It has been a long road for Mile Jedinak. In June 2006 he was an unemployed footballer driving three hours a day just to land a job in the A-League. On Saturday, he will lead Australia out of the tunnel in front of 80,000 people in the 2015 Asian Cup final.
He could be forgiven for struggling to contain his excitement of leading the nation in one of the biggest football games of the Socceroos’ history yet, if anything, his demeanour is a surprising sense of calm. Sitting relaxed and measured in the final press conference before Australia’s match against South Korea, there was no sign of pressure from the Socceroos leader.
It is an attitude Jedinak says he always had, whether playing in the English Premier League or driving between Sydney and Gosford for months on end while trialling with Central Coast Mariners. Nearly nine years later, this relaxed approach seems to have rubbed off on the rest of the Socceroos.
“For me it’s just about enjoying the opportunity,” Jedinak said. “Did I think back then this was going to happen? Probably not. More so than anything it is about being in the moment and enjoying that moment. I’ve learned that along the way since driving up the F3 all the time. Just enjoy what you have because it can be taken away from you as quickly as it comes.”
The Socceroos will have their chance to claim their first piece of silverware since joining the Asian Confederation, and most importantly a rare opportunity to win a title on home soil. However, the players aren’t openly discussing it in what has been a very quiet build-up, according to the captain, and that is because they are not daring to lose sight of their prize.
Throughout the build-up to the tournament’s decider, the mood within the camp has been subdued despite the excitement of the public around them. Recovery, sleep and light training are all the players are talking about among themselves in a united mentality personified by their leader.
Both Jedinak and his coach Ange Postecoglou made no secret of their confidence in performing on the biggest stage, but were coy to talk of results and celebrations. It was a snapshot into the process-oriented ideology of the camp as they prepare for their biggest test yet. The methodology and focus only on individual tasks is why Jedinak is a fitting captain for this team as it is one of the traits he enjoys most. “Up until now, not really a lot [has been said],” Jedinak said. “Not a lot to be honest. It’s recovery mode after a game, everyone is catching up on sleep, we’re just getting ourselves ready, there hasn’t been an awful lot said, the boys have been quite relaxed. The time for talking will be a little bit today in training and tomorrow in the build-up.”
It is a characteristic adopted just as much by the youngsters as the veterans and leaders of the squad. It is perhaps why Postecoglou has no concerns whether some of the younger players will struggle to cope on the big stage. Goalkeeper Mat Ryan, defender Trent Sainsbury and Massimo Luongo have been linchpins of this side so far despite their young age but their application causes no concern for the coach.
“Sometimes the most experienced players freeze on the big day,” Postecoglou said. “The group has been very good. There’s been nothing I’ve seen to suggest that the occasion will get to anyone tomorrow.”
It is a confidence that stems from the completion of each task and an attention that strays no further than the next job. It is why Jedinak appears so relaxed in his approach while holding a burning desire to always win.
“What would winning mean to me? Everything. Winning means everything to me all the time and it’s going to be no different tomorrow. Having it in your home country is always going to make it that bit sweeter,” Jedinak said.