By Iain Strachan
With an old head on young shoulders and having been richly rewarded for his methodical approach to self-improvement, Adam Taggart is unquestionably the poster boy for Ange Postecoglou's Australia side.
It could have all been so very different. Prodigious young playmaker Tom Rogic had been expected to become the face of Australia's new-look national team. The attacking midfielder was chosen to model the latest away kit alongside Mark Milligan and shared top billing with Tim Cahill on the advertisements promoting the farewell friendly against South Africa.
But his inability to break into the Celtic first team and the groin injury he suffered on loan at Melbourne Victory saw the former Central Coast Mariner miss out on his country's final 23-man World Cup squad.
A post on the 21-year-old's Instagram account offered an insight into his frame of mind before and after being axed, hinting that perhaps the youngster hailed as Australian football's saviour wanted it too much, and ultimately crumbled under the weight of all that hype and expectation.
"Today I experienced one of the toughest days of my life. I have missed out on a childhood dream, something I have worked so hard for. My body hasn't allowed me to take the opportunity I had been given. After giving my all, trying to play through the pain, it all became too much."
The contrast between Rogic and Taggart's circumstances could not be sharper. The Newcastle Jets man was a huge outsider for World Cup inclusion at the start of the season. Eyebrows were raised when he was picked by Holger Osieck for the East Asian Cup last July, a tournament which suggested Tomi Juric and even Mitchell Duke were ahead of Taggart in the reckoning as unlikely Brazil selections.
Fast-forward 11 months. Having been picked in Postecoglou's final squad and turned 21 in the space of two days, the young striker revealed to FFA TV the secret behind an extraordinary campaign, which has earned him the A-League golden boot and now a World Cup berth.
"Something like this is probably something I never even thought of, something that wasn't in the back of my mind," he said.
"At the start of the season you know personally what you can do.
"There's certain goals you set and targets that you want to meet throughout the season.
"Full concentration was on the season, on developing and learning. That's always been a focus point of mine and that's definitely something that's helped me throughout the past 12 months.
"Going into the season it was all about how many goals I could score, how many games I could play. As the season went on, further and further into it, there was [sic] more questions asked about the Socceroos. I never lied, the whole time I always said it was something I wasn't thinking about and it never was."
Taggart's age and diminutive stature can be deceiving. A lively, menacing presence on the field, he speaks with an authority and intelligence that belie his tender years, echoing the virtues of his no-nonsense national team boss.
"If there's one thing you can control... it's hard work and effort and that's been a focus point from the start," he said.
"I knew that week-to-week performances is [sic] what's going to get you an opportunity. That needs to be your focus point. If you get a reward from it, great. If not, then it's still important to learn and develop on that week-to-week basis."
Prioritising process over outcome is a mantra repeated often in modern sport, but usually by the coach, not the player.
Postecoglou - win, lose or draw - will keep doing things his way in Brazil. In Taggart he may just have found the perfect on-field ally to achieve his goals