No regrets: 2010 World Cup hero Brett Holman is happy with the choices he has made. Photo: Nick Moir
Brett Holman was 13,000 kilometres from Rio de Janeiro and the buzz of the World Cup as he talked football at Bondi Beach during the week, but he insisted any pang of regret was a galaxy away.
Holman, at 30, is fit and still potent enough to be a part of Australia’s fourth World Cup campaign.
Four years ago, after his cracking performance at the tournament in South Africa, he was hailed as one of the players who would be the bedrock for Australia’s assault on Brazil.
He stamped his authority in South Africa as a sniper, an Aussie who could find the back of the net. One of his efforts, a swerving 25m goal against Serbia, was regarded as one of the best from that World Cup.
Holman was named Australia’s player of the year in 2012 after he’d left Dutch club AZ Alkmaar for Aston Villa in the Premier League, but while hopes were high he’d build on his pre-season form which generated many positive headlines, he ultimately struggled for playing time.
He then surprised plenty when – rather than try to secure a deal with another top-flight European team – he followed Mark Bresciano to the Middle East and joined Al Nasr in the United Arab Emirates.
While Holman would not entertain the question of whether he jumped into retirement from international football before he was pushed by coach Ange Postecoglou – who perhaps orchestrated a clean-out of the Socceroos’ most experienced players – Holman preferred to suggest that he had no regrets.
No regret at leaving his star status in Holland for the unknown of Aston Villa or for sacrificing his place in the national team and the World Cup for the lifestyle he and his family enjoy in Dubai.
‘‘No regrets at all,’’ he said . ‘‘What can you say? I want to stay there, my family wants to stay there and until now it’s definitely something that I haven’t looked back on and thought ‘Geez, if I didn’t make this decision. what if?'
‘‘I had the offer from AZ and there was definitely interest from other Dutch clubs before I went to Villa given the fact I was off contract.
‘‘But there was that childhood dream I had as a kid growing up in western Sydney and watched Mark Viduka score a hat-trick and Harry Kewell and the other boys play in the Premier League.
‘‘It had something. I’d played in Holland for 10 years and I could have joined other clubs but I thought I’d seen enough, where I had played the other teams year-in, year-out. I thought going to Aston Villa was the chance of a lifetime.
‘‘Villa wasn’t in the best shape ... but who knows if another club would have come around and knocked on the door? There is never that guarantee so once that offer came in there was never any hesitation on my part given the fact I wanted to play there and experience it; go to Anfield and St James Park and soak in the atmosphere.’’
Holman, who started in the Canterbury juniors before he was signed as an apprentice with Parramatta Power, said even though his Premier League experience was a roller coaster ride he was proud to think he had his shot.
‘‘It probably wasn’t the best of seasons, I thought I did pretty well in the pre-season because I came in and the manager didn’t know me [there was a change in managers after Holman signed] and I played the majority of the games until Christmas. But, for one reason or another that was the end of it.
‘‘But I can look back and say I experienced it, that I played at Anfield and that St James Park was crammed with 50,000 Geordies going crazy. In one way it was a bad thing, but I did see Manchester United win a title when they bashed us at Old Trafford and Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick.
‘‘It was all an experience and while it might not have been the best of seasons for me there were some good memories.’’
He was as upbeat about playing in the Middle East, saying the football was good and the expectations on him to perform for Al Nasr were demanding.
‘‘The football is great, I can’t say a negative thing,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a completely different game because of the conditions. It was tough in the beginning to acclimatise but I think that was because after Christmas, when I was at Villa, I didn’t play much football and I was just trying to find my feet and to get my rhythm.
‘‘When the heat died down, and you found your rhythm and how your teammates played and realised what you expected of them - and what they expected of you - I found my way and started to enjoy it. When you enjoy your footy and like playing, anything can happen.
‘‘Obviously the tempo is slower. In the last few games I played it was 40 degrees, and I think that even if you had Wayne Rooney or Steve Gerrard they wouldn’t be out there running the same as they do in the Premier League.
''The quality is obviously a lot higher in Europe but you can see the UAE is getting stronger ... they won the Gulf Cup and it’ll be interesting to see how they go in January [in the Asian Cup].’’
Holman shot down the perception that the Middle East was a lucrative graveyard for big names looking for rich deals and luxurious lifestyles. He said the demands on foreign players were exhausting.
‘‘They don’t want players who are saying this will be our last cameo and we’ll have fun, they’re looking for players who want to come to the league and that makes the game stronger; a lot more competitive and exciting as well.
‘‘The fact they’re only allowed four foreigners [per team], you have extra pressure to perform every game. You have to help the local players as well ... and you put pressure on yourself that you want to do the right thing."