Mile Sterjovski ? Taking one game at a time

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The truth is, that behind the pilgrimage to the football Mecca that are the World Cup Qualifiers, where the hearts of entire continents stop for a last-minute penalty or a one-on-one in the box, there are millions of children around the world who are already helping their countries to qualify for future World Cups.
Forget the talk of tactical mastery or adaptability, the question whether to play a lone striker or two holding midfielders.
The establishment of a nation?s football culture originates from the children who line its streets and fill its parks, kick around under-sized footballs in over-sized jerseys.
The next time you drive past your local park, keep in mind that of the legions of children madly chasing after the round ball, one of them will take a penalty for his country in a World Cup qualifier and the others will watch with hands clasped together at the local pub.
On a cold, rainy Wednesday evening, Socceroo Mile Sterjovski took time away from caring for his wife and their newborn boy, to take photographs and sign autographs for young players from across the Canterbury District at Henley Park – the home of the Enfield Rovers Soccer Club – as part of the Fast 4 Football program promoting the development of young footballers in Australia.
It is these sorts of initiatives at a grassroots level that can encourage a future Socceroo to keep pursuing their love of the game.
For an established international who played in the English Premier League just last season, a willingness to brave the cold and uncomfortable of conditions for the benefit of a handful of young players is a tribute to his character and leadership qualities off the pitch.
Football NSW meets for the first time Mile Sterjovski. Surrounded by admiring youngsters holding signed footballs and Socceroos jerseys, we spoke with Mile about England, Derby County, Paul Jewell, Pim Verbeek, his Socceroos future and Darren Moore.
FNSW: Mile, arriving at a club like Derby, at a time of turmoil for the club, must have been a weird feeling. It isn?t often the case with transfers that players arrive at clubs that are virtually already doomed to relegation. How did you deal with that aspect of the move?
MS: To me it wasn?t a really difficult decision because if you gave anybody the chance to play in the [English] Premier League in any situation, do you think they would take it? And the answer is of course they would.
I came in at a difficult time but in those 5 months that I played in the Premier League I got to play against Chelsea, against Arsenal, against Manchester United and I don?t regret it for a second.
I think I learnt a lot in those 5 months and even though we got relegated we are looking to build a team to come straight back up [to the Premier League] so it is all positive. Next season is going to be very interesting.
FNSW: You played in France and Switzerland before you came to England, what is the difference in culture that you can see now that you?ve played in England, from the other two countries. Is there a major difference on and off the pitch?
MS: I think there is more of a certain type of culture in football in France. The standard is pretty much similar across the league, from the last placed team to the first placed team. Any team can win any game and I think the development side of football is much better in France.
But outside of football it is difficult to get used to places like France and Switzerland because of the language. Moving to England after park has been brilliant for my family, we are really happy. Everyone speaks English obviously and that makes the hugest difference.
FNSW: You are playing under Paul Jewell now – a new manager at the club – what?s he been like? How has he influenced your football?
MS: Paul Jewell came to Derby with a big reputation, which was of the reasons also why I agreed to join Derby. I?ve learned quite a lot and coming into a difficult situation and I?m sure he hasn?t been in a situation like it either.
Obviously, he has been in a similar situation but not so far down the ladder. I?m looking forward to working with him next season and hopefully he can bring back the magic that helped Wigan and hopefully the players will produce for him as well.
FNSW: Coming to Derby in such a precarious position, did you have an idea that you would be playing in the Championship next season? Was that at the back of your mind and are you happy with playing in the Championship?
MS: Definitely. The way the situation was, they [Derby] were already last and they had only won one game, it was inevitable that they were going to go down. I was hopeful that we would stay up but being realistic it looked like we were going to go down but it didn?t take away from our team trying to win games. We did train hard, we went into games 100% and at times we weren?t good enough and at times we were unlucky but that?s football.
FNSW: You are going to be playing in the Championship next season. Obviously Nicky Carle and Andy Garcia have both had a season in the Championship that have seen both of their Socceroos credentials increased but do you think this move is going to affect your standing within the squad and your ability to be called up? Or is the Championship of a standard that is good enough?
MS: From what I?ve heard it is a good standard but I guess time will tell. I think if I keep performing well, keep training hard and I perform when I do get called into the Socceroos squad – if I can do the job for Pim – I don?t see why it should affect me in any way. It is all about keeping the form up, keeping fit and I think that is the most important thing.
FNSW: With regards to Pim Verbeek, what makes him different to the two most recent coaches you?ve served under, Guus Hiddink and Graham Arnold? What distinguishes Pim from those two?
MS: Pim to me has a very similar style to Guus Hiddink and obviously Guus Hiddink was brilliant for the Socceroos and for myself. He was one of the best coaches I?ve worked with and Pim has got a very similar style.
I think the only difference with Pim is that he is more approachable off the field and he?s easier to talk to. He understands family situations and obviously with the birth of my son that was coming up he was very understanding.
I think that makes him even better for me and he is the sort of coach that I really want to go out there and work hard for and play for, so that?s a big difference and that?s why I like him a lot.
FNSW: The Asia Cup was obviously hugely disappointing from a national perspective. A lot of pundits expected us to walk in and win that competition very easily. What sort of mental effect has the Asia Cup failure had on the squad? Is there a need to go out there now and prove something amongst the Socceroos?
MS: Definitely. I think even the team went there expecting to win. We were quite confident. We didn?t know that the conditions were going to be so harsh and we went there confident but the opposition were really good and had played in those tournaments before, played in those conditions and we learnt a lot from that competition.
I think now going into the qualifiers, we?ve got a lot to prove. We want to beat them, we want to qualify for the next World Cup and we are not going to take any game lightly.
FNSW: So what does the future hold for Mile Sterjovski? You are going to spend at least a season in the Championship, are you looking to move to another club in the future or to finish your career at Derby and get back into the Premier League?
MS: I?m just taking each day, each game, as it comes. I?m happy there at the moment, my family is really happy and I?m just looking forward to getting back into the Premiership with Derby.
FNSW: If you had to pick your favourite member of the Derby squad, who would it be?
MS: There?s quite a few! I?d say Darren Moore?because he?s huge but he?s a big friendly giant!
FNSW: Mile, thanks for your time and we hope to see you back in time for the World Cup Qualifier against China in Sydney on the 22nd of June.
MS: Thank you.
-Interview exclusive by Chris Paraskevas