Billy Celeski has been one of the Victory’s best this season but the plaudits don’t seem to be coming his way. He probably should be getting more respect.
Back in early 2009, Matthew Kemp said of Billy Celeski: “He’s had a brilliant year and he’s not as big a name as some of the players we’ve got, but I think he’s been great in midfield”.
Hold a microphone in front of any Melbourne Victory player today and you-re likely to get the same response. He-s had a brilliant season. He-s great in the Victory midfield. And he most certainly isn-t one of the big guns stealing the headlines. “He has been (outstanding) for a while for us” is how Ange Postecoglou put it earlier this year.
The four years between Kemp-s comments and now have been punctuated by misfortune for Celeski, having missed virtually all of the 2009/10 A-League season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in September 2009 and being dogged by groin and hip complaints in ensuing years.
At the start of the current campaign, Celeski declared: “I just want to put the last couple of years behind me, focus on this season, make sure I get my body right and have a successful year on the pitch”.
Apart from a few minor injuries, this season has pretty much played out exactly how Celeski would have hoped. Perhaps a little better. Not only is Celeski finally winning the battle over his body, he has rediscovered the form that made him such an integral member of Victory-s all-conquering squad of 2008/09.
Coincidence or not, Postecoglou-s arrival in Melbourne has been a blessing for Celeski. “It’s like a little fresh start under Ange,” he said back in August. “It is for the whole playing group, too, a clean slate, because the new coach is going to form his own opinions on what he thinks of players.”
Worrying about what his coach thinks of him shouldn-t be a concern for the Macedonian-born midfielder, considering his role in the Victory set-up has been central to the team-s on-field revival under Postecoglou.
His influential performances against Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix during the festive period prompted Postecoglou to acknowledge “he’s really stepped up this period”, although like an acclaimed playwright, Celeski does his best work behind the scenes and creates an environment for the headline acts — Archie Thompson, Marco Rojas and Marcos Flores — to shine and entertain.
Andy Harper noted during his commentary of the Big Blue on Saturday night that Celeski-s movement on the ball was “right out of the Xavi-Iniesta playbook”. The level of recognition and praise he receives for those efforts, however, are not.
When Victory handed the former Young Socceroo a two-year deal in late 2008, then Melbourne Victory football operations manager Gary Cole regarded Celeski-s versatility in midfield as his most attractive quality. “He is a creative player who keeps the ball moving well. With that versatility in midfield, it’s a fantastic asset.”
In Craig Foster-s list of the top 10 A-League players for this season, only Rojas, Daniel McBreen and Alessandro Del Piero were placed ahead of Celeski, who according to the former Socceroo, plays in “one of the most important, and difficult, positions in football”.
His intelligence, ability to facilitate the ball-s transition from defence into attack with his accurate passing and insightful runs forward, disciplined positioning and awareness allows him to execute this crucial role better than most in the A-League. It-s his technical ability, however, that sets him apart from the rest in this position, evident in the way he invites, absorbs then escapes pressure in confined spaces, swiveling on the ball as if he were swinging around a pole in an attempt to lose his marker and break the lines. It-s a signature feature of a skilled continental footballer, and the sign of a player who-s full of confidence, composure and ability.
Despite his influential role for Victory this season, Celeski-s name wasn-t one that featured on Holger Osieck-s 23-man squad list for the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Oman on March 26th. With consistency and injury no longer an issue, a return to the national team would be just reward for one of the country-s most technically gifted footballers.