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Where are all the Aussies in the Premier League?

by Ben Somerford on Aug 17, 2011

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The new Premier League season kicked off over the weekend, but such is the changing state of affairs for our Australians abroad that there wasn't a whole heap for the fans back home to get excited about beyond their own club attachments.

Only Socceroo veterans Mark Schwarzer and Brett Emerton appeared on the opening weekend of the campaign, with the latter making a few headlines after he limped off at half-time with a hamstring injury, which puts his availability for next month's World Cup qualifiers in doubt.

It wasn't long ago that we had Aussies galore in the Premier League with the 2006 World Cup squad consisting of no less than nine Australians playing in England's top flight.

It's fair to say Australian football, in terms of its global reputation, has grown since the 2006 World Cup yet our Premier League representation has greatly shrunk. That's odd when you think about it like that.

However, it's far from a doom and gloom situation. Looking around Europe over the weekend, there was plenty to get excited about from an Australian point of view, particularly with an eye to the next generation.

Indeed, if you tuned into Setanta Sports on early Sunday morning you might have caught 20-year-old Mathew Leckie's lively German Bundesliga debut in Borussia Moenchengladbach's 1-1 draw with VfB Stuttgart.

He may have only been on the pitch for 13 minutes, but he impressed with his speed and power as a lone man up front after Moenchengladbach were reduced to 10 men late in the contest. In fact, Leckie was making headlines, like Emerton, but for the good reasons. 'Leckie einer der Gewinner' (Leckie one of the winners) read the Westdeutsche Zeitung on Sunday.

In fact, despite the brevity of Leckie's performance, he has been all the talk in Moenchengladbach ever since, with a starting debut on the cards alongside Mike Hanke in the upcoming Friday Bundesliga clash with VfL Wolfsburg. Raul Bobadilla, who started up front against Stuttgart, failed to impress while regular striker Igor de Camargo is out injured.

If Leckie does make his starting debut against Wolfsburg in the primetime Friday night game in Germany, it would highlight a rapid rise for a guy who two years ago was playing in the Victorian State League with Bulleen Lions.

Of course, back in Australia, there's no 'red button' on Fox Sports for the weekend's Bundesliga action, meaning it's difficult for the public to keep tabs on our new stars on the continent, but Leckie's achievement needs to be acknowledged.

Maybe internet streams are the way forward for diehard fans wanting to catch a glimpse of our next stars, and it's those same supporters who would be enjoying the early Sunday evening kick-offs in the Dutch Eredivisie where a few more Australians have been shining.

In particular Michael Zullo and Tommy Oar, who both started in Sunday's 2-2 draw with De Graafschap. Adam Sarota, who made his Socceroos debut recently, also got a run late on. Zullo, starting at left-back, and Oar, starting up front on the left-side of attack, were both busy and both went close to scoring in an entertaining contest.

There's also Kerem Bulut in the Czech Republic, who was one of the few who impressed with the Young Socceroos at the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia, and has been receiving rave reviews in his two appearances since returning to Mlada Boleslav. He, of course, netted on the weekend, while there's another young Aussie striker toiling hard in an obscure European league winning plenty of plaudits, Denmark-based Brent McGrath.

Sure, the standard these guys are playing in isn't the Premier League, but there's only one way to get there and that is to play football and do well.

But while the likes of Mark Bosnich, Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill or Lucas Neill learned their trade and proved themselves in England as youngsters before going on to become Premier League stars, many of the next generation appear to be finding opportunities to play and develop more readily available on the continent.

Look at all the talent which has been signed out of the A-League recently: Kruse, Langerak, DeVere, Amini, Holland, Burns, Rukavytsya, Zullo, Sarota, Oar, Leckie and Bulut. It's clear continental scouts are taking note of the A-League.

Perhaps Australia's dwindling representation in the Premier League is something we're going to need to get used to, while embracing new leagues in Europe.