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Luke's sublime rise from the ridiculous - 08/11/2005

Luke's sublime rise from the ridiculous
   Bristol City
   Soccer Australia

Think World Cup and what springs to mind are big-name players at big-name clubs, household names at the top of their games.

Luke Wilkshire is not a name many in Australia - even football supporters - might have heard much of. His club, Bristol City, from England's League One, is not remotely big time. In fact, in his native land, Wollongong-born Wilkshire may be a household name only in the house in which he grew up.

But this 24-year-old former Middlesbrough midfielder's profile is sure to rise after becoming a surprise selection in Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink's side to face Uruguay on Sunday morning, Sydney time. Especially if he builds on his solid performance against Jamaica last month, when he played more than 70 minutes of the Socceroos' 5-0 rout.

A hard-working, competitive individual who can play in a number of midfield roles, Wilkshire has become a beneficiary of the Hiddink takeover, along with third-string goalkeeper Ante Covic (no caps) and defender Michael Thwaite (who made his debut against Jamaica).

Hiddink has thrown the balls in the air and juggled them since the Frank Farina era, when the Socceroos had a settled look and a number of players appeared to be rusted on in their positions.

Reputations have counted for nought as he has mixed and matched, tried players in different positions or left established stars out and experimented with fresh faces in a bid to improve the mix.

Thus it is that Wilkshire - who quit the Riverside 2½ years ago in search of a club where he could guarantee himself regular football - is in Buenos Aires and itching to get a chance to show what he can do on the biggest stage of all.

He was one of only a handful of players to arrive on Sunday (Sydney time), having experienced a weekend that has brought him to the sublime - World Cup action - after experiencing the ridiculous - defeat for his club in the first round of the FA Cup against Notts County, hardly one of the giants of modern English football.

He believes squad morale is high, and that Hiddink is the sort of coach who has, in a short time, been able to remake the team because of his tactical awareness and experience.

"It was a settled team. Obviously Guus came in with an open mind - he knew some of the players but not others," says Wilkshire, who was first drafted into Socceroos and Olyroos sides by Farina but saw little first-team action at senior level.

"I have no doubt he didn't have a clue who I was when he first took the job. But everyone was on an even keel and he has taken everything as he saw it in training and games. Being picked has been a good confidence booster for me … I was left wondering whether I was going to be noticed or left wandering down there [in League One].

"That first training camp was crucial. First impressions last … when he first came in … everyone had their chance."

He reasons that his adaptability was a key factor in catching the coach's eye, and says Hiddink is keen for his team to play with flexibility. "You have got to adapt to different positions, different styles," he said. "Each game is going to be different, so it's all about adapting. The way I was brought up to play helps with this."

The Socceroos have also changed considerably in the past few months. "Tactically we are aware defensively, everyone knows their responsibility as individuals and as a team, as well as playing out and keeping the ball," he explained.

"The Jamaican game was a chance for us to put everything from the training camps into match practice. The way we did it against Jamaica was to take the game by the scruff of the neck. We didn't give them a chance to play. It was a good lead-in [for these two play-off matches], a positive result."


Sydney Morning Herald

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