Since moving to the Bay Arena in the off-season, Socceroo Robbie Kruse has found playing time few and far between for new side Bayer Leverkusen. And coming off a breakthrough season with eventually relegated Fortuna Dusseldorf he must be reeling from the lack of minutes especially with a World Cup approaching.
But struggle is something Kruse has had to deal with in the past. His rise to prominence is both telling and inspiring as not too long ago he was seen as surplus to requirements by his local club Brisbane Roar.
After a number of off the pitch incidents and a questionable diet regiment he was on his last legs as a professional footballer.
A move to Melbourne Victory under the stewardship of then coach Ernie Merrick revived what looked like a career that was on life-support. But before the move to the former A-League champions he was linked with a move to A-League strugglers Wellington Phoenix.
Former CEO Tony Pignata at the time:
“The ball’s now in Robbie’s court,” Pignata said.
Kruse was on the precipice the next move he made was key and would shape his career from that point on. Opting to rebuff the offer by Wellington and sign for Victory on less money, it spoke of a man looking to prove himself.
Before the move though he wasn’t in the right state of mind, saying his head was in a “wrong place”.
He said, “that day made me realise, ‘What am I doing with my life if I don’t even care that my team’s playing?”
“I didn’t care I wasn’t playing and there was no point playing football if I’m going to be like that. I realised how privileged my life had been and I was throwing it away.”
The bad boy routine had been wearing thin and former teammate Sasa Ognevoksi spoke at the time about him and the pitfalls that he faced at Brisbane.
“I thought he was the most talented lad of the lot,” Sasa Ognenovski said.
“He just needed to start concentrating on football and stop worrying about outside influences. You can’t walk around thinking you’re a superstar at 18.”
Telling words from a man who worked hard for his career, as Ognenovski went from tradesmen to international footballer and Asian Player of the year in a matter of years.
He embodied hard work and determination, traits Kruse had lacked at the time, though these were things he’d look to work on and build.
The coach who seemingly turned his career around, Ernie Merrick, has said he’d lacked confidence and needed a lift. Merrick also said, “he would get so down on himself” and his performances.
Kruse needed an injection of confidence, empowerment to feel a sense of importance. Merrick felt a spell at striker could instill the brashness and cockiness he once possessed as a talented teenager.
“We let him know we were confident about him playing (as a striker) and getting into goalscoring positions and he’s just blossomed in that area,” Merrick said.
Performances began to come with the move and faith shown by Merrick paying off enormously, as Kruse and Archie Thompson created a partnership alongside Carlos Hernandez that was among the best in the A-League.
A move away was around the corner, the former-bad boy embroiled in scandal had departed replaced by a more serious and professional Robbie Kruse. Leaving for Fortuna Dusseldorf became a seminal day in the career of the youngster.
Despite not featuring much in his first season, he exploded onto the scene in the Bundesliga with great effect. He’d quickly become among the best at Fortuna and soon among the best in the lower reaches of the Bundesliga.
Finishing off the season with a respectable tally of goals and assists for Fortuna, however, unable to rescue the Flingeraner from relegation. He’d leave the Esprit Arena with memories of that cold winter’s night against VFB Stuttgart bagging a brace to win the side all three points.
He eventually left for the allure of Champion’s League football and to work under the tutelage of Sami Hyypia at Leverkusen.
Several weeks into the season after bagging a brace on debut and his positive substitute appearances questions arose back home in Australia about a lack of playing time.
Kruse said, “This season has gone a lot better than I expected so hopefully, if injuries and suspensions come, I’ll get my chance.”
Indeed he has with a recent thigh injury to in-form Sidney Sam. Kruse has another opportunity to make a setup, and as he has shown in the past he’s more than capable of stepping up on the big occasions and when called upon.
No bigger occasion than this week’s Champions League home game against Manchester United, where Leverkusen need a result to continue to be in the conversation for a knock-out stage birth.
It won’t be easy with competition still with the likes of Jens Hegeler but Kruse has shown he’s risen to much harder challenges to get where he is today, so who’s to say he can’t repeat the trick in Leverkusen’s red and black and cement a starting role.