Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Mark Jankovics

The World Game pays its monthly tribute to the Socceroos stars of yesteryear who left their mark on football down under. Striker Mark Jankovics tells of his battles with injuries, his acrimonious departure from St George to Marconi and the happy days playing alongside Bob Vieri.


Mark Jankovics, who played 16 times for Australia, reminisces on his career at Manly beach Source: Supplied

Socceroos striker Mark Jankovics has waxed lyrical about the precocious skills of Daniel Arzani but warned against giving the Melbourne City whiz kid a start against France in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The Socceroos face France in their first match on Saturday night (AEST) and some pundits are expecting Arzani to be given a starting role in Kazan.

Arzani has made a rapid rise to stardom after emerging from relative obscurity seven months ago to become Australian football's hottest prospect in years.

The 19-year-old stole the show in Australia's 2-1 victory over Hungary at the weekend.

He came on as a 70th minute substitute and scored the first goal before playing a major part in the winning goal.

His stellar display earned him many admirers and Jankovics, who was one of Australia's greatest strikers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is one of them.

"I watched him play against Hungary," Jankovics said.

"To be a professional footballer who can make an impact when called upon you've got to believe in yourself. This is what I like about this kid. He is not arrogant but he is confident and strongly believes in himself.

"He scored a minute after coming on and then played a brilliant pass that led to the Socceroos' winning goal. When you believe in yourself things happen for you. I always believed I would score goals and this what I did in 10 league seasons. I scored almost a 100 goals in about 200 matches.

"But I would not start him against France. I think he would make a bigger impact if he came on as a sub, to be honest.

"The reason I say this is because he would be sitting on the bench saying to himself 'I can do this' and he could have the same impact versus France as he had against Hungary. On the other hand he could be apprehensive in his approach if he were to start."

Jankovics, who is now 62, played 16 full internationals for Australia and was involved in the failed 1982 FIFA World Cup campaign.

His former Marconi and Australia team-mate Tony Henderson describes him as "a top striker who was as quick as lightning" and is adamant "the current Socceroos would love to have a forward like him".

Jankovics lives in Manly in Sydney and was happy to talk about his career in the National Soccer League and with the Socceroos.

What are you doing now?

"The last few years my mum and dad have not been well and I have done a lot of care work. Dad passed on last year and mum is in and out of hospital."

You had a long and brilliant career in the National Soccer League. When did you realise you were good enough to play for Australia?

"I went to St George at 15 and when Johnny Warren and Manfred Schaeffer became coaches two years later the club sent me and John O'Shea on an off-season European trip to train with such clubs as Hamburg, Werder Bremen and Manchester United.

"When I trained with the players of these clubs I thought I was as good as them and we came back very fit and I scored in most of the pre-season games in 1976 which is when Brian Green picked me to play for Australia.

"I was 18 at that stage and had plenty of support from the St George players who used to drive me to Central after training from where I caught a train home to Ermington near Parramatta. I wanted to be at the top so I was happy to do the hard yards."

The St George Budapest club did not take too kindly to your decision to quit the club after one season and sign for Marconi, especially since you were of Hungarian stock. Tell us more about your unpleasant departure.
"I learned a lot at St George and a couple of players knew I had an offer from Marconi. I told the club I was happy to stay if they could match the offer. In football you have to do what's best for you because you never know how long your career is going to be.

"I ended up at Marconi and the club did not like it but dad was fine with it. I had no regrets whatsoever because I had nine good seasons there."

After your international debut as a Saints player in 1976 you had to wait three years for your next cap. You did not play too many games for Australia under Frank Arok either. How come?

“Arok started coaching Australia in 1983 but at one stage he was managing the national team and St George. Whenever Marconi played the Saints he never said ‘boo’ to me so the fact I did not play more often in the green and gold probably was purely coincidental. I was never unavailable, though."

You also had a lot of injuries in your career. Did they stop you from playing more international games?

"My left leg is almost one inch shorter than the other and I had several hamstring problems. It's always in the back of your mind so, yes 100 per cent, I missed a lot of games for Australia because of injury. But you have to deal with the cards you are dealt."

What was your major strength?

"I had come fifth in the 100m and we won the 100m relay in the NSW State titles for schoolboys so I was always a fast player. My heading ability was pretty good too and I once won the goal of the year award with a header from just outside the penalty area."

You had a big 1980 when you played 15 A or B internationals. What do you remember from that busy year?

"I will never forget the day we beat AC Milan 2-1 when I scored the winning goal. It is my favourite memory from that year. That game came a year after we beat New York Cosmos when I set up a late winner for Tony Henderson. The match was sold out and there were people a metre from the sideline. These days it's considered too dangerous and they couldn't do that."

Australia's 2-0 loss to New Zealand that cost us a spot in the 1982 FIFA World Cup must have been hard to take. What went wrong?

"Everything. I watch a lot of football from abroad and every team occasionally has a performance to forget when nothing goes right. We had our worst performance in years that afternoon in Sydney, individually and collectively.

"We were a superior team to the Kiwis with better players but in fairness they deserved to win on the day.

"Nothing clicked for us. I still cannot believe what happened. It took me so long to recover."

Tell us a bit about colourful and controversial coach Rudi Gutendorf?

"He was a bit intense but quite a decent person and no doubt he chose the right players. I don't think it was his fault that we lost to New Zealand. It was just bad luck that we all chose to play the worst game of our lives at the same time."

You were privileged to play alongside Italian star Bob Vieri at Marconi. Did you ever count your lucky stars?

"I got on really well with him. He was a bit of a comedian and rather eccentric. He used to invite me at his place after training and his French wife would cook us dinner.

"On the field ... goodness gracious me. There has never been a player like him in Australia before or since. He was at the end of his career when he can here so his work rate was not great but his vision, foresight, touch, nutmegs and one-twos were extraordinary.

"We had Eddy Krncevic, Peter Sharne and myself up front - the three fastest players in the league - and you know what Bob would do? He would get the ball, call out 'Peter' and lob the ball into the corner of the pitch for Sharnie to run on to and cross the ball for Eddy or me to put the ball away.

"I remember if I did something wrong on the pitch he would yell at me 'Marco, pazzo (crazy)'.

"He was an Italy international but he rarely got a look-in because in the late 1960s and early 1970s midfielders Gianni Rivera and Sandro Mazzola were at their peak but I tell you he was better than either of them. I will never forget playing with him."

And what was it like to play alongside Krncevic?

"Eddy was a great header of the ball and had lots of skill with his feet. We were blessed to have Krncevic and Sharne up front and me stuck in the middle with them."

You had no trouble scoring goals in the league but you never found the net for Australia in a full international. How was that possible?

"At Marconi they knew my strengths but I struggled to click with other players in the national team. It's not that I was playing badly but the understanding particularly with the midfielders was not quite there.

"I also had many injuries in my career so I was not always 100 per cent. I'm not trying to make excuses. I honestly do not know why."

How do you rate the Socceroos' chances in the World Cup?

"You always want to wish them the very best but it's a hard group. France are one of the favourites but we can sneak in second but this is wishful thinking.

"The Australians will face some of the world's best footballers that are playing in some of the world's toughest leagues. So we have to gel as a team but coach Bert van Marwijk has had very little time to set up a system and rewire everything."

Which was your career highlight and biggest disappointment?

"Playing Cosmos in 1979 was my highlight especially since i had to deal with two of my idols: Carlos Alberto and Franz Beckenbauer. It was a special occasion at the Sydney Sports Ground and what made it even more memorable is that I managed to get the jersey of Brazil's World Cup-winning captain.

"Not going to the 1982 World Cup was my lowest career point. You tailor your career to be able to play at the pinnacle of the game but it was not to be."

Who were the best players you have played with and against?

"The whole Marconi team that won the 1979 NSL title were the best. Krncevic, Sharne, Vieri and Henderson were special. Without 'Hendo' at the back we would not have had a defence.

"I think we would demolish some of the A-League sides of today, to be honest. The league has gone backwards in the last four or five years, I think. It needs a few big stars from abroad like Alessandro del Piero who will draw the crowds.

"Carlos Alberto and Beckenbauer were the finest players I have faced."


Club career
1977: St George
1978-1986: Marconi

International career
1976-1983: Australia (16 games)

1983: Merlion Cup (Australia), 1979: NSL (Marconi) 

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9 min read
Published 13 June 2018 at 6:31pm
By Philip Micallef