Exclusive Interview: Socceroo Mile Sterjovski

Goal.com's Chris Paraskevas quizzes Mile Sterjovski about his club future and winning ugly with the Socceroos.
Goal: Mile, a mixed season at Derby. You struggled for first-team football under Paul Jewell but experienced something of a renaissance under Nigel Clough later in the season. Would you consider the season a success? A failure? Perhaps a bit of both?

MS:
I wouldn’t say it was a success but in a way I’m happy with the way I turned things around. When Nigel Clough came in he gave me a chance to play. I didn’t play as much as I wanted to play but I think the games that I did play I did well in and we put in some good performances and the supporters were happy with the way we played.

Goal: What was it like to play under Nigel Clough? His return to the club must have been something special to be part of, given who his father was.

MS:
It was a huge deal. His dad was a legend and he was a legend himself as a player in those parts of England, so it was an honour to be playing for him. He’s a very good coach. Obviously he’s still a young coach, I think he’s learning himself but overall I was very happy to learn under him and I’d like to continue working under him. He’s a great player and a really nice person as well.

Goal: So you’d like to stay at Derby County?

MS:
I’ve got one year left on my contract. I’m still not sure what’s going to happen next season to be honest. My agent’s talking with them to see what’s going to happen. The words he used was that “He can’t guarantee first team football” which makes things interesting but we’ve still got a couple of months until the transfer window closes so you never know what might happen but in saying that, I’m happy to stay at Derby, my family is happy there and I’m happy there.

Goal: You are constantly linked with a return to the A-League – is there truth in those reports? Have you been in contact with Australian clubs?

MS:
Of course. After what was said in the press and what was said to me, of course I’m looking. But I’m leaving that all up to my agent. I’m here on holidays and I’m also working my way into getting in the Socceroos squad, so that’s my main focus and I’m letting my agent do all the talking away from the field.

Goal: Does one club stand out to you at the moment? Is your preference to remain at Derby?

MS:
Yeah, of course, if you can guarantee me first team football then I’d love to be playing there [Derby]. Like I said, my family’s happy there, I’m happy there but if something else comes up that I think is better for my future then I’m going to have to consider it.

Goal: In some respects you’ve had a difficult time at Derby. You came in when the club were battling relegation in the English Premier League and things have been no more stable this year with the departure of Paul Jewell and the club’s struggles in the Championship. Have you had the chance to prove yourself at Derby?

MS:
I think definitely not. It’s been tough to go in when they were fighting relegation. Even this season things haven’t been going so well and they were expecting so much from the team and I don’t think I got given a good enough run in the team. It was hard and I don’t think I’ve shown what I’m capable of. Hopefully things might change and I will because I think I can give a lot more to the club and get back to my best.

Goal: Aside from the A-League, has there been interest in you from other clubs in Europe?

MS:
Definitely, Europe or even Asia; there’s some good leagues in Asia, the J-League, the Korean League, I’m open to go anywhere where I think can improve my chances of making the World Cup squad or which can improve my football.

Goal: Asia sounds an interesting proposition, particularly with the rise in profile of the game and the Asian Champions League. Have there been any offers forthcoming?

MS:
There is some interest [from Asia] but there’s nothing concrete yet. Just like in Europe, there is interest but it’s hard to move forward sometimes because these days clubs have financial difficulties and things like that. So I’m leaving it up to my agent and I’m here concentrating on getting fit for the national team and having a holiday at the same time.

Goal: Ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers in June, you’ll have to fight for your position against the likes of Hull City’s Richard Garcia and some of the younger boys coming through who can play in your position. Gone are the days where you were a certain starter for the national team.

MS:
Exactly and that’s all because I haven’t been playing regular first-team football. Like I said, I don’t mind fighting for my place in the team, I’m willing to work hard, I feel comfortable playing for the national team so hopefully that, along with my experience, helps me along. I’m willing to fight for my team, I’m not guaranteed a place there but with hard work and my experience I think I should be given a fair shot.

Goal: Australia manager Pim Verbeek’s concerns about the standard of the A-League when compared to Europe are well-documented. Is that a factor when considering a return to Australia?

MS:
It definitely is. The way I see it, staying at Derby and not playing can’t be better for me than coming back to the A-League and playing. In that sense, if I’m not guaranteed first-team football it might be an option.

Goal: Of course, Pim hasn’t been immune from criticism himself, with people now complaining the Socceroos aren’t playing an attractive brand of football. Your thoughts?

MS:
In the past, the press have been saying things like ‘We played well but we didn’t get through’. And now it looks like we are going to get through and they’re not happy because we’re not playing well. There are mixed emotions about it but in my opinion the most important thing is to get over the line, qualify, I think it’s going to boost the game in Australia, get a lot of interest back into the game again and that’s the most important thing. I think we’ve got a whole year now, if we qualify on the 6th of June, a long time to prepare ourselves and start playing well before then.

Goal: So you don’t mind winning ugly?

MS:
Oh definitely, you have to. There are teams all over the world who do so I don’t see why we should be any different.

Goal: What’s it like working under Verbeek?

MS:
He’s a great player manager, he’s got a good relationship with all the players, keeps in contact with them. He’s easy-going but at the same time on the training pitch he gets what he wants out of the players, gets us working hard and it’s the same on the match day; he gets us working hard and we all want to work hard for him. I think as a team we’re all very happy playing under him.

Goal: Mile, thanks very much for your time and good luck with the qualifiers in June.


MS:
Thank you.

Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com