Ahmed Essof spoke with Australian goalkeeper Alex Cisak about his career in English football, his national allegiance and his dreams of one day playing in the A-League for Tasmania United.
AE: Lets start off by discussing your start in football. You moved away from Australia at a young age and began your career with Leicester. Was it tough to leave home being so young?
AC: I moved over and signed a four-year contract with Leicester City just after my 15th birthday. I had spent the previous two years training full time, and playing football full time for a living was my sole focus. In that sense I was prepared for life away from home and ready to take on anything that came my way. My family are very tight knit, and they moved over shortly after. They have played a huge role in my success.
AE: You won a Premier Academy League medal whilst at Leicester, what was your time like at the club?
AC: Leicester is a big club and our Academy side was the best in the Premier Academy League. Coming out of Tasmania was interesting, going from nothing right into the mix of the Premier League. I was in the 1st team squad in the Championship as #2 to Paul Henderson at 17, and at 18 was pushing hard for the #1 spot. Unfortunately I fractured my wrist warming up against Crystal Palace in the FA CUP. I ended up missing two years of football and the club were advised incorrectly that I would never play again. That led to my exit from the club and the opportunity of a new beginning.
AE: How was your time with Accrington Stanley?
AC: It was nothing short of a roller coaster ride. I signed as the #1 but was injured in the week prior to the opening day. Bavs (Ian Dunbavin) was on fire for the first month only conceding one goal in seven games…so I had to be patient. I was patient and played out the last 25 odd games. When I got my chance we were 17th in the League and we ended up finishing 5th and made the playoffs. I grabbed the League Two Player of the Month award for March and kept 10 or more clean sheets in a run of 15 odd games. There were some tough times over the Christmas period, but I never lost sight of what I was there for.
AE: You now seem to have found a more permanent home with Oldham, and as a number 1, this must be pleasing?
AC: Oldham has been great. 47 competitive matches last season and it really should have been the full 56, but for my injury late in the season. Paul Dickov moved mountains to get me to the club, so it’s only fair that I stay for a few for him in return. It’s been really pleasing to link up with Dicki and Taggs (Gerry Taggart) from my Leicester City days. I played under Taggs in the reserves at Leicester, and Dicki is of course a legend down there. We’ve got Gez (Paul Gerrard) taking the keepers full time and he’s been really important for my continued development. Dicki has a knack of signing quality players, and with a little luck we can keep the nucleus of the 1st team together throughout the season. If that happens, the playoffs are a very real possibility.
AE: Dean Bouzanis and Liam Jacob have joined the club. Despite the Aussie connection there must be good competition for the goalkeeper spot now?
AC: Being the #1 it’s important that I support the other guys and help bring them along in their development. As far as competition goes I only compete/challenge against myself. Once you start engaging others and personalities, then it becomes about something else. I didn’t give anyone a look in last season and I won’t be changing tact this season. You can’t control others and external influences are always trying to infiltrate, so I just remained focussed on my role at the club and with the team.
AE: What’s your goal for this season?
AC: 46 League starts and some good cup runs. We were one win away from playing in the JPT final at Wembley and made the 3rd round proper in the FA CUP last season, so we’ll be looking to repeat the feat. We’ve made some decent signings in pre-season so far, so hopefully playoffs too.
AE: As a dual international have you made your mind up on who you’d like to represent should either Australia or Poland come calling?
AC: I played four or five times for the Polish U17’s and U19’s. At the time I was regarded as one of the top keepers in the EPL Academy League, Australia hadn’t approached and I still have a lot of family back in Poland. I was very proud to represent Poland, but having said this, when I sat back and reflected my heart wasn’t in it. My desire was to play for Australia. I actively approached FFA about playing for Australia and the dream has since come true. People in Australia must remember that playing League One means that getting away to camps and qualifiers is next to impossible. Tony Franken is 100% supportive of me staying at Oldham and playing rather than come into camp to sit on the bench to Mark or Adam. If I were 2nd Choice at a Premier League club then coming into camp might be another story. For now I’m focussed on building my experience and continuing to improve my game.
AE: Are you familiar with the A-league and do you follow a particular team?
AC: As far as footage goes we don’t really get a lot of the A-League over here in the UK. I’ve seen quite a few DVD’s of the league when a few clubs were trying to tempt me back. It’s definitely improving, but does seem an inconsistent standard. On a side matter it still amazes me that Tasmania doesn’t have a team. We get 8k to friendly A-League matches and there was even a crowd of 12k at a Rugby friendly earlier this year in Hobart. The crowds are there, it’s a great place to live and it would be a fantastic setup. The argument about local talent gets thrown up but can you name a single A-League club that has signed a majority of local players? FFA has shown that they are prepared to setup new franchises, so it should be looking at Hobart as the city to base their next club out of.
AE: Would you consider playing in the A-league?
AC: One day I would love to come back and play for Tasmania United. That would be great.
AE: Who have been your biggest influences and your best coach?
AC: As far as influences go, my family have been a huge support, moving across to the UK to support me. My manager has been with me from day one through thick and thin and has been a great sounding board. You find out very quickly who is there for you and who is there for the trimmings. I’ve been privileged to work with some great coaches. Billy Stewart (Ex-Liverpool) at Accrington got me back to playing some great football. He’s fantastic around technique and insight. Paul Gerard at Oldham has carried on from Billy and I know that he’s got me going in the right direction.
AE: Any advice for young Aussie players wanting to play abroad?
AC: It’s the little things that matter. Being consistent every day is what will make you, if you have the ability. Plenty of talented youngsters come over and get caught up in the fame and fortune of it all and fall off the radar very quickly. Be prepared to fight for everything, as you don’t get handouts in Europe. When you get your chance, if you’ve done the hard yards it will show in your performance. My success is not just based on talent, it is based in ticking every box along the way and making sure I do everything I can to prepare myself to perform at my peak. You have the choice to live it, or dream it; that is professional football.
You can follow Alex Cisak on twitter @alexcisak