Mitch Austin's long, lonely road to recovery and how injury derailed potential overseas move

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The Australian winger was forced to watch Melbourne Victory's triumph from the sidelines last season

As Melbourne Victory lifted the A-League title in May, you can't fault Mitch Austin for thinking what could have been. 

The 27-year-old winger had to watch his side's surprise surge to silverware from the sidelines after suffering an ACL injury in November.

It came after a bright start to the season for Austin, who scored a late equaliser against rivals Adelaide United in Round 3 and was on the cusp of a move to Asia.

Clubs from South Korea were circling the pacey attacker before a heavy collision saw any hopes of a move, or indeed playing for the next eight months, cruelly squashed.

While Victory's ultimate triumph may be seen as some silver lining for Austin, the moment itself simply highlighted how long and lonely his road to recovery had been. 

"As much as I was happy for the boys winning, I obviously didn’t feel part of it which was mentally pretty tough," Austin told Goal.

"For me I just had to put my head down and work on my rehab really. As soon as I got injured it was devastating, had a bit of a tough time with it and a few other things...

"The worst part was I didn’t have any family or anything down here so I had to do everything on my own. From when I did it, it was just me and my physio.

"We didn’t really have anyone else with injuries at the club either, so it was just me on my own. The first three or four months was the hardest part, once you get back outside and doing the training all that sort of stuff it’s not as bad. 

"It was really tough, but I’m pretty proud that I’ve got through it and going forward now I can really kick on. With all the training I’ve had I feel quicker and stronger than I did before."

Mitch Austin Melbourne Victory

Having resumed full training last week with Victory's U20's side, Austin is eager for a fresh start.

Though grateful for the rehab offered to him in Melbourne, both parties agreed not to renew his contract.

"After you do eight months of rehab we just sat down and felt for myself it was best to have a fresh start from next season," Austin said.

"They were fine with me finishing my rehab there and they looked after me really well.

"Hopefully can sort something out moving forward now. I didn’t want to go somewhere half fit."

Only now returning to full fitness eight months since going under the knife, Austin is ready to put himself back in the shop window.

While going tantalisingly close to a move to Asia before the injury, an A-League return is Austin's main target.

"I’ve got my clearance letter now so the next couple of weeks I might speak to my agent and say ‘I’m ready to go now, get my name out there.’ Hopefully in the next couple weeks we’ll have something lined up," he said.

"Before I got injured I was pretty close to a move, had a couple of things going on overseas in Asia. I’d like to go to Asia at some point...

"What my knee needs is a season back in the A-League just to get into the swing of things.

"That’s my goal but you never know, it’s football. You say one thing and a couple hours later something else can pop up. I’d like to stay in Australia."

Mitch Austin Melbourne Victory

Austin began his senior career in the lower tiers of England with Stalybridge Celtic and Cambridge United before moving back to Australia with Central Coast Mariners in 2015.

His time in England was a particularly eye-opening experience with the threat of relegation forcing Austin to come of age a lot quicker than he would've in the relative safety of the A-League.

"It’s a lot more cut throat compared to here where teams can’t get relegated," he said.

"You can have one bad game and they have the option of bringing in another player at the click of the fingers.

"I was pretty young at the time and it took me a while to adapt. In my last season there they wanted me to play at left back as well.

"Experience wise it really opened my eyes to what professional football is. Relegation is a massive factor over there, people’s jobs are on the line."

Though his injury kept him off the A-League pitch, Austin did get involved in some E-League action last season.

The FIFA competition saw A-League clubs battle against one another with Austin elected one of Victory's representatives.

Aside from improving his ability with controller in hand, the E-League proved a good distraction for Austin. 

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"I had a lot of time to play FIFA while I was injured," he said.

"It took me a while to adapt. It’s different to playing in your lounge room to playing for your club. Fair bit of pressure.

"I’m hoping to play actual A-League this season but would love to be involved again."

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