Luke Wilkshire Interview, Khimki, Russia, 23 November 2010
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to catch up with Luke Wilkshire of Dynamo Moscow and the Socceroos on Tuesday near Dynamo’s training base in Khimki on the outskirts of Moscow. Luke was kind enough to wait for me as Google Maps uncharacteristically led me in the wrong direction on my trek out there and, upon my arrival, I proceeded to make an arse of myself as I struggled to operate the hi-tech dictaphone I borrowed from my law firm. Many thanks to Luke and his agent, Darren Jackson of Inspire Sports Management, for agreeing to the interview and for being so generous with their time and to my current employers, Linklaters, for allowing me to use their dictaphone and to take the afternoon off to go meet Luke.
The full transcript of the interview is set out below:
SB Tang (“SBT”): World Cup 2010. First, congratulations on a great performance. We finished level on points with Ghana in a group also containing Germany and Serbia. Just going back to that opening match against Germany. How did the players feel about the way that we were tactically set up — was there any frustration after the result?
Luke Wilkshire (“LW”): No, of course, there was frustration and disappointment — we lost 4-0 in the opening game. We thought that we can do a lot better than that and we can. Had we played at our full potential, I’m sure we would have gotten a better result. But, you know, it is what it is. That’s football. It doesn’t always go to plan. And it was a bad night for the Socceroos that night.
SBT: But to us at home, it actually seemed that the lads played pretty well, but the tactics …
LW: I think I’d say that a lot of people back home can sit on their sofas and see things and make their own judgments and opinions on things. The players were comfortable knowing that we played the system that we played. We knew our jobs, but we didn’t stick to it. The early goal rattled us a little bit. I think that did shake us because we had started the game reasonably well — we had a couple of good chances. But, I mean, I wouldn’t talk tactically. Pim did a great job with us. Everyone knew our roles. We qualified for the World Cup with an amazing record so I don’t think that [ie tactics] is any kind of excuse at all.
SBT: In the second phase of Asian qualification we didn’t concede a goal in a live match so …
LW: Yeah, you know, we learnt a lot under Pim. How to perform, not just in one-off games, but over the course of many games and that’s what it’s about. Going away to difficult places in Asia and to be able to get a result like we did. It took a lot of tactics. Very smart play. And, I think, Pim guided us very well through that.
SBT: Second game against Ghana. Going a goal up early, then went down to 10 men later in the first half courtesy of some strange referring. But full credit to you guys, you bossed the game with 10 men and the score at 1-1, particularly in the second half, and you played a big, big part in that. You swung in a great cross for Scott Chipperfield who headed over seconds after coming on as a sub. And you had that shot saved when you were one-on-one with the keeper. I have to ask — do you still think about that shot?
LW: Nah, only when someone mentions it — obviously I try not to!
SBT: Yeah, sorry!
LW: That’s alright, there goes my confidence for the weekend’s game. I’ll boot it up next month!
SBT: But I think The Australian, The Age and The World Game said that you were the man of the match so …
LW: Yeah, we played well — the response from the players was brilliant as you’d expect from our team and as we expect from each other. It was disappointing, the result, obviously. We didn’t have a great deal of luck throughout the whole World Cup in regard to decisions. Sometimes, you need a little of luck, especially at the top level, you need a break every now and then. And we didn’t get it. Again, that’s football, you gotta get on with it.
SBT: I was in London at the time and I think the word used by all the London papers after that match was “brave”.
LW: Yeah, you’re playing for your country and it’s about making Australia proud. You want to make Australia proud — you’re there to represent your country. And I think all the Australian people I know, the people in the stadium were very proud and felt good about it — as did we, and that’s the main thing for us.
SBT: Well, you definitely did [do us proud], because the third game against Serbia, I was in a pub with a bunch of Australians at Wimbledon. We’d just stopped watching that marathon Mahut-Eisner match and we went out to a pub to watch you guys. We were going mental after you swung in a great cross from the right for Timmy Cahill to head home then Brett Holman put us 2-0 up with a screamer from 30 yards. At that stage, did you guys believe?
LW: Yeah, of course, we went into the game believing. There’s no point going on the pitch if you don’t believe that you can get a good result — of course we did. We knew it was going to be tough. We knew we were up against it but of course we believed. There’s just no point playing the game if you don’t believe.
SBT: It was a brilliant cross for that first goal by Timmy Cahill by … yourself …
LW: Yeah … I regularly make him look good!
SBT: Yeah, surely by this stage, that’s a rehearsed training ground move for us isn’t it — the cross to Timmy Cahill?
LW: Yeah, you gotta play to your strengths don’t ya — Timmy can’t kick a ball so put it on his head! Haha, you know, jokes aside, he’s great in the air. That’s our strength. Same with Joshua Kennedy when he’s there playing up front. You want to be getting crosses in because that’s gonna cause problems and there’s where we’re going to get goals.
SBT: I seem to remember that Timmy was being marked by Vidic in that match who’s meant to be one of the best aerial defenders in the world …
LW: Ah well, he can’t quite jump like Timmy!
SBT: Following the World Cup, Holger Osieck’s taken over from Pim Verbeek as Socceroos manager. Are you enjoying his slightly different, perhaps more attacking style of play?
LW: Ah, you know, look it’s still early stages since the new boss has come in. The players are starting to understand and get to grips with what he’s after. We’ve had some decent results in the beginning, aside from that Egypt game which was reasonably poor but that’s something for us to learn from. I must say that it was sad to see Pim go. I think everybody really enjoyed their time playing under him. But it’s a new era, it’s a new time and we hope for positive times under the new boss.
SBT: You mentioned the Egypt game. Firstly, nice block — you can’t do much about rebounds! But as it was just a friendly, was Osieck’s focus maybe more on the performance rather than the result in the lead-up to a big tournament in the Asian Cup?
LW: It’s a habit of winning. You want to be in the habit of winning. You always wanna win. Of course, performance is also important. But it was a good game for us to have — they’re a very good team. Difficult circumstances with players coming in 24 hours, 48 hours before a game. It’s always difficult, but like I say, it’s a disappointing result and it’s one that we put behind us now and we try to learn from it. I’m sure we’ll be evaluating it when we meet up before the Asian Cup. And then we move on because we got a big month of football coming up in January.
SBT: You mentioned the Asian Cup coming up in January — what’s the target for the boys?
LW: Look, we’re ranked number 1 in Asia and for a reason, you know, so expectations are going to be there again with the team. Rightly so but, ultimately, it’s down to us to go and make sure we perform to our level and if we do that then I think we can have a very successful tournament.
SBT: We’ve been grouped with India, Bahrain and Korea — so I’m presuming that Holger Osieck’s already given Carl Valeri a poster of Ji-Sung Park with a giant target sign painted over his head?
LW: Aaah, I don’t know about that!
SBT: Looking even further ahead to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. By then, most of the Golden Generation who formed the core of the 2006 and 2010 World Cup squads will be in their mid-30s. Timmy Cahill will be 34. Harry Kewell will be 35. You, on the other hand, will be a relatively sprightly 32. Looking at the XI who started against Japan in 2006, you may be the only one left — does that worry you at all?
LW: No, not really, of course, you know, that’s football — players retire and move on. Hopefully, between now and then, there’s going to be a lot of football played. There’s hopefully going to be a few more of the young up-and-coming players to really come and put a foothold in and try and challenge for spots in the team because it’s important. We’ve got a few at the moment, that have the talent, that are promising but there’s a big difference between a bit of talent and promising to being able to hold down a spot in the national team and to be able to perform at the top level.
SBT: You mentioned promising young players — the name on everyone’s lips right now is Tommy Oar. Have you had the chance to train and play much alongside him?
LW: Yeah, I’ve seen a bit of Tommy. He’s been in camp a few times. He’s definitely one — he’s definitely got a lot of talent and potential there. It’s up to him to take that talent and potential and to be able to develop into a real top player who can perform not only at international level but at club level first of all, to hold down a spot at his club, Utrecht, to be playing before you can expect him to step up into the national team and start performing on the world stage.
SBT: You mentioned those younger guys coming through, will you be looking to take on more of a leadership role with them both on and off the pitch as one of the senior guys?
LW: Nothing really changes for me — I’ve been around a long time now. It feels longer than it actually is! The team’s always good together and everyone helps everyone along, especially us older players with some of the young boys. It’s up to them as well, they’ve gotta be wanting to learn and to see and to take on things from the older boys.
SBT: Growing up in Wollongong, did you ever think that you’d be sitting in Moscow discussing representing Australia in a third successive World Cup?
LW: Nah, definitely not. I didn’t expect half the things that have happened in my life — you dream about it, but you don’t necessarily believe that they’re going to come true. But fortunately enough for me, it came true, and through a lot of hard work and determination and sacrifice, I can now say that I’ve been and done quite a bit of it. Hopefully, the journey’s still got a few more years left in it!
SBT: You mentioned hard work and sacrifice. When you first went to Europe, you went to Boro and then you moved to Bristol City in search of first-team action. They were then in the third-tier of English football. That’s maybe not the most obvious place to discover an international class footballer. So how did Guus discover you for the 2006 World Cup? Did he send out Johan Neeskens to watch you at Bristol City?
LW: Nah, I mean obviously when he took over the national team I’d been around the national team already, not playing so much but I’d been in a lot of camps under Frank Farina and Graham Arnold. And then when Guus took over, in the first games, he wanted everybody, he wanted about 30 players — anyone who’d been involved in the national team he wanted to see for himself. He made his opinions based on what he saw with his own eyes in training camps and things, and that’s where I got my opportunity because he thought that I adapted and that I fitted well into the team structure.
SBT: And you really built on that, after the 2006 World Cup you moved to FC Twente in the Dutch Eredivisie. You had a brilliant 2 year stint with them — you helped them qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history. How did that come about — moving to a club like Twente?
LW: Yeah, that was through Guus as well. He had a contact, a coach who was at Twente at the time, Fred Rutten — that made a good opening for me. It was ideal for me at the time. I had a great two years there. I still have many good friends there. It’s a great club. I really enjoyed my football there, there’s no doubt about it.
SBT: You must’ve been stoked for them when they won the Dutch title?
LW: Yeah, I was delighted for them. Like I said, I’ve got really good friends there who I still keep in touch with and see regularly. So I was really happy for them. I’ve often been asked if I wanna go back there, they’d like to bring me back. You know, maybe one day I’ll go and say hello to them again!
SBT: Yeah, they’re doing very well for themselves. They’re in the Champions League again this season. Just going back to Wollongong, did you and Scott Chipperfield know each other growing up in Wollongong?
LW: Nah, not until meeting up in the Socceroos.
SBT: Arsene Wenger has said that technical ability can only be acquired before a player hits their mid-teens. How and where did you and Scott Chipperfield, two of our most successful players, acquire your technical ability — are there secret underground futsal pitches in Wollongong?
LW: Ah, nah, I guess, the little bit of technique that I do have I got from my backyard with my brother. Haha, that shows how I little I got — nah, you know, I did a lot of work in the backyard with my brother!
SBT: I heard you being interviewed a few weeks ago by Russia Today about our chances of hosting the 2022 World Cup. How do you rate our chances given that we’ll be up against USA?
LW: Yeah, I think we’ve got as good a chance as anyone. We’ve got everything that anyone could want to host the World Cup. Our nation — the facilities, the people, the climate, everything’s there with the structure. I think it’d be fantastic for Australian football, for the Australian people to be able to host it. I think it’d be fantastic for the world of football for everyone to be able to come Down Under and experience a World Cup in Australia. Fingers crossed we get a good decision.
SBT: Yeah, shame about the time zone though.
LW: Yeah, compared to Europe the time zone’s not great, but to Asia it’s good. You can look at it in many different ways. I’m sure the FFA’s done everything they possibly can. Mr Lowy’s put his heart and soul into it and I really, really pray that we get a good decision.
SBT: Yeah, I think the preliminary reports came back and we got graded really highly so touch wood.
LW: Yeah, like I say, it’d be a massive thing.
SBT: Final question — any plans to head home to the A-league in the distant, distant future, maybe even to a new Wollongong-based A-league team?
LW: Ah, who knows, at the moment, I’m here at Dynamo. I’ve still got a contract here at Dynamo for a few more years and I’m not really looking beyond that. I’m very happy here. And what comes after that, time will tell.
SBT: Thanks very much for your time.
LW: No worries.