Fit-again Milligan's head not turned by Victory approach

Australia mainstay Mark Milligan has handed coach Ange Postecoglou a boost ahead of next month’s crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers by declaring himself fit after a knee injury which caused him to miss two matches for Dubai-based Baniyas.


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The subject of an audacious January bid by Melbourne Victory to bring him back to the A-League to replace out-for-the-season skipper Carl Valeri, Milligan hopes to cram in three more league games before heading into camp for the Socceroos for the duels on home soil against Tajikistan and Jordan.

Milligan, who signed for the UAE club for $1.2 million just a month after walking away with the Joe Marston medal as the man of the match in the 3-0 A-League grand final slaying of Sydney FC, has been sorely missed by Victory, with Valeri's long-term absence compounding the issue.

While confirming that an approach was made to bring him home, Milligan said Baniyas never seriously considered releasing him from his two-year deal and he intends to see out his contract in the Gulf.

“I think things got blown out of proportion a little bit," Milligan said.

“I’ve had a chats (with the chairman) over here in general and I don’t think he'll be letting me go anywhere too soon.

“So I don’t think it really matters what sort of interest came in during that window because nothing was going to happen.

“The recognition was nice … Melbourne was somewhere I loved playing and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it in some ways.

“But I took this path for a reason and I intend fulfill my commitments. My options are always open in the fact that I should have quite a few good years left in me.

"And the decisions I make going forward with centre around making sure I am available for the Socceroos as long as possible. Secondly, it will be about what makes me and my family happy.

“I have another year after this one and I am not too sure exactly how it works here because they seem to rotate players ... but I am enjoying my time here and I am sure I will be at Baniyas next year.

“If not, (the Gulf) is a place I would like to hang around in a little bit longer. I enjoy the lifestyle … we train in the early evenings (to beat the heat) and I get to do the school thing with the kids during the day.

"That’s not something I’ve not got to do before.”

With his energy, awareness and powerful running key to Postecoglou's midfield machinations, the 47-times-capped Milligan's all-action game has shown no signs of wavering or wilting in the heat of the Middle East where high wages make up for a lack of atmosphere and often scarcely populated stadiums.

The 30 year-old has made 16 appearances this season for sixth-placed Baniyas, and is enjoying life under Spanish coach Luis García Plaza.

“My general way of playing has been embraced, which is good," he said.

"I haven’t had to change the way I play at all ... I play in a similar role to what I do with the Socceroos.

“Obviously the Socceroos are very, very important to me, and to be able to replicate the way I play here and take that into the national team makes life a lot easier."

With the squad to be named on 8 March for the AFC Group B deciding clashes against Tajikistan (24 March, Adelaide Oval) and Jordan (29 March, Allianz Stadium), Milligan is focused on making sure Australia maintains top spot to cruise into the final phase of qualification for Russia 2018.

“Its easy to forget the first half of that qualifying period where we had a lot of games away from home,” said Milligan, with Australia holding a two-point break on second-placed Jordan.

“People didn’t realise how difficult that can be but we are looking forward to playing on home soil where we are very strong.

“We expect better results and better performances now, and we’re confident well finish the group really strongly.

“Ange has a good group together now and has a lot of options at his disposal and that keeps us sharp and keeps us improving.”

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4 min read
Published 23 February 2016 at 9:57pm
By David Lewis