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  • Mark Rudan on his next chapter
    6 October 2017,

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    Saying goodbye to playing football is one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

    It was 17 years from the time of my first professional game to the date of last. During those 17 years, you change so much. As a person, you are effectively unrecognisable. You start as a teenager without worrying about anything other than your next meal and how you’re getting to training. You retire as a father, a husband, a mortgagor. You are somebody who has seen the world and not just a kid living in a shared dormitory in Canberra.

    Through this change, there is one constant. One part of your life that stays with you and feels indivisible from the person that you are. That is being a footballer. And that starts well before you sign your first professional contract. I will never forget moving to Canberra, while still at school, to join the AIS. One day, that big piece of your life and who you are gets taken away.

    Even though being a footballer was such challenge, or because of that, filling that gap is so hard. So many of the people I grew up playing with haven’t been able to make that transition and find that missing piece.

    Looking back, I know how fortunate I have been. Being able to represent my boyhood club in Sydney United and play and achieve alongside people who are still to this day among my closest friends is something incredibly special. Representing the Young Socceroos at a World Cup and making a move to Europe were dreams that I was able to fulfil. Spending time in Japan, Switzerland, Malaysia and China was something I’d never considered and, last but not least, to captain Sydney FC during its first Championship and become a part of that club’s history first fills me pride.

    But it can make reconciling the end of your career difficult. After being trained and taught and identified exclusively as a footballer for 20 years, the next step can be confronting. So I threw myself into what I knew I could do – football. Coaching was a huge part of this process and help me rediscover and reconnect to the energy and passion I had for football.

    Coinciding with that was an opportunity to work with Fox Sports and, initially, work on the A-League. Spending time at Fox Sports was wonderful because it allowed me to operate in a space in which I felt comfortable and could play to my strengths – again, football. Over time, my role expanded and the opportunity to work alongside people like Ange Postecoglou taught me so much about the game, as did working across the table from people like Tony Popovic and Graham Arnold. I will forever be grateful to media executives like Murray Shaw for exposing me to this side of the industry and allowing me to find my feet once my time as a footballer had been taken away from me.

    But my next step needs to be coaching. The joy and reward and personal challenge that coaching presents is like nothing else. Building a team and seeing players evolve is very special and, ever so briefly, gives you a sense of what it was like to be out there as a player. That nervous energy and emotional investment in an outcome. I have spent the last seven or eight years working toward this point, having now completed my AFC Pro-License, having done some work with youth national teams and recently spending time at PSG. It is clear to me that my long-term future lies in coaching. It’s what I am passionate about and is the best way for me to make my contribution to the sport.

    With my contract expiring with Fox Sports, now was the perfect opportunity to move on. Personally, my view is that it’s problematic to put your hand up for coaching jobs whilst you’re sitting in the safety of a studio analysing A-League teams. Doing this can distort the perceptions of your integrity and objectivity – without mentioning it can also alienate potential suitors.

    Saying goodbye to the studio is another difficult moment but I have it to thank for allowing me to outrun the demons that can sometimes catch ex-footballers. I have spent the best part of the past decade readying myself for my next step in life and building an appreciation of what football means to me, and now, finally, I feel ready to take the plunge as a coach without the safety net.

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