Socceroos playmaker never enjoyed the celebrity spotlight – now he can focus on his family completely, writes Tom Smithies
So long, Tom Rogic, and thanks for the memories. The virtuoso of the Socceroos and of Celtic has officially retired, though with a severely muted fanfare – just as he always liked it.
Rogic came late to professional football for a number of reasons, and never took to the celebrity side of it at all. His painfully honest statement announcing the end of his career at 30 shows again how fans, and media, can debate the merits and performances of players without knowing their inner workings and sometimes the inner turmoil.
While we tore our hair out over how a player so extravagantly gifted could seemingly be meandering away from professional football, he had other priorities in the form of raising and supporting a family. That’s a commitment from which he will garner far more satisfaction than the baubles of playing football at the top level.
Maybe it’s because the chance of playing at that level had once seemed to be slipping away. Rogic was marked out as a special talent before he was even 10 years old – one of his mentors, Ron Smith, one of the most senior coaches in the country, has footage of him aged 10, slaloming through defences, just as he would later do with rather bigger crowds watching.
Whether it was his physique, or his futsal habits, no Isuzu UTE A-League team took an interest in Rogic as his teenage years progressed. Luckily Smith was one of the judges for the Nike Chance project, specifically for players who had missed out on a professional contract, and put Rogic forward as part of a global trial of some 100 aspirants. After days in camp in the UK, six were chosen and announced at a dinner – Rogic’s was the last of the six names called out. Even interviewing him then, his tone was more bashful than bullish.
For a year he was trained at the Nike Academy, and would have earned a contract with Reading but for visa issues. Instead he came back to the A-League Men and was signed by the Mariners, to many fans out of nowhere. With his ability to lope forward with the ball and terrify defenders, it wasn’t long until the fans knew all about him.
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He was only there for a year before Celtic came calling, and the cash-strapped Mariners were happy to cash in (though ironically the transfer deal had a sell-on clause – sadly for the A-League team, Rogic turned into a very loyal servant for the Bhoys).
The early days in Scotland weren’t easy, hampered by injuries including the one that ruled him out of the 2014 World Cup. His discomfort was clear at the Socceroos’ pre-tournament training camp in Brazil, even as he tried to prove his fitness. But by the end of his nine years at Celtic he had multiple trophies and accolades, and the enduring love of the club’s supporters.
More importantly he and they had those memories; the spectacular goals, the assists, the slightly embarrassed-looking celebration when he tried something extravagant and it turned into a goal.
Those moments didn’t come as frequently for his country, but there were plenty still; a winning goal from long-distance against Saudi Arabia in a World Cup qualifier in Adelaide sticks in the memory, and a similar strike to defeat Syria in the 93rd minute of an Asian Cup group tie in the UAE in 2019.
Often, though, he was playing a more prosaic role for his country, with more defensive duties than Celtic ever asked of him – epitomised by the part-of-a-unit responsibilities he undertook at the 2018 World Cup under Bert van Marwijk.
The timing of his retirement is bittersweet, coming less than four months after that of Aaron Mooy, the figure who was so often tucked in behind him in green and gold. But in truth Rogic had not featured for Australia since the start of last year, and now we know what the backdrop to the final months of his career was.
Just before the 2018 World Cup Rogic – who was one of the most reluctant interviewees imaginable – talked of living in the goldfish bowl of Glasgow, and his preference for a quiet, “normal” life. In that respect, we have the memories, but he has everything to look forward to.