involved and playing in crucial games in the title race was great. It was a good squad, which didn’t suffer too many injuries. If I wasn’t starting, I was always on the bench, so I travelled everywhere with the squad.
You became the first Australian to win the EPL. Did the significance of that cross your mind at the time or since?
All the journalists from Australia at the time for example were talking to me about it so that bought it to the fore for me. It is still great to be the first Australian to do it.
How did the move to West Ham come about, and how do you remember your time in east London at Upton Park?
A place where I had a lot of injuries. The West Ham manager Harry Redknapp was once interviewed about why I was again injured again and he simply said: “Robbie has broken his tie-up”. A tie-up was something we used to keep our socks up! I had a really troublesome hamstring while I was there.
How difficult was it to maintain an international career all the way over in Australia when playing in the Premier League in those days? What did your coaches say about all that travelling?
It was a vastly different landscape to today where we have qualified for two World Cups and have more respect. But when I was playing it caused me no end of grief. When I was at West Ham I flew to Sweden for a few Australia games in the middle of the season and Harry was really not happy. Plus I came back injured which did not go down well! My coach at Southampton, Dave Jones, had a similar view. When we missed out on the World Cup in 1997, he could not understand why I was then bothered about the Confederations Cup!
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