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Feb 18, 2010

'Silver Fox' bids farewell to football

It has long been said that football can be a cruel game, and it is fair to say that most players see their careers end on an anti-climax rather than with a fairytale swansong.

Steve Corica's au revoir on Sunday was by no means a Tony Vidmar moment (his defensive blunder in the 2008 A-League Grand Final for Central Coast Mariners handed Newcastle Jets victory), but the carriage didn't exactly arrive to take him to the ball as he and others expected.

Just last week, the 'Silver Fox' announced he would be calling time on his 21-year professional career at the conclusion of the current A-League finals series, with his club, Sydney, among the favourites to take the title. But injury has brought the curtain down prematurely before the Grand Final.

Retirement was something that Corica, who turns 37 four days after the Grand Final, only considered at the end of last season. Sydney had just endured their worst campaign in the A-League, and perhaps so too did Corica. He knew that was no way to bow out. And in all fairness, his career warranted a better send-off.

"I want to finish on a good note," he said at his press conference. "And I have done that."

Needless to say, the 2009-10 season proved to be as good as it could get for Corica. So, on the eve of the Premier's Plate decider, the timing seemed perfect for Corica to announce he would be hanging up his boots, to take up a job within the coaching staff.

It is a good thing Corica gave the fans some warning of his impending retirement, as the football Gods decided to pull the plug on his career a little earlier than expected, courtesy of a hamstring injury that will not heal before Grand Final day on March 20.

While he will not take part in any finals football, which more than likely will include a Grand Final appearance for the Sky Blues, Corica will take some solace in the fact he helped Sydney FC to their first piece of silverware since their A-League triumph in 2006, which was also the first league title of his career.

"It was very nice winning the Minor Premiership and I was hoping to play in one or maybe two games [of the finals] but it is not to be," he said. "Obviously I am disappointed but my career was coming to an end anyway and winning the Minor Premiership was a nice way to go out."

Corica has much to celebrate as he reflects on a career that began as a six-year-old in Innisfail - a coastal town in Far North Queensland - and ended some 31 years later with a haul of accolades and achievements.

At 15 years of age, Corica was spotted by then AIS coach Ron Smith, who made him a member of Australia's elite player setup in Canberra. From there, NSL club Marconi snapped him up and handed him his national league debut at only 17 years of age. His talents were recognised by the league in 1993 when he was awarded the competition's Under-21 Player of the Year gong.

However, Corica's talents were too good for the domestic league, so off to Europe it was, where he would spend the next five years playing in England's second tier with Leicester City (1995-1996) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (1996-2000). A successful two-year stint in Japan with Sanfrecce Hiroshima was to follow before he headed back to England to join Walsall.

As for his career in the green and gold, Corica became the first player to represent Australia at every age level - Under-17s, 20s, 23s and the senior team - and won 32 caps for the Socceroos.

Corica has conceded in the past that his scrapbook of memories triggers a couple of regrets. Like the time he decided to swap Leicester for Wolves in 1996 after he had just helped the Foxes win promotion to the Premier League. As it turned out, that was Corica's best chance of playing top-flight football in England.

Then there was the decision to overlook mainland Europe for England, despite being a continental-style player. Moving to Japan allowed Corica to play his natural game, and being the touch player he was, Europe may have been kinder to Corica than the ball-chasing, crunch-tackling style of English football. Internationally, there is obviously the failure to qualify for a World Cup.

But that's not what we will remember. Instead, we will identify Corica as a product of Australia's 'Golden Generation' and a member of what many consider to be Australia's best national team to date: the 1992 Olyroos. Fans will wax lyrical about his precocious talents: deftness of touch, precision passing and an ability to set the tempo. It's a wonder that he was never nicknamed 'Metronome'.

And we will remember how, on his final playing day, Corica held the Premier's Plate aloft in front of his home fans after Sydney beat Melbourne in the Minor Premiership decider.

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