For some, Mile Jedinak’s next six months would look daunting. As Crystal Palace captain he must motivate his side through a trying relegation battle, before jetting to Brazil to face the most difficult group at the World Cup.
The affable Australian, though, is unfazed. Jedinak has endured his fair share of taxing moments throughout a challenging career, and this ability to overcome adversity will stand him in good stead against Spain, Holland and Chile. While he is circumspect in his appraisal of the draw, he insists hope remains for the Socceroos.
“It’s going to be tough, I know that and I’m definitely under no illusions,” the combative midfielder says. “But we just have to embrace the draw, give it our all, and see what we can achieve.”
If, as expected, Jedinak is selected in the Socceroos line-up for Brazil, it will represent a noteworthy achievement following an inauspicious start to his career. After spending time in the local state league, Jedinak went to Croatia as a teenager only to struggle for playing time and ultimately be forced home. Despite eventually securing a contract with A-League side Central Coast Mariners, Jedinak had to supplement his football career with other employment in Sydney.
“It’s a massive step up, from working in an office to playing in the Premier League,” he says. “I do remember those days really well, when I was working at my uncle’s office in Sydney. I never even thought about the future to be honest, it was all about getting work done and then my head was focused on the Mariners.”
Not long after winning the Premiers’ Plate with Central Coast, Jedinak again decided to try his luck overseas, joining Turkish side Genclerbirligi. The midfielder reflects happily on his time in the country, having found regular minutes at the Ankara club and during a loan spell with Antalyaspor.
“Turkey was a great experience for me, both personally and professionally,” Jedinak says. “I met some really good people and had an excellent time on and off the pitch. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was great to experience a new culture.”
Having kick-started his European playing career on the other side of the Bosphorus, in mid-2011 Jedinak sought new challenges and was released from his contract at Genclerbirligi. Despite interest from Rangers, the Australian eventually settled for then-Championship team Crystal Palace.
After initially struggling to adapt to the new conditions, Jedinak eventually settled before succumbing to an injury at the tail end of the 2011-12 campaign. He returned with a vengeance though, leading his team to promotion the following season and being named player of the year for his heroic efforts.
“To captain your team to promotion in one of the most gruelling leagues in the world is right up there, it goes very high on my list,” he admits. “It’s something I’m immensely proud of – I don’t think it quite sinks in.”
Jedinak has played every Premier League minute for Palace so far this season, consistently impressing even as his side lingers in the relegation zone. His determination, energy in the midfield and poise on the ball have all been praised, and despite sitting 20th in the league, Jedinak is convinced his team can move away from the drop zone.
“I think if we weren’t confident we wouldn’t be playing,” Jedinak chuckles. “It’s all about having good runs, picking up the points here and there. We definitely have a strong belief in our ability as a team – at the end of the day only time will tell, but we are very confident about getting to where we want to be.”
The Eagles have improved since the arrival of Tony Pulis, a big fan of Jedinak who recently described the Palace captain as “a real soldier”. The feeling is clearly mutual, with Jedinak full of praise for his new manager.
“Pulis has come in and is very clear about how he wants us to approach every game,” Jedinak remarks. “The boys know what their roles are in the team and there is no confusion. It has been great having him involved and we’re all very positive going into the tough period ahead.”
Regardless of whether Jedinak and his team-mates manage to keep Palace in the Premier League, the midfielder will likely receive little rest before jetting off for another big challenge – group B of the World Cup. Jedinak isn’t getting ahead of himself, though, and insists he has not thought beyond securing his place in the Australian squad.
“I have to get on that plane first! For me it’s just about knuckling down, I have to keep giving my all and get selected for the squad – which will be no easy feat,” he comments. “Obviously it is a while off so you can’t get carried away.”
Jedinak played a full game as the Socceroos triumphed over Costa Rica in November, and was pleased with the atmosphere in training under new coach Ange Postecoglou.
“We’ve only had Ange for a week, but I can say that the camp went really well and I think it showed in our performance,” the midfielder says. “There was a really high intensity among the boys in camp, everyone was switched on, and I think that helped against Costa Rica.”
Beyond Brazil, Jedinak is keeping an eye on the 2015 Asian Cup, as he seeks to avenge the Socceroos’ devastating extra time loss to Japan in Doha. With the competition taking place on home soil, the Crystal Palace enforcer believes the green and gold have an excellent opportunity to claim silverware.
“It’s great that it is in Australia, it will be massive for football in our country,” Jedinak enthuses. “It won’t be easy, but being on home soil, we have to give it our all. Where that gets us remains to be seen but we had a great Asian Cup in 2011, and hopefully this time our luck changes and we can clinch the trophy.”
From state league footballer to Socceroo, from office work to the Premier League, Mile Jedinak has enjoyed a turbulent time since beginning his football career many years ago for Sydney United. Yet at 29, the Palace captain still has time on his side, and would love nothing more than to one day wear the national team armband.
“I’ve been a servant of the Socceroos for over five years now and I have known Lucas Neill as the captain that whole time. It is a great title to hold and a huge honour. If you are ever called upon to take that you will do the best you can and lead by example.”