The outpouring of love for Brett Emerton upon the announcement of his retirement last week goes to show that you don’t have to be a footballing genius to earn the respect of the public.
As Australians, though we marvel at the exploits of players who are blessed with remarkable skill, we have a different, almost deeper appreciation of the guys who squeeze every last drop of talent out of their bodies to achieve more than they really should.
Emerton falls very much into the latter category.
Firstly, it should be noted that the Bankstown-born right-winger was no mug with a football at his feet. Emerton was a solid tackler and a more-than-adequate dribbler.
His one true weapon, however, was his right foot, which he used to send in consistently perfect crosses from the right flank, fire powerful shots at goal and curl in the occasional free kick; like a demure David Beckham.
In essence, though, Emerton was a man of industry.
At a strapping 185cm, ‘Emmo’ was always one of the most athletic players in whichever team he played for.
Possessed with great strength for a footballer, speed and immense stamina, the physicality he brought to the game was a huge asset, but combined with his willingness to toil for the team, these attributes became even more valuable.
Hence the love.
Add to that Emerton’s consummate professionalism and laconic good nature, and it is easy to see why he was so well liked by both teammates and fans.
Sydney Olympic, his first professional team, and Feyenoord, were the two clubs where big Emmo developed as a player.
The Dutch league was the perfect arena for the youngster to refine his technical and tactical skills. It was there he became more than just a trundler on the right flank, and evolved into a zippy winger/right back capable of moments of panache.
The Aussie’s dream move to the English Premier League took place in 2003 when he was signed by Blackburn Rovers, the kind of unpretentious club that seemed well suited to his persona.
Emerton would go on to play 247 games, score 19 goals and make 44 assists for the English side in a stint that lasted eight years and made him one of the most successful Australians in EPL history.
A final spell with Sydney FC may not have been as fruitful on the pitch as he would have liked, but the prodigal son only enhanced his nice-guy image off the field by working tirelessly to promote the league and helping out in local communities.
His exalted status with Socceroos fans, meanwhile, is in no small part due to the fact he was a key member of the ‘Golden Generation.’
Though he lacked the flair of a Harry Kewell or a Mark Viduka, Emerton was nonetheless an ever-present and influential participant in Australian football’s most memorable moments of the past decade.
This alone is enough to secure his place as a legend of the Australian game.
Emmo leaves the game with an unimpeachable reputation. His name will live long in the memory of football fans.