Socceroos hero Mathew Leckie’s match-winning goal against Denmark was just the latest in his rollercoaster football ride and one man in particular was a huge part of that journey: Ange Postecoglou.
The ex-Socceroos mentor and current boss of Scottish powerhouse Celtic, ‘Aussie Ange’ was the man who saw Leckie’s brilliance before anyone else did.
And continued to believe in him when the football world was telling him he was no good.
Before Leckie, who has scored 14 goals from 76 caps for Australia, sent Australia wild with his incredible individual goal in the 60th minute, he was an AFL-mad teenager growing up in Melbourne who wasn’t exactly enamoured with the round ball game.
Mathew Leckie became Australia’s hero with the match-winning goal against Denmark on Thursday morning – and former coach Ange Postecoglou has been a huge part of his football journey onto the world’s biggest stage
But a switch in schools coupled with idolising the Socceroos so-called ‘golden generation’ play in the 2006 World Cup, saw Leckie switch his focus away from his beloved Essendon Bombers and towards football.
And the Melburnian has never looked back.
Leckie first met Arnold in his mid-teens, and it was clear it was love at first sight for Postecoglou.
Mathew Leckie (left) and Ange Postecoglou (right), pictured after a Socceroos game in 2014, met more than 15 years ago; with the former Aussie mentor playing a huge part in the World Cup match-winner’s journey
‘I’ve known Ange (Postecoglou) since I was about 16 or 17 – because that was when he first tried to sign me,’ Leckie told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2015.
‘I was coming through the ranks as a junior and he must have liked the look of me because he tried to get me to sign for Port Melbourne in the Victorian State League (VSL).
‘He was going to become the manager there and he made a point of getting me to sign, but he ended up moving to a club in Greece [third-division side Panachaiki Patras], so I didn’t go,’ said Leckie.
But the seed was already sewn. Instead, he made his senior debut in the VPL during 2008 for the Bullen Lions, which spring boarded him into a move to A-League club Adelaide United the following year.
The speedy winger made his debut aged just 18, and impressed so much in his three-year stint at the Reds he secured a dream move to the German Bundesliga.
Mathew Leckie burst into the Aussie public’s football conscious after making his A-League debut at just 18 for Adelaide United
It was where he would spend the next decade – albeit with a fair few ups and downs – across four clubs, and begin to make his mark with the national side; thanks in huge part to Postecoglou.
Leckie finally made his senior Socceroos starting debut under Postecoglou, and would go on to be a coaches pet under the Greek-born Aussie mentor – so far as he was actually the most selected player under his watch.
Known for his electric pace and relentless, gut-busting two-way running down the wing, Leckie has previously said it was Postecoglou who transformed him from a fringe first-team player in Germany to a dominant star who the Socceroos could always rely on.
Mathew Leckie (right, pictured tussling with German superstar Franck Ribery) plays for Hertha in a blockbuster Bundesliga game against Bayern Munich
Leckie controls the ball with his outstretched right leg in a Bundesliga game for Hertha BSC against RB Leipzig
‘My performances for the national team over the past couple of years since I’ve been with Ange, I’ve definitely built as a player,’ he told AAP in 2016.
‘The physical aspect of the way we play has definitely put my body in much better form.
‘I feel very strong physically. The way we play, you need to be very athletic. There’s a lot of running involved and a lot of hard work. That’s what I guess Australia is known for — that never-give-up attitude.’
When Leckie was criticised by Socceroos legends, pundits or fans for his lack of goals in green and gold; Postecoglou would always stoutly defend him and cite the huge work-rate in defence and attack the winger provided.
Leckie has previously said it was ‘really hard’ to get involved with Holger Osieck when he was in charge of the national side – intimating that foreign coaches can’t ‘control of deal with Australian players’.
Ange Postecoglou (right) gives Mathew Leckie (left) a huge after the latter was substituted in a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Jordan in 2016. The pair have a very strong relationship
‘He (Osieck) didn’t really want to give me much of a go. Maybe my style didn’t suit the style he wanted to play, but the best thing that could have happened was the moment Ange took over,’ Leckie said in 2016, explaining why his national career never took off with the German in charge.
‘Aussie Ange’ could though, with Leckie lauding his huge passion for the role and ability to motivate the players, before the popular coach left the job after being rightly disillusioned with the direction of Football Federation Australia (FFA).
Hence, he had to wait for Postecoglou to show a bit of faith in him that he could deliver on the world stage; and now he’s featured at three World Cups and guided Australia to the Round of 16 for the first time in 16 years.
Mathew Leckie, pictured with wife Laura and daughter Olivia, has travelled the globe playing for the Socceroos as well as club stints in Germany
Mathew Leckie hasn’t been in sterling form for Melbourne City in the A-League to start this season, but he has well and truly turned it around at the World Cup
Leckie came back to Australia to play in the A-League for Melbourne City last year, but wasn’t in great form to start this season; registering no goals or assists across the first five games before going to Qatar.
However, many astute watchers will agree that the way he is currently being used to bombard the box with crosses, instead of using his great short passing game and close-control dribbling, does not suit his style of play.
It is safe to say, however, he has turned around any criticism of his form in the strongest possible way with his stunning goal against Denmark, which included nutmegging a defender.
It came after a deft first touch, cut and sublime cross along the ground to set up Craig Goodwin’s goal in the Socceroos Cup opener against France. It was so electric, it even tore his poor French opponent Lucas Hernandez’s ACL while doing so.
‘I hit it with my left boot, and saw it rolling it in. I didn’t know what to do. Everyone came over and I think I got slapped in the head about 100 times,’ an exhausted Leckie said after the match.
The significance, however, was not lost on him, despite the head trauma – he is keen to inspire the next generation of Leckie’s.
‘It’s moments like this that build the game and potentially inspire young kids. Anything is possible if you give everything and that’s something I always strive to do.’
He’ll never have to buy a beer in Melbourne again, no matter how the rest of his City career goes.