Kristian Sarkies was one of a handful of shooting stars who emerged about a decade ago.

Kristian Sarkies was one of a handful of shooting stars who emerged about a decade ago. Photo: Tim Clayton

As young players jockey to stake their claim as late selections for Ange Postecoglou's  World Cup squad, it must be remembered that a  precocious talent does not always translate into a productive, lengthy career.

A-League hopefuls such as   Adam Taggart, the Newcastle Jets striker, Brisbane midfielder Luke Brattan and longshot Osama Malik, the Adelaide defender, have all been touted as potential bolters for Brazil, as have the likes of Swindon's Massimo Luongo (a Socceroo debutant against Ecuador in March), the little-known Bailey Wright, a defender at Preston North End, and strikers Mitchell Duke and Tommi Juric (blooded by Holger Osieck in the East Asian Cup last year but not sighted at Socceroo level since).

It would not be a shock if one or more of those were on the plane, even if only to be squad members to make up the numbers during training sessions.

But there is no guarantee that any will go on to have meaningful careers in the green and gold even if they do get to Vittoria, the Socceroos Brazilian base. For every one who makes it in the game, there are many who don't and that sense of unfulfilled potential was something I was reminded of in the most graphic way when I watched Melbourne Victory training ahead of its semi-final clash with Sydney FC last Friday.

There, on the sidelines, clutching his young daughter, stood a man who many believed would by now have been playing at a high level in Europe and running midfield operations for the national team.

Kristian Sarkies is an older but necessarily much wiser man these days to that cheeky 16-year-old  who burst on to the local soccer scene in the dying days of the old National Soccer league when then South Melbourne coach Stuart Munro gave him his debut.

Last week he was looking on as his brother-in-law Leigh Broxham, a stalwart in navy blue for the past decade, and a handful of remaining Victory players from his time at the club were being put through their paces before what turned out to be a dramatic win over Sydney.

There was no hint of bitterness or anger in the now 27-year-old's voice as he held his child and watched, although he could not have been blamed for wondering what might have been but for injury and ill-fortune.

For Sarkies was one of a handful of shooting stars who emerged about a decade ago and were expected to become key men in the Australian game, but somehow didn't.

''It's just how things went,'' he said. ''I'm now playing for Goulburn  Valley Suns in the National Premier League Victoria and working as a fitness trainer. That was all a long time ago now.'' 

There were some dramatic highpoints early in a career of such immense promise.

When he was only 19 Sarkies was brought by Guus Hiddink, the then Socceroo coach, to the team's training camp in Holland and then Germany ahead of the 2006 World Cup.

He was one of four players brought along to train with the seniors in the hope and expectation that they would become regulars on the national scene in the seasons to come. The others were Neil Kilkenny (currently a midfielder with Preston in England's League One), Stuart Musialik, who has faded from the A-League picture after several seasons with Newcastle and Sydney, and Kaz Patafta, another who has disappeared from football's mainstream after spells with Melbourne Victory and Newcastle following his return from Benfica, where he went as a teenager.

The fate of those four shows how all the promise in the world does not bring the certainty of success: of the quartet only Kilkenny is still playing at a serious level and only he went on to have any sort of international career, having played 14 times for the national team including in the 2011 Asian Cup final. However, he has not been involved in recent times and has rarely been mentioned as a prospective World Cup player.

Of those three ''wasted'' talents Sarkies is perhaps the one Australia could do with most now. A player of genuine skill and with an attacking bent, he was, at his best, a dynamic midfielder who could score goals and support the strikers.

He notched a memorable strike in Melbourne Victory's grand final 6-0 rout of Adelaide United and gained a measure of notoriety as a 20-year-old when, in the post-match presentation, he planted a kiss on the balding pate of Prime Minister John Howard. It was a moment that people recall more than his goal - a sumptuous strike to complete Adelaide's humiliation.

It all seemed a world away for the young man who stood on the sidelines looking just like another fan with his child the other day.

And it was, but it shows how thin the line between success and failure can be. A series of injuries early in his career cruelled his prospects, and while he played for both Melbourne Heart and Adelaide in the A-League after his time at Victory he was never the same player.

Still, at least Sarkies now has a sense of perspective, is a father and has the chance to go on and make a mark through the rest of his life.

That opportunity was denied another talented young Australian, Dylan Tombides, who died from cancer on Good Friday in a London hospital.

The Perth-born youngster, who was on West Ham's books, had played for the Australian Under  22 team as recently as January.

His death is another reminder of the fragility of life and the randomness with which good health and success can quickly turn to tragedy. The tributes for Tombides have been plentiful and heartfelt. This was an unfulfilled talent of the most heartwrenching kind.