'Gamble' needed to take Rogic to the top

As Tom Rogic hits the age of 25, the youth development guru who helped him carve a career in Europe says somebody will "need to take a gamble" if he is reach the elite level.


Tom Rogic celebrates after a Celtic win Source: Getty Images

Former AIS head coach and Perth Glory mentor Ron Smith nominated Rogic for The Chance - a global search for untapped talent - when he was 17.

The lavishly gifted kid from Canberra, who had a birthday on Saturday, was one of just eight picked from a field of 75,000 to secure contracts with the Nike Football Academy in the UK, where he attracted offers from EPL clubs but was ruled out because of work permit issues.

Fast forward eight years, and Rogic is arguably Australia and Celtic's most inventive and innovative player.

Yet queries persist over his susceptibility to injury - Rogic is currently sidelined with a knee problem - his durability in the heat of battle and, most crucially, whether he is imbued with requisite athleticism to attract one of Europe's elite clubs.

"With regards to his development, only time will tell and somebody needs to give him a go," Smith said.

"For a young guy, who's quite a big lad, he's not going to have the mobility of a Luka Modric, who is half his size.

"But he has some incredible abilities and has proven already he can play top level international and club football.

"Whether he goes on to play for the crème de la crème is yet to be determined. There aren't many who do that. Somebody might need to take a gamble on him.

"It's not about his ability, it's just about being able to get around the park, if that's what you want somebody to do.

"The way the game is going at the elite level you don't see many players who are also not top athletes."

Smith draws a correlation between Rogic and fellow Canberra product turned Croatia legend Josip Simunic, who was converted from playmaker to defender because he wasn't endowed with the lung-busting power to play further up the field for 90 minutes.

"Joe went from initially being a number 10 at the AIS to a centre-back," Smith said. "When Tommy was at the Nike Academy they played him as a holding midfielder player.

"Maybe that was the reason. There are less demands on you in that position in terms of physical output. 

"But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I think Tommy's talents are being able to beat people and make super weighted passes in behind for people to score goals.

"All that is wasted as a holding midfield player in my book. But you can still be creative and deep like Joe Simunic was. You never know where Tommy might end up playing."

Smith first encountered Rogic as a 10-year-old playing for Canberra club side Woden Valley.

"Tommy always had ability, and as a young player he always caught the eye because he was quite a good dribbler," Smith recalled.

"As he got older, he grew a lot and maybe his size didn't help him at the AIS where the Dutch coaches maybe thought he wouldn't be able to get his body around the pitch."

Rogic was dumped after just three months and, having attracted no interest from any A-League teams at that point, began to concentrate on futsal.

"(Dumping him) was a bit shortsighted in my opinion because in my day at the AIS we used to look for kids with talent and help them with growth and development," Smith said, who nurtured Mark Viduka, Lucas Neill, Josip Skoko and many more.

Smith recommended Rogic to then Central Coast coach Graham Arnold, saying simply "we have a gem here", prior to his departure for The Chance trials in the UK.

"Tommy went to train with them and within two months Arnie rang me and said 'you'd think he'd been here half his life'.

"He wanted to sign him straight away but Tommy wanted to go to England and he did so well he was picked as one of eight kids by Guus Hiddink and Arsene Wenger out of 100 finalists for a scholarship.

"He was away for six or eight months and there were enquiries about work permits, with Reading ready to sign him there and then, and a few EPL clubs were also keen.

"He came home and scored on his debut for the Mariners against Melbourne Victory. And the rest is history, as they say."

Suggestions that Rogic is out of favour at Celtic have angered his camp, with vindication arriving when Celtic confirmed the Socceroos impresario has been carrying a knee injury for some weeks.

The playmaker, who has started just twice in the past seven weeks for the Scottish champions, is being protected from aggravating the lingering injury by coach Brendan Rodgers and will be sidelined until the New Year.

He has made 27 appearances so far this season in all competitions, 12 off the bench, having been lauded previously by Rodgers as a "big talent", and one of the best midfielders in Scotland, and potentially even Europe.

Celtic are only too familiar with Rogic's injury history. Groin problems, which required surgery twice, stifled his progress at Parkhead for the best part of two seasons, before he broke the curse in 2015.

That was the year a reborn Rogic emerged as fan favourite with his lustrous touch and penchant for scoring goals of breathtaking quality winning a legion of admirers.

But the late developer's vulnerability to injury has never been far from the surface - as has been the case with numerous gifted players down the ages.

Those close to Rogic have no doubt he will vault over the current obstacles in front of him, and benefit from a mini-break to return for the Bhoys refreshed and revitalised, and better placed to produce his best form.

Whoever takes over the Socceroos reins will hope so because Rogic remains one of his country's most potent weapons, his unorthodox style making him unfathomable to opponents when the mood takes him.

But there's also a flip side with Rogic still yet to find the consistency and intensity required to take his game to another level.

In that respect, he remains a work in progress.

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6 min read
Published 19 December 2017 at 3:12pm
By Dave Lewis