Mark Bosnich isn’t your average footballer.
Once heralded as one of the world’s best goalkeepers and to this day considered one of Australia’s finest ever footballers, Bosnich has experienced dizzying heights and crippling lows.
What I find at Bar Italia on Norton Street is a man who has a new thirst for life.
As he searches for an A-League contract this season in an attempt to continue his playing career, the 37-year-old speaks of a second chance and of the privilege of being able to wake up every morning alive.
His is a complex character; at times embracing and cherishing the most simple aspects of existence, but at others, capable of deep reflection.
There is a lot to Bosnich that many people might never know about, of a period in his life in which he describes being in a “dark hole”.
But for the moment, though he takes time out to speak with Goal.com about football, there is perhaps more in the following interview about what it means to be a human being rather than a world-class goalkeeper.
Goal.com: Mark, how does it feel to be playing again and to be back in Australia? Is it a feeling of relief?
Mark Bosnich: Originally when I came here to play for the Central Coast [Mariners] it was just to get back. That was nearly 12 months ago. When this thing with Sydney Olympic came up I was very reticent, fearful and scared; I really didn’t know what to do.
So I took counsel from a lot of people who were close to me from the game and everybody thought it was a great idea to get into shape and also to put something back into the game in Australia at the grassroots level, which is where I started. Since I’ve said 'yes', I haven’t stopped. I’m training very, very hard and it’s really good, it’s all good but I didn’t know what to do [at one stage].
Goal: I suppose there was a time upon your return to Australia where football was the last thing on your mind after all you’d been through?
MB: Yeah, I guess so. It was about 12 months ago that I was invited to come back here for the FIFA Congress. I wasn’t even thinking football and, fortunately, Peter Turnbull of the Central Coast got in touch with me at that congress and asked whether I’d be willing to stand in for Danny [Vukovic] while he was suspended. Again, I didn’t really know whether I should or shouldn’t do it but I took counsel and thought it would be a great idea and in the end it proved to be a great idea.
Once you’ve got the bug back, you want to keep playing. I had an exhibition match against the LA Galaxy in December, Sydney FC were good enough to let me train with them. I thought, if I am going to start playing again in July, there’s a fabulous opportunity here to not only put something back into the game at the grassroots level but also to get into shape because if I want to go and do a pre-season in July wherever it may be, it will take a lot less time to get into super shape if I start this now. That was basically the thinking behind it, if you want to see where my mind was at.
Goal: Do you see this a second chance? Do you feel privileged?
MB: Always – I feel privileged to be alive every morning. There was a lot I went through that I may never speak about, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never speak about it – sometimes some things are better left to the past. But I always feel lucky, everyone should feel lucky when they’ve got their health, that’s the most important thing. I may come across as a bit patronising to say that I feel privileged, but I feel lucky – lucky sounds better!
Goal: You experienced such highs at one stage as a professional footballer, doing everything and winning everything that could be won, and then experienced some crippling lows. Does your story show a more human, vulnerable side to the superstars we see on television everyday?
MB: Of course! You’re going to stumble in life and it’s about getting back up. You’ve got to be very careful when you’re in a situation that I was in, in how and when you get back up. Life’s an experience and for me it’s a real adventure and that’s why I feel very lucky to have these experiences. As long as you learn from them that’s the most important thing.
Goal: Perhaps it’s not just about how you conduct yourself as a footballer but as a human being?
MB: Yes, everybody’s human when it comes to that. Different cultures and different people around the world, as we’ve seen throughout history, have different ideas of morals and different boundaries and that’s a learning experience as well; what one person may say is red, to another person is green. So you’ve always got to bare that in the back of your mind.
But you are who you are and all you’ve got to try and be is yourself. If you’re humble enough, you can turn around and hold your head up, hold your hand up and apologise – that’s the best way you can go about it. You can’t go through life scared of every little move you’re going to make because you’ll never make any moves. It’s a very fine line, a very fine balance and as we get more mature as people, as humans, everybody’s always pushing the bar higher in terms of how to behave and so forth but at the end of the day, only one person can truly judge us – whichever God you believe in - so you’ve got to be very careful when you start throwing stones.
Goal: Having said that, do you regret some of the decisions you made?
MB: I don’t really know how to answer that, until I sit down and go through everything I’ve done. But if you do that, you might get stuck – I think the most important decisions you make are your next ones.
Goal: Those lows obviously put the highs into perspective though – and England obviously gave you so many wonderful experiences.
MB: I talked just before about putting things back into the Australian game and I dearly want to do that with the English game. It was fabulous to me as a whole and a wonderful experience, I played with some wonderful people and players, won some of the biggest prizes that there were to win and that’s really, at the end of the day when you think back, what you treasure.
Goal: Of course there’s a perception these days about England as a cut-throat, results-driven environment for a footballer, though you’ve always spoken about England as your second home.
MB: It is! Everybody’s always got complaints about where they are but I was just fortunate and feel very lucky and privileged that I was given the opportunity I was given and treated the way I was treated. Certain things that happened towards the end had nothing to do with football really, there may have been people on the periphery but I just feel very, very lucky and I love that country – I love England.
Goal: Was there a period you treasured most in England? At Aston Villa perhaps?
MB: No, everywhere I went I made friends and had a really good time and won things.
Goal: Even at Manchester United, under Sir Alex Ferguson?
MB: Of course – I was there twice with him, we won two trophies in one year and that was great.
Goal: Did England change you as a person?
MB: I don’t really know, I guess you’d have to ask someone who knew me before I left – if it has, I hope it was for the better!
Goal: Of the people who know you, was there anyone in particular who you’ve always been able to fall back on throughout your life, particularly through some of the darker times?
MB: I’m very fortunate that I have a fantastic family. Without their input in my earlier years I wouldn’t have been able to go through what I went through and have come out at the other end. My parents and sister are head and shoulders above myself in everything. I did venture away from them for a little bit and that perhaps did have an effect at that time; however, I can’t speak the world enough for them – if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have had the strength and the courage to do what I did.
Goal: What was their reaction when you returned to Australia? You mentioned that people have generally been supportive.
MB: Everyone’s been fantastic! I can’t complain about anyone – even you Chris! [Laughs] – everyone’s been really, really good. From the FFA, to the people at Fox Sports – especially the people at Fox Sports, who have been outstanding – to the people at Sydney Olympic who have been great to me, people like Lawrie McKinna, Lyall Gorman and Peter Turnbull at the Central Coast, even when I was at Sydney FC, people in the administration. I’m very, very thankful.
Goal: Australian football has changed a lot during the time you’ve been away. At your press conference with Olympic you spoke about the need to bridge the gap between the old and new regime.
MB: The mere fact that we’re talking about old and new regimes can be a little bit defeatist. All I said was this: that Australian soccer is going places and I’d just like everybody from the past, present and future to share in that experience and to help propel us even further forward as a sport and if I can help in any way to bridge those gaps. In any walk of life, any society, any community, there will always be rivalries and disagreements but, to quote Bill Clinton, as long as it’s precise and respectful, there’s not a problem with that.
I just think there are so many good people and good things involved in Australian soccer now, if we all move together as one that will be the ideal scenario. I said last week that I hope doing things like playing in the state league with one of the pioneer clubs of Australian soccer in Sydney Olympic helps bridge that. I was an advocate all those years ago of the Australian soccer evolution, moving forward and becoming what it is in terms of the A-League.
But I never, ever once turned around and said we should forget about our past or forget our roots. You have to be very skilful and adept about these things and I’m sure if everybody has the right intentions and if everybody has the right, ultimate desire that Australian soccer keeps going forward, then we will achieve that.
Goal: Did something similar go on in England with the branding of the English Premier League and the detachment from the old English First Division?
MB: Not really. I don’t think it’s even really going on in Australia, and if it is, it’s going on beneath the surface. At the end of the day, the most important people in football are the players and the fans. The players and the fans are what makes it tick. The fans are there always and if the fans are happy on the majority, that’s a really good indicator in any country in how football is being run and taken from top to bottom. All of us, we just give our opinions and say what we feel but the fans en masse are the ones who will speak in one massive voice at the end and that goes in any country.
Goal: Let’s focus on your playing career now – the heartbreaking aggregate loss to Iran in 1997 was a stark contrast to the campaign Pim Verbeek’s just gone through. There would have been more emotion when you played, I imagine?
MB: I don’t really like to talk about that game. Sometimes you have to go through pain like that to go forward. Then we lost to Uruguay in the following qualification campaign and then the gates burst open a bit. It’s great that they’ve qualified back-to-back.
Goal: In light of the disappointment you experienced, are people right to criticise Verbeek’s pragmatic methods?
MB: All I’ll say is this – everybody’s entitled to their opinion as long as it’s respectful and precise. That’s what makes football tick, sitting around cafes like this and talking about great games, whether it was offside and onside – there’s nothing more to say on that really. It’s not the time to get involved in a debate about it because we’ve just qualified and we should all be happy.
Goal: Are you feeling the pressure now that you’ve returned to the field, perhaps realising that this is your last chance at extending your career?
MB: No! Pressure is waking up when you’ve got three kids and you haven’t got a job. I feel alive, I feel reinvigorated and I feel hungry. I’m just looking forward now. It’s a great feeling and it’s hard to explain. Alive is the best way to explain it.
Goal: You seem incredibly laid back for someone who is an analyst for Fox Sports...
MB: That’s just me! You might get me at another time where I’m tired and you think, ‘That’s not the Bozza I met’, but I just go with the moment. I’ve learned to think as best I can but in general I’m more of an instinct person.
Goal: Instinct person – does that define you as a footballer?
MB: I guess it played a big part – I was very, very fortunate to be blessed with an ability to feel through a game. When I’m really at my top I can feel things happening but again you have to ask other people, people I’ve worked under, you can probably ask them and they’d be able to say. I am what I am and I don’t think about it too much. As a person as well, I just try to stick to certain principles and see the good in things.
Goal: You left for England at a young age but Australia essentially created you as a goalkeeper – how important were your early years over here?
MB: I left for England when I was 16 but it was Ron Corry mainly, I met him at Marconi and followed him to Sydney United, he was the main man but there were others like Les Scheinflug, Raul Blanco, even the late, great Eddie Thompson, all these people – if I’ve left out anyone I’m sorry – but even my father, I was very fortunate to be around people like that at the time. Even Graham Arnold, Robbie Slater, Vedran Rozic, who were at the top of their games at Sydney United.
Goal: Perhaps people don’t realise often enough that becoming a footballer is a long-term process, involving all sorts of people and moments?
MB: It’s hard work! Being brave enough to turn around and say, "This is going to be very difficult, but if I keep on believing..." I know that information is seen as power today in the information age but for me, belief is power.
Goal: Did the pressure ever get to you in England, the need to keep believing in yourself?
MB: I was thinking about that in the car, actually. I guess there’s a price to pay for everything, maybe not a fiscal price but at the time I was having a great time, doing what I wanted to do – I always appreciate it but we have different ways of showing our appreciation. But I just wanted to win football games and was very fortunate to do so. I know it sounds boring, but it’s the truth!
Goal: You’ve spoken before about the fact that you want to give something back to the English game. In what capacity do you see yourself doing that?
MB: Hopefully, playing and then stemming from that, helping with the youngsters and so forth. I haven’t really thought about it beyond playing.
Goal: OK, last few questions. What was the best moment of your career?
MB: Any time I won a major trophy.
Goal: Describe to the lay-person what that feels like.
MB: Outstanding. Two cup finals at Wembley, a Premier League and World Club Cup. Especially after the Tokyo game, playing against the South American champions and being the first British team to have won it. That was important.
Goal: As a 16-year-old, did you ever believe you would be lifting a trophy like that?
MB: All I can say is that at 16, watching Craig Johnston win the double at Liverpool, I looked at that and said, "I’ll have a little bit of that." Watching Craig Johnston win the FA Cup at Wembley after winning the league was a massive inspiration. I remember saying, "I’d love to do that one day, walk around Wembley with the FA Cup."
Goal: There were obviously a lot of distractions throughout your career – was it always a love for the game that drove you on?
MB: Sometimes you have periods in your life where, if you push yourself really hard in any given direction there’s always a possibility of burn out, but I don’t think I’d be playing for Sydney Olympic now if there wasn’t a basic love for football.
Goal: Final question now: who was the best manager you ever worked under?
MB: I’ll save that one for the book!
Goal: Thanks Bozza, and best of luck this season.
Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com