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Oct 7, 2008

Foxe on the comeback trail

The heady days of playing the English Premier League seem like a distant memory as former Socceroo defender Hayden Foxe battles through an injury nightmare that has lasted almost five years.

Perth Glory's tall central defender is aiming to make his belated season debut against Sydney in round-8 of the Hyundai A-League on October 19th after being sidelined with a right foot injury suffered in the Pre-Season Cup. It's the same foot he broke playing for Portsmouth in January 2004 that forced him to miss the next 18 months and effectively ended his career in England's top flight.

Foxe would later join Leeds United, making 18 appearances in the 2006-2007 season but returned to Australia when the Yorkshire club released him after being relegated to League One.

Perth Glory offered a fresh start but a serious knee injury followed by his most recent foot problem have limited the 31-year-old to just six games for the west Australian club so far.

''It is very frustrating watching the boys play and not being out there,'' Foxe said. ''Glory showed good faith in signing me. I need to repay them by playing as often as possible.''

Injury woes have stymied Foxe's career after establishing himself as one of Australia's hottest football properties and a regular Socceroo squad member.

With natural skills and confidence beyond his years, an 18-year-old Foxe was catapulted from the humble ranks of Blacktown City to famous Dutch club, Ajax, in 1995. Playing stints in Germany, Japan and Belgium followed before then-West Ham United coach Harry Redknapp gave him his chance in the Premiership soon after representing Australia at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

It was a steep learning curve both on and off the field as Foxe made 12 first team appearances but he earned notoriety for an incident at the 2001 West Ham Christmas party during which he urinated into a pot plant at a posh London nightspot.

The scandal earned many unwanted headlines - Foxe was reportedly fined two weeks' wages by the club - but soon after Redknapp left the Hammers to take over at Portsmouth, the veteran manager invited the sometimes unpredictable red-head to join him at Fratten Park on a free transfer in May 2002.

Foxe's time on the English south coast was possibly the highlight of his career as he helped Pompey win the 2002-2003 First Division title and held onto his spot when they returned to the Premier League.

The last of Foxe's 15 Australia caps came in 2003 under Frank Farina before the saga of his broken foot effectively derailed his international career. Foxe says he holds out no hope of a Socceroo recall, even though he's only nine months older than national captain and fellow defender, Lucas Neill.

When Foxe finally joined his Glory teammates for six games at the end of last season after a knee injury, struggling Perth looked steadier at the back and strung together some decent results to help them avoid the wooden spoon.

This time around, his return can't come soon enough with bottom-placed Perth in free-fall, conceding eight goals in their last two matches as they slumped to heavy defeats away to Central Coast and Melbourne. They need all the defensive help they can get ahead of the round-8 visit of high-flying Sydney to Members' Equity Stadium.

But Foxe knows the club's patience will run out if he continues to spend more time on the treatment table than on the pitch. Sadly, his once sparkling career could be, quite literally, on its last legs.

Q: Hayden, what will it mean to you to get back onto the pitch after the kind of run you've had with injuries?

A: Obviously no player likes to be injured and it is very frustrating watching the boys play and not being out there. But that is football and you take it in your stride. So I am like a kid in a candy store and excited about the prospect of playing again this season.

Q: What do you make of the Glory's chances this season, given the new players that have been brought in?

A: You have to be realistic in any goals that you set. We have definitely improved our squad this year in all areas and we are still aiming to get into the top four. Once you are in the finals anything can happen. You just need a bit of luck and take your chances when they come.

Q: How does Perth coach David Mitchell compare to your long-time mentor in England Harry Redknapp?

A: It's hard to compare as Dave is still quite a young coach and Harry is at the other end of his career as a manager. They both have very similar styles in wanting to play football at all times. Dave was a great player and a very hard worker which he likes to instil into his teams. Dave has picked up a lot of ideas from the best teams around the world especially in Holland where he spent many years as a player. Dave is a modern coach with hard working ethics which is a great combination to have as a coach.

Q: How important a season is this for you given the stop-start nature of the past couple of years?

A: Very important indeed. I played only six games for the Glory at the tail end of last season. Glory showed good faith in signing me after a disastrous run of injuries so I need to repay them by playing as often as possible.

Q: What are your proudest moments for club and country?

A: To be able to run out on a Saturday afternoon and play a game of football that you have loved your whole life is something else. For it to be your job is a whole other matter. To see the look on the supporters face when you have won a game and what it means to them is very satisfying. Then, to be able to represent your country and have the complete nation behind you is something you never forget.

Q: How did then-coach Frank Farina playing you out of position in midfield impact on your Socceroo career?

A: I played in midfield a few times for the national team, and to be honest, it really wasn't my preferred position. But, hey, who cares where you play when being selected to play for the green and gold? You play where the manager puts you.

Q: How a big a goal is it for you to one day play again for the Socceroos?

A: My days with the national team ended quite a few years ago when I had my foot problems. The Socceroos are looking to the future now and I no longer fit into those plans. It was a fantastic phase in my life to be playing with the Socceroos but now it is someone else's dream to wear the green and gold.

Q: How do you look back now on the infamous incident at the West Ham Christmas party?

A: It's something I'm definitely not proud of, but I can't turn back time. It happened and everyone knew about it which is why footballers today need to be very careful how they represent themselves in public. It's important to note that players take plenty of time out of their schedule to do charity work, make hospitals visits and go to schools to do coaching clinics, which no one really hears about.

Q: Finally, what's it like to have a ''mini-me'' - another red-headed defender called Hayden - in the Perth Glory squad: Hayden Doyle, who joined the club this season?

A: It's brilliant to have another ''ginge'' in the team, It takes some of the pressure of me in regards to the ginger jokes. I'm not to sure if he realises how hot it gets in Perth where he will live in 50+ sunblock all summer and stay indoors from sunrise to dusk.

* Sydney-born Jason Dasey ( www.jasondasey.com ) is a host of Soccernet SportsCenter and SportsCenter. He covered the 2006 World Cup and the 2007 Asian Cup for ESPN

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