Bosnich back from the brink
To say that Mark Bosnich is one of Australia's footballing greats is no exaggeration for those who've closely followed him since his modest beginnings growing up in Fairfield in Sydney's western suburbs, not far from the family home of Harry Kewell.
For a small window during his seven years at Aston Villa, he could quite rightly be regarded as being in the upper echelons of world goalkeepers.
But to many Aussie fans, the tale of Mark Bosnich is also one of woe; a story of abused talent and an abuse of an altogether different kind, in the cocaine habit that saw him sacked by Chelsea in 2002. His drug addiction continued to plague him and once his nine month ban from the game had been concluded, his hunger and desire to play football had long deserted him. Coupled with a tumultuous affair with British model Sophie Anderton, as well as becoming estranged from his parents, Bosnich was on the brink of oblivion.
But now, the outrageously talented 36-year-old is making a comeback in his home country, with a trial at the A-League's Central Coast Mariners. In his own words, this is 'the beginning of a new beginning' as he takes the opportunity to impress the club, who are in need of a goalkeeper due to the imminent suspension of Danny Vukovic.
Bosnich showed glimpses of his brilliant best in his first Mariners' training sessions, clearly impressing manager Lawrie McKinna and goalkeeping coach John Crawley. Bosnich though, had a clear idea of what more he needed to do in order to get himself back in full working order. 'What I need to improve on is my co-ordination with the ball, hand-eye co-ordination and getting a feel for general positional play,' he said.
Bosnich is back home after two decades in England. He moved abroad at the age of 16, linking up with Manchester United after a handful of appearances for Sydney Croatia in the old National Soccer League. Just three first-team games in two seasons for the Old Trafford club meant it was time to move on, and he did in 1992 to Aston Villa. It was at Villa Park that he forged a reputation as one of the league's top keepers.
In 1994, Bosnich, then aged 22, kept goal for Villa in the League Cup Final against Manchester United, which Villa won. Two years later, they won the League Cup once more, again with Bosnich in goal. His stock was on the rise and he cemented his position as first choice for the Socceroos.
By 1999, Manchester United had established themselves as the top team in Europe, winning the Treble with Peter Schmeichel in goal. However, at the end of that historic season, the 'Great Dane' departed, leaving a massive gap at the back. Sir Alex Ferguson turned back to Bosnich and signed him on a free transfer.
Bosnich endured a turbulent time at Old Trafford, winning the English Premier League in 2000, before falling from grace to become third choice goalkeeper the next season. Not long after he was on his way out after a falling out with Ferguson, transferring to Chelsea in 2001.
By now his personal problems had already begun to take hold and as he struggled to get games at Chelsea ahead of Ed de Goey and Carlo Cudicini, he spiralled further downhill. After just five appearances for the West London side, he tested positive for cocaine in September 2002 and was subsequently sacked and given a nine month ban from the game. Now, after five years out of the game, save for a brief dabble in commentary, Bosnich is back.
The impetus for his comeback came at Queens Park Rangers, where their goalkeeping coach, former Chelsea team-mate Ed de Goey, helped Bosnich to get back in shape. He eventually made an appearance for the reserve team, before declaring his desire to go ahead with a full scale comeback.
Bosnich refused to rule out a return to the national team, should his return to the A-League be successful but, most importantly, his desire to play football has returned. 'I've got that hunger back ... every day I want to perform the best I can ... and I think here at the Central Coast Mariners is the right environment to do that,' he said.
And with that, who are we to rule out a return to the green and gold, for Australia's most talented goalkeeper of all time?
* Chelsea fan Matt Connellan is a goalkeeper for St. Pius X College and lives in Sydney.