Sydney FC made Wilkshire forget retirement

Dec 27, 2017 - 4:48 AM Luke Wilkshire was lying on a beach in Thailand when Graham Arnold rang in July.

The former Socceroo had just finished a second stint with Dynamo Moscow and was contemplating his next move while on holiday with his young family.

At 35, and as one of the few members of the 2006 golden generation still playing - decidedly less consistently than he'd have liked - retirement was well and truly on the cards.

Opportunities in Russia's lower leagues weren't piquing his interest, and it wasn't until the call from Arnold, under whom he'd gone to two World Cups, that Wilkshire realised he wasn't quite done.

As it turned out he was only just beginning, as the Wollongong product embarked on a new, unexpected chapter with his first professional Australian club in his 18-year career.

Eleven A-League games in, Arnold's decision to recruit Wilkshire as a season-long replacement for Sydney FC's injured right-back Rhyan Grant seems a stroke of genius.

For Wilkshire, now 36, slipping into an A-League title defence has been something of an awakening.

"It wasn't something on my radar," Wilkshire told AAP.

"I was close to calling it a day last time before this opportunity came up.

"But it's sort of brought me back to life and I feel great. And I definitely don't plan on finishing after this season.

"The last few years I hadn't been playing regularly. I realised how much I missed it now I've started to play again."

Once his ageing body had passed the fitness tests of Sky Blues strength and conditioning coach Andrew Clark, Wilkshire's mind set about adapting to the change in climate from Russia.

He describes the A-League as very open, with a lot of running.

Different to former clubs in England, Holland and Russia, but certainly possessing quality.

Wilkshire has added his own, a quiet achiever in a team boasting Johnny Warren medallist Milos Ninkovic and potential successor Adrian Mierzejewski.

Fans, for their part, have relished a reacquaintance with the versatility of Guus Hiddink's 2006 World Cup bolter, who notched 80 caps before falling as an early casualty of Ange Postecoglou's 2014 rejuvenation.

In some tight games, his contributions have been the difference.

There was that cutback in this month's 1-0 win over Adelaide - one of two assists this campaign - and the opening-round cross that forced Melbourne Victory into a 1-0 own goal.

His first goal in nine years sealed an identical scoreline against Melbourne City in November.

But, most important, Wilkshire has deftly filled a void that could have become Sydney's achilles heel in Grant's absence.

"I'm a little bit older than I used to be but I feel good, physically and mentally. Age is just a number, as they say," Wilkshire said.

"I believe a lot of things are mental. When you haven't had any serious injuries, it's just a mental thing if you want to keep going.

"Touch wood, I've been lucky on the injury front. That's allowed me to continue."

And continue he will.

Where that will be is less clear, with Grant set to retake his place next season.

"Everyone always asks me about this and I don't have an answer," he said.

"I didn't expect to be here a few months back ... you never know in football what's around the corner and what opportunities can come up.

"I haven't had any discussions (with Sydney). We'll see how things go and what opportunities come up after this.

"But right now I just want to enjoy this period, and the future will sort itself out."

Source: AAP

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