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 By Jason Dasey

Socceroo Luke Wilkshire's career in limbo after abrupt Feyenoord exit

Wilkshire, front row on the left before a pre-season game in Austria in July, denies reports that he was sacked by Feyenoord.

He has more international caps than Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, and three years ago was officially listed as Australia's highest paid footballer. Yet, the career of ex-Dynamo Moscow fullback Luke Wilkshire hangs in a frustrating limbo after parting ways with Dutch club Feyenoord last month.

Wilkshire, whose 80 Socceroo appearances since 2004 include two World Cups, is training by himself near Moscow in the hope that his agent can find him a club. He says he'd prefer a return to the Russian Football Championship over heading home to play in the A-League.

Turning 34 next week, the Wollongong-born utility player still feels that he has plenty to offer.

"There's still a few more years in these legs," Wilkshire told ESPN FC. "I'm open to options and hopefully I'll get something sorted out in the coming weeks, maybe here in Russia where there are some irons in the fire."

A month and a half ago, Wilkshire was in preseason in the Netherlands as he began the second year of his contract in the Eredivisie. But, according to reports, he was released on Aug. 13 by Feyenoord manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst for being overweight -- which Wilkshire strenuously denies.

Wilkshire has been training by himself near Moscow in the hope that a Russian top flight club will pick him up.

"That's nonsense... it's definitely not the case," he said. "A new manager came in and I had a feeling I wasn't going to play so I came to an agreement with the club and we parted on happy terms."

Wilkshire's career has never been short of highs and lows, with unexpected twists and turns.

The biggest shock came at the 2006 World Cup when -- as a little-known midfielder for third tier Bristol City -- he was thrown in the deep end by Guus Hiddink for Australia's opening match against Japan in Kaisterslautern, ahead of Premier League regulars, Tim Cahill, Stan Lazaridis and Josip Skoko.

"It was pretty surreal because I was rooming with Timmy (Cahill) and we all thought he'd start and I'd be on the bench but it turned out to be the other way around," he said. "Guus was such a good coach and he gave me the opportunity which was a major career turning point."

Hiddink saw something that many others did not. After Australia's impressive march to the Round of 16, the Dutchman's recommendation saw Wilkshire picked up Eredivisie club FC Twente, who'd play in the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Champions League qualifiers.

Suddenly, the man who had failed to secure a regular place at English Premier League club Middlesbrough a few years earlier was becoming a seasoned and wealthy European star. He'd go on to join Dynamo Moscow for a reported €6 million transfer fee in 2008.

Wilkshire says he owes a debt of gratitude to Guus Hiddink for throwing him in the deep end at Germany 2006.

In 2012, BRW magazine named Wilkshire as Australia's highest paid footballer, with a US$5 million salary, and tied for the sixth richest Australian sports identity

And the transformation of Wilkshire from raw and unproven international player into senior Socceroo was crucial as Australia qualified for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and made the final of the 2011 Asian Cup.

Fans may not have noticed Wilkshire in same the way as a Kewell, Brett Holman or Josh Kennedy -- but he was always one of the first players picked under coaches Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck.

An ever present on Australia's right side, he often overlapped and interchanged with Brett Emerton, as he scrapped for possession, and sent in tempting crosses for Cahill.

"It was just a natural thing to take more responsibility," said Wilkshire, who was often a designated taker of corners and free-kicks. "I'd been to World Cups and the qualifying phases repeated again so you mature every time."

With Emerton, Lucas Neill and Mark Schwarzer fading from the scene, Wilkshire seemed destined to join fellow 30-somethings Cahill and Mark Bresciano alongside the new generation at the 2014 World Cup before suffering the cruellest cull possible in Brazil.

Despite captaining Australia in a practice game in Brazil, Wilkshire was cut from the Socceroos' 23-man squad for the World Cup finals.

A day after captaining Australia to a 2-0 victory and setting up the second goal against local side Clube Parana in a training game, he was one of four players cut from the final 23-man squad.

There were parallels to the harsh snubbing of Lazaridis and Skoko eight years earlier. Although they made the final squad, Lararidis and Skoko failed to see a minute a game time at Germany 2006 as Hiddink looked to stamp his own mark on the Australian national team.

"Who would not want to go to a World Cup?" Wilkshire responded when asked about his omission. "It was his [Ange Postecoglou's] decision. Life goes on."

Wilkshire may have come in handy when Ivan Franjic tore his hamstring after 50 minutes against Chile in Australia's opening game of Brazil 2014. Instead, central defender Ryan McGowan was turned into a makeshift right-back for the rest of the tournament, with mixed results.

There's an understandable resentment from Wilkshire when it comes to his former coach. After taking over in October 2013, Postecoglou guided the Socceroos to January's AFC Asian Cup -- their first ever major trophy.

"I will have to leave that... I won't comment on that," Wilkshire responded when asked about Postecoglou.

He added: "I knew I wasn't going to be part of the Asian Cup, but it was brilliant to see Australia win it. It was a great achievement and it couldn't have gone any better for the boys."

Having played in four major tournaments, plus the 2004 Olympics, Wilkshire is the eighth most-capped Socceroo of all-time.

As the eighth most capped Socceroo of all time, Wilkshire's career saw plenty of its own highlights -- from setting up his good mate Cahill for Australia's opening goal in the 2-1 victory over Serbia in the 2010 World Cup to scoring the winner from the penalty spot to beat Germany in a 2011 friendly and grabbing the crucial equaliser as the Socceroos drew 1-1 with Japan in a 2014 World Cup qualifier.

But Wilkshire isn't one for nostalgia. "I've never sat down to watch a single match of myself, not even from the World Cups. The only games I'll see are the ones that the coaches make us watch.

"I wasn't the most flamboyant or gifted player but I worked hard and I was mentally tough. It's difficult getting to the top but it's even harder to stay there."

Wilkshire isn't ready to come home to Australia quite yet, and isn't sure if he'll ever play in the A-League. In the meantime, he'll hang out at his house in the city of Khimki, play with his one-year old daughter, and hope that an interesting offer will come before the cold Russian winter sets in.

Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.

  

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