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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 21 January 2017
28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 21 JANUARY 2017 SPORT After a year of success, what’s next for Alex Gersbach? Looking back on his Australian national team debut in the friendly with Greece, the young Greek Australian talent reveals that it was the proudest moment for him and his family CON STAMOCOSTAS When Alex Gersbach made his senior club debut for Sydney FC, he was still only 17 and yet to complete his HSC. But over the last two years the Sydney teenager has gone from establishing himself in the A-League to earning his first professional contract in Europe and representing Australia's national team. There was also European Champions League football and at the end of the season, reports in the media said that Italian giant Juventus was interested in the 19-year-old's services. But as debut seasons in Europe go, Gersbach couldn't have dreamt of a better campaign. The teenager played 23 games in all competitions, helping Rosenborg to its 24th league title and doubling his winner’s medal collection after playing in its 4-0 Cup final victory over Kongsvinger IL. While most Aussie's abroad initially struggle, Gersbach settled quickly and made the starting 11 in just the second game of the season. In total he ended up playing 19 times in a 30-game season. But reflecting on his achievements, Gersbach says that making his Socceroo debut at home against Greece has been the pick of the last 12 months. "For me 2016 was a really successful year," he said. "Winning the league and Cup double in my first season abroad was fantastic. But making my debut for my country is the one that stands out the most. I really enjoyed myself. It was nice to make my debut, especially against Greece, a country of so much significance to me and my grandparents too. I just hope I made them proud." Gersbach's debut for his country also featured Apostolos Giannou and Chris Ikonomidis, and with Ange Postecoglou at the helm of the national team the AustralianHellas connection was strong. Looking back, Gersbach revealed that it was a proud moment for himself and his family. "It was amazing to make my debut against Greece," he said. "It's really special for me and for my mum and for my grandparents especially. Both my grandparents came from Greece when they were about 20. They moved to Sydney and made a life here. My parents were actually over in Greece at that moment watching with the relatives." Being able to adapt to his new surroundings in Norway helped Gersbach earn his first Socceroos cap, but initially he felt the weight of expectation that comes with being at a successful team like Rosenborg. "There is a lot of pressure playing for a big club in Norway," Gersbach said. "We are expected to do well and win every game. It's not every season that you win trophies so to be involved in that in my first season overseas it means a lot to me." While the Trondheim-based club streaked away with the Eliteserien title by 15 points, Gersbach said it was memorable being part of the title-winning moment against one of the club's biggest rivals. "We knew we had a good lead pretty early before the end of the season," he said. "But to play that game against Molde in their city and to officially win the league there was pretty exciting and hopefully we can do it again next year." Alex Gersbach of Sydney FC gets over Thomas Broich of the Roar. PHOTO: AAP VIA AP/DEAN LEWINS. During the Champions League qualifying stage, Gersbach experienced what it was like to play in Europe after getting some action during the side’s two-legged win against Swedish Champions IFK Norrkoping. Unfortunately, that five-minute cameo was all he got, as the Norwegians were knocked out in the next round by Cypriot team Apoel DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ISSN 1321-1676 9 771321 167062 Nicosia and were then bundled out of the Europa league by Austria Vienna. After getting a taste of playing European football, Gersbach is hoping the club can progress further on the Continental stage next campaign. "It's unfortunate we only got through one round of the qualifiers," he said. "We were feeling good about ourselves and we were confident but we got knocked out. That’s one of our big targets next season − we wanted to be playing in Europe, whether it's the Europa League or Champions League. Obviously I want to be playing in the Champions League, and we'll give it our best shot." While Gersbach's first season abroad was mostly a success, the 19-year-old found navigating both club and country commitments tricky. "Especially when I was travelling so much with the Socceroos," he said. "Going home and travelling around with the national team, it becomes a bit difficult to cement your spot. I was pretty content with how my season went till the last one or two months, where I was left out of the starting team, so that was disappointing. "We've got a lot of good players who haven't quite cemented their spots in the starting 11 so they spent time on the bench. There was quite a lot of rotation going on throughout the season, and towards the end of the year we were winning, obviously, so it's hard to change a winning team. "So hopefully next season I'll cement my spot early and that won't affect me." With World Cup qualifiers for Russia 2018 wrapping up this year and the Confederation Cup taking place in June, the Sydney youngster is hoping to add to his two Australian national team appearances. "I was involved with every Socceroos camp throughout the year, so it was really good to be involved and to take part in all that," he said. "We had a lot of success in the early part of the qualifiers and hit a few speed bumps, I guess, against Japan and Thailand, but there is nothing to worry about and we are still undefeated in the group and now we are really looking forward to 2017." But if Gersbach is to get more game time for the Socceroos, he must oust current left back Brad Smith, and while he is happy to be patient, the teenager is prepared in case Ange Postecoglou needs him. "Brad has been doing a good job for the Socceroos but I'll always be ready when called up to play," he said. "I feel like it's a good, healthy battle and a healthy relationship. I'm pushing him and he's pushing me. I've just to keep working hard and maintain focus and make sure I am ready when I do get a chance." While 2016 was an important year in the 19-year-old's development, the next 12 months are going to be even more critical. "I was happy with how 2016 went," he said. "But there’s still a lot of improvement and a lot more football to be played. We'll see where 2017 takes me; hopefully it's bigger and better. In terms of my club career, I want to be playing regularly week in week out, and not only doing that but playing well and that is one of my main goals. It's not just about getting game time but also playing well. "The World Cup qualifiers will be wrapped up before the end of the year and hopefully I can be involved in all that and get a bit more game time with the Socceroos. Winning the double in my first season away from Australia was fantastic, and I'm really looking to build on that and my Socceroos debut. "Hopefully I will have many more years of success to come."
14 January 2017
28 January 2017