Jason Culina’s 14-year career at the highest level is a portrait of the consummate professional. After getting his start with Sydney United in Australia, Culina was snapped up by Ajax so impressed were the Dutch giants with the young Australian player. He spent four seasons in Amsterdam before making the move to FC Twente where his career in Europe really took off.
One superb campaign at Twente was all the convincing that powerhouse PSV Eindhoven needed and Culina’s time in Eindhoven coincided with the club having one of the most successful periods in their history. Culina has over 300 professional matches under his belt, including 45 caps with the national side. Recently, Culina was given the captain’s armband for his country.
Culina now stars in the Australian A-League for Gold Coast United. Currently, he is back in Eindhoven training with PSV so that he can keep sharp for Australia ahead of their World Cup participation in June.
One Game, One World was able to catch up with Jason Culina and get his views on his career and football in general. Check out what this versatile footballer has to say about his start in the game, his time in Europe, and what it feels like to wear the Australian shirt. You’ll be seeing him on the fields in South Africa this summer wearing the green and gold for Australia and we are thankful he took the time to answer our questions.
One Game, One World:When did you decide you wanted to be a footballer? If you weren’t a footballer what would you be?
Jason Culina: At the age of about 15-16 is when I decided I wanted to take football up professionally. If I weren’t a football player I have no idea what I would have been, I only ever wanted to be a football player and I was prepared to do anything to make it happen.
You come from a football family. How big of an influence was your father and brother?
My whole family, my father, mother and brother were all in some way an influence on my football. From my father being my coach, to my mum being the taxi to trainings, to my brother kicking the ball in the park with me. As well as them my wife now and kids are also a big influence through their support.
How strong are your Croatian roots?
I grew up as a youngster in Melbourne’s Croatian community, they were great times and some I’ll never forget. My parents were obviously born in Croatia and we still try to as much as possible to get over there for a holiday. Although I consider myself very much Australian I think it’s very important never to forget where your family came from.
How did you get your start with Sydney United?
I was very fortunate that my father gave me my first chance at the highest level with Sydney United. I know it wasn’t easy for him as many people thought at that time I wasn’t ready for it. I hope that my father and I have now proved those critics wrong.
Describe the feeling when Ajax came calling.
I was lucky enough to be picked up by a huge club like Ajax and that opportunity was one I only ever could dream about. I was very young and didn’t know what to expect but I did know that it was going to be very tough.
Was the transition from Australia to the European game difficult?
Yes it was initially; the game in Europe is played at a much higher tempo and requires a lot more concentration and focus. Getting your mind right is most important.
Was your most enjoyable time in Holland your years spent with PSV?
I was lucky to be with PSV at a very successful period for the club. Whilst I was there we won 3 championships in 4 years.
What made you decide to go back to Australia and the A-League’s Gold Coast United?
I was looking for a new challenge after ten years in Europe, going back home to play was something I always considered and it came earlier then I thought it might.
Talk to us about how you believe football has grown in Australia over the last decade.
It’s become a lot more structured and professional. The standard is now a lot higher. I think football is Australia’s sleeping giant in terms of sport, if it’s gone about in the right way.
You have played for your country at every age level. How does it feel to pull on the National Team shirt?
The feeling never changes, it’s a special feeling to represent your country. Each and every time I put on that green and gold shirt I treat it as though it will be my last.
Explain the emotions you underwent and the joy of being selected recently to captain Australia?
Obviously it’s an honour in itself to play for your country but to be asked to captain your country is again another honour all together.
The 2010 World Cup is just around the corner. How do you feel about Australia’s group and chances to advance?
Expectations are high from everyone, but us players know that it will be very difficult. We go into every match hoping to win, but we are up against some very stiff competition.
Only a small minority of human beings get to play in a World Cup. Can you tell us about how you feel ahead of this tournament and what it feels like to step on the pitch in such an event?
The Football World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, there are some very good players who haven’t had the chance to play in such an event, so for me it’s an honour to have been involved in one and on the way to another.
We know as players that we are not only representing ourselves and our families but also the whole of Australia so the feeling of stepping onto the pitch is very special.
You are training with PSV ahead of the World Cup. How does it feel to be back in Eindhoven?
It all actually feels very normal, the first couple of days is consumed with catching up but after that it’s back to business. It’s still cold, very different from the Gold Coast.
What does football mean to you?
It’s my life, after my family of course.