Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Jimmy Rooney

The World Game pays tribute to the Socceroos stars of yesteryear who left their mark on football down under. Midfielder Jimmy Rooney reminisces on the long and arduous road to the 1974 World Cup and explains how coach Rale Rasic lifted the Australians for the crucial match against South Korea.

Socceroos legend Jimmy Rooney believes that Australian coaches should allow quality strikers the freedom to express themselves and not shackle them with excessive tactical demands.

"Football has changed a lot and has become too regimented," said Rooney, who played for Australia at the 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany.

Rooney said coaches are not allowing players with special attacking skills to be themselves because they are being bogged down by pragmatism and what he calls "an obsession to keep the ball".

"I follow the game in Australia and I reckon we don't have many players who are given a licence to do what they want," he said.

"World class stars like Neymar, Messi and Coutinho are given the chance to do as they please to thrill the fans, to make chances, to run with the ball and to score from wherever they like.

"These are the type of players that provide goalmouth action ... in other words they are the type of players that make football.

"On the local front, take this young guy Daniel Arzani of Melbourne City. He should be cultivated to become a real entertainer.

"There are a couple of other young lads coming through but I'm frightened that they will become squashed by their coaches' tactical demands. If that happened it would be a disgrace.

"There are not too many such players around and they should be encouraged to express themselves, if anything to increase the number of goalmouth incidents.

"Andrew Nabbout is another example. He hardly got a game with Melbourne Victory because he did not suit the team's style but he reinvented himself at Newcastle Jets because Ernie Merrick, who is the best coach in the A-League, gave him an opportunity to be himself.

"We saw the real Nabbout this season and now he's earned a contract with Urawa Red Diamonds in Japan."

Rooney, who was born in Dundee, Scotland, spoke at length about his career.

What are you doing now?

"I work for a building company in Melbourne on the administration side of things. I am 72 and I still work because it gives me something to do."

Australia was your lucky country. You started playing for regional club Lochee United in Scotland and ended up facing Franz Beckenbauer at the World Cup.

"When I came to Australia in the late 1960s I started playing in Melbourne with Essendon and I was enjoying my football very much.

"I was stepping up the ladder and I moved to Sydney to play first for Prague and then for APIA Leichhardt and before I knew it I was picked to play for the Socceroos against an England XI in 1970."

Tell us about the tie with Iran in 1973 that got the Socceroos a step closer to the World Cup in Germany.

"Australia beat the Iranians 3-0 in the first leg in Sydney but we struggled big time in the return in Tehran that was played in excessive heat in front of a huge crowd.

'We were 2-0 down after 25 minutes and it was a battle for survival after that. Rale Rasic sent me on for Johnny Warren after 71 minutes with the express instruction to 'get the ball and keep it'.

"I was very fit those days and I could run all day so my fresh legs did the trick as many players were tiring out. Our sole intention was survival and we managed to stop the Iranians from scoring again.

"It was such a relief to get through. It certainly was one of the most satisfying matches I had been involved in."

South Korea were the Socceroos' last hurdle. It was not looking good after a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Sydney.

"To make matters worse the Koreans took a two-goal lead in the return in Seoul but we narrowed the margin before halftime with a header from Branko Buljevic and managed to earn a 2-2 draw with a goal from Ray Baartz. It's a shame the away-goals rule did not exist those days because we would have gone through straight away.

"We had to meet them again in a playoff in Hong Kong ... two days later. Oddly enough both teams were on the same plane and I remember Rale telling each one of us to have a look and see how despondent the Koreans were in comparison with our team: 'Look at them, they're so demoralised, their heads are down'. We had the momentum going into the third game and this is what Rale was on about.

"The playoff in Hong Kong was tense and brutal. Jimmy Fraser made a couple of top saves in the first half and then came Jimmy Mackay's stunner with 20 minutes to go that booked us the ticket to the World Cup. What a goal! Needless to say, we enjoyed that night."

You have played 102 times for Australia in A and B internationals at many venues. Which was your favourite stadium?

"The Sydney Sportsground was always good to play in. We felt comfortable playing there, same as in Melbourne. I've played at a few weird grounds but the reality is you concentrate on your own game and the opposition and you do not think too much about anything else."

As a kid growing up in Dundee, did you ever imagine that one day you would play in a World Cup ... for Australia?

"Two of my four brothers were at the ground in Hamburg when we faced East Germany in our first match in 1974. It was unreal. In our second game when we walked out onto the pitch in two lines and you looked across you saw Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Wolfgang Overath and other great players of that era and you realised how privileged you were to be on the same stage as them. We were pinching ourselves but we also knew we had to concentrate on the job.

"We lost two of our three matches at the World Cup but I reckon we did Australia proud. We played extremely well against East Germany - who would beat West Germany 1-0 a few days later to win the group - but we lost narrowly 2-0. In my opinion that was the finest Socceroos performance of all time. The East Germans were among the outright favourites for the title, you know.

"We were well prepared for the World Cup. We were actually part-time players but we went into the tournament without fear because we did not feel like part-timers. We had been training full-time together every day for three weeks.

"It was an exciting and incredible experience and I have no regrets whatsoever from the whole occasion.

"All this did not seem possible when I was growing up in Dundee but a lot of people supported me on my journey."

You were an attacking midfielder. Which current player most resembles your style?

"Lionel Messi. Seriously, my game would be similar to that of internationals Massimo Luongo and Mark Milligan. They are non-stop footballers and make many chances but they are also disciplined and their style resembles mine."

Who was the best coach you ever had?

"Without a doubt: Rasic. He was a players' coach. He enjoyed a laugh and at the same time he was a disciplinarian. Players would be left out but you would never see any animosity.

"We all played for him and nobody challenged his rules inside or outside the dressing room. We are all still friends. He was a brilliant man, ahead of his time."

Finally, a standard question: who are the best players you have played with and against?

"Pele first and then Beckenbauer. I faced Pele when Santos played in Sydney. He did not talk much on the field but he certainly let his football do all the talking. He could change a game in a second. We're talking here about arguably the greatest player of all time.

"The best I have played with might surprise you: it is Ferenc Puskas. We were on the same team during a charity match at Middle Park when he was coaching South Melbourne in the early 1980s.

"But if you want me to be serious, the best I've played with would have to be Mackay and Baartz. They could attack and score goals just as much as they could defend. They were total footballers."


Club career

1965-1967: Peterborough United
1967-1968: Montrose
1968-1969: Essendon Lions
1970-1971: Prague
1972-1976: APIA Leichhardt
1977-1978: Marconi
1979-1981: Heidelberg United

International career:

1971-1980: Australia (57 matches)

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8 min read
Published 27 March 2018 at 10:57am
By Philip Micallef