Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Alex Tobin

The World Game's monthly feature pays tribute to Australia's heroes of yesteryear who left their mark on football Down Under. Defender Alex Tobin tells of his epic battles with some of the world's finest forwards and pays tribute to coaches Zoran Matic and the late Eddie Thomson.


Alex Tobin played 87 matches for the Socceroos Source: Getty Images

Alex Tobin does not mind conceding that his failure to play in a FIFA World Cup is one of the biggest disappointments of his long career but he will never forget the day he and the rest of the Socceroos defied the might of Brazil.

Tobin, who is now 50, played 87 times for Australia as a central defender and took part in three World Cup campaigns.

He rates the 0-0 draw with Brazil in Riyadh in a group match of the 1997 Confederations Cup as one of the highlights of his Socceroos career, during which he was captain 30 times.

"Not qualifying for the World Cup was hard to take," Adelaide-born Tobin said.

"It is every footballer's ambition and dream to play in a World Cup which is the game's biggest stage.

"I was involved in three qualification campaigns and I have played in some big games in my Socceroos career but one match that many people sometimes overlook is one that I am still very fond of.

"It was soon after we lost to Iran in the final playoff for the 1998 World Cup and we came up against Brazil, who had one of the greatest sides in their history.

"Ronaldo was there and so were Rivaldo, Denilson, Leonardo, Bebeto, Aldair, Dida and Roberto Carlos.

"It was an extraordinary team and what a performance it was to hold them to a 0-0 draw in one of the biggest tournaments in the world.

"It was a very special game and a great day for Aussie football but in a way it also brought up the frustration of not being able to make the World Cup."

Tobin, who played a total of 522 games in the National Soccer League (mostly with Adelaide City), retired from professional football in 2004.

Tobin has not been lost to the game. He lives in Sydney and for the last five years he has been technical director of Football New South Wales.

Apart from being a top quality defender, Tobin will always be remembered as an exemplary footballer who respected the opposition and the game.

His conduct on and off the field was immortalised when the players' union started rewarding players who show leadership and dedication and provide service to the game with the annual Alex Tobin Medal.

He spoke at length about his career and the great performers he played with and against.

You played your entire career in the NSL. Do you wish you were playing in the A-League where players are well looked after?

"It's a cycle, isn't it. The players before myself would have thought we were fortunate. Of course, the players' wages and conditions are better now which is healthy. The game has progressed and players get more opportunities now to further their careers than when I started."

Adelaide City were your club for most of your career. How good were they and would they hold their own in the A-League?

"We had a core group of footballers who played for the club for a decade or more. That was our main strength. We could keep players for a number of years because those days it was not as easy to move interstate as it is today because in a way Adelaide was seen to be somewhat isolated. History will show that many of our players were also involved with the national team so it was clear that we had a very strong and successful squad.

"We had a great group and we had consistent success in finals in the 1980s and 1990s.

"I believe 'my' Adelaide would have held their own in today's A-League. I am impressed with the way clubs have lifted in terms of professionalism but talented players are talented players whenever and wherever they performed and Adelaide City would be very competitive today. This applies to other strong teams of that era.

"The major difference is today all the teams are generally equally competitive (with the exception of perhaps Central Coast last season) and there is not too much difference between top and bottom whereas in the NSL we consistently had strong teams mixed with some that were not quite at that level due to financial and other reasons. It is a more even playing field now, that's for sure."

Coach Zoran Matic is regarded as one of the main architects behind Adelaide's glorious era. What were his attributes?

"Zoran was a knowledgeable, hard-working and very strict coach and he was able to keep a group of players together for many years.

"You would always know what type of team or players who were up against because he did his homework for every match.

"We were a tight outfit but you had to play his way or you were out.

"He drove his players but many could not perform for him in the way he wanted the football to be played and couldn't cope with his training regime and dropped out of the system.

"But the ones who persevered had a lot of success and I have no doubt that anyone who worked with him would rate him as one of the most influential figures in their career."

Eddie Thomson was your Socceroos coach for several years. What was he like as a coach and person?

"Thomson as a coach and a person had the ability to engage vastly different personalities and characters into a common direction.

"His teams and players always regarded him well and he managed to keep most people happy during his time with the Socceroos, which is somewhat rare in professional football."

You were very close to a century of appearances for Australia. Were you beaten by age at the end?

"I made my debut in 1988 and played my last game for the Socceroos 10 years later. I guess I had a pretty good run but age catches up with us all. I would have been happy to play more games. I always advocated for more internationals because the more you play the better you become as a player and as a team."

Records show that Australia lost that epic playoff against Argentina for a place in the 1994 World Cup due to a Tobin own goal. Yet statistics do not tell the flukish nature of the goal that floored the brave Socceroos in Buenos Aires.

"I think it was one of the most special games our group had been involved in.

"The noise, passion and general atmosphere at the packed Monumental stadium were incredible. I had never seen anything like that.There was so much at stake and, of course, Diego Maradona was playing for the first time in Argentina after his ban.

"Although the result was not the one we wanted because of the strange goal we conceded (a shot from striker Gabriel Battistuta from an impossible angle deflected off Tobin's shin and looped into the net) most of the players came away feeling we had done ourselves and our football proud with the way we performed against such high-calibre opponents."

With everything against the Socceroos, did the team still feel they had a realistic chance of causing a major upset?

"We never went into matches thinking we were not going to be successful. We never thought that a game could not be won even though we were playing tough and highly-rated opponents. We were always confident and I would be greatly surprised if the current Socceroos did not think that way too."

How do you rate the current Socceroos side?

"I am very pleased with the manner in which they are playing and the results they are obtaining.

"They are playing the type of game Australian supporters want them to.

"Like everybody else I would like to see more Australians playing regularly at the highest club level. This would become very important at the critical end of World Cup qualifying campaigns.

"It would be nice for Ange Postecoglou to be able to choose between 30-odd players coming from top leagues around the world. But perhaps that is something for the future."

Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Mark Bresciano have retired and the Socceroos still depend heavily on Tim Cahill. Do you reckon there is a greater emphasis on the 'team' rather than the 'individual' in the current Socceroos set-up?

"Interesting point. The Socceroos are playing in a tactically astute way which of course requires teamwork. Clearly their movement and the way they build their attacks show that the players have a great understanding of teamwork.

"We are progressing thanks largely to this team ethic but in the next few years we will need more players playing at the highest level to make the difference in the pointy end of World Cup qualification campaigns and in the finals.

"Having said that the importance of the collective should never be underestimated."

Talking of stars, who was the best player who have ever played with?

"Certainly Milan Ivanovic was one of the finest players I have had the pleasure to play with. I say Milan because I played alongside him in central defence for club and country for many years.

"He was one of the very best players in my generation. I would also have to mention Kewell who was clearly an extraordinary player among many great players I was lucky enough to play with."

And the best you have played against?

"I played against Maradona who is probably the greatest player of all time and it is hard to go past him. I also faced Brazil's Romario and Ronaldo and Eric Cantona of France. They are the best four but Maradona stands out. He was the outstanding player of his generation."

Who are the players you admire most abroad and at home?

"One player I always bring up as an example when I'm talking to coaches and players is Andres Iniesta.

"I rate the Barcelona man as a player of the highest quality on the basis of his ability to read the game and always make the right decision.

"He is one of the smartest players in world football. Physically he is no Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale but he has a football brain like few others.

"On the domestic front I admire Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak, who started his professional career late and did not play in the A-League until his early-20s. He was perhaps off the radar in terms of where his career would take him and he has had great success through hard work and determination. He is a perfect example for aspiring players."


Club career:
1984-2000: Adelaide City
2000-2002: Parramatta Power
2002-2004: Northern Spirit 

International career:
Australia: 87 matches 

Adelaide City: NSL 1986, 1992, 1994; NSL Cup 1989, 1992
Australia: OFC Nations Cup 1996

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10 min read
Published 27 September 2016 at 10:22am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS