Marking the end of a fine career

THERE are two moments from early in the career of Mark Milligan that tell you a lot about why he has been such an influential player for club and country for so long, and why his imminent retirement is significant.

Almost exactly 15 years ago, Milligan emerged from a parked jumbo jet at Sydney Airport to be unveiled as the surprise inclusion in Guus Hiddink’s Socceroos squad for the 2006 World Cup. At 20, and after just a handful of games in the NSL and the A-League, he looked a little unsure about the fuss being made.


Little more than a year later, though, it was Milligan who was summoned to bolster the Socceroos’ dangerously listing Asian Cup campaign, and Milligan who stood at the centre of a back three quietly but unmistakeably directing the EPL defenders either side.

He has been a leader ever since in every team he has played in, a lieutenant to the coach on the pitch and a setter of dressing room culture off it. It’s absolutely no surprise that Milligan will move into coaching and will equally not be a surprise when he is surely successful in that craft, thanks to a combination of his personality, determination and football intelligence.

His finest hour in the A-League came in 2015, Melbourne Victory surging to triumph over Sydney FC in the grand final on the back of an utterly dominant performance from Milligan himself. Snarling figuratively and literally, Milligan owned the occasion and the result never felt in doubt.


That was why some of the strongest teams in Asia signed him at various points in his career, in some cases for significant sums of money. As battle-hardened as they come, Milligan brought a steeliness to whichever team he played in.

But he also brought a far wider and more subtle range of attributes, not least an excellent eye for a pass and a nose for sniffing out trouble that meant he was as effective in the heart of midfield – the role in truth he always preferred – as he was at the centre of defence.

That utility didn’t always do him a favour. At the 2014 World Cup he was tasked with replacing the injured Ivan Franjic at right back against Holland, only to pull a hamstring in practising his crossing for the role – continuing a wretched run of fortune at World Cup which meant he went to four but only played four games.

Perhaps his only other regret might be that the opportunity to play in Europe did not come until so late in his career, stymied as he was at several points by work-permit issues. With his sleeves rolled up, it’s a fair bet Milligan would have thrived.


He has also long understood the responsibilities that have come with his role, almost always available to talk after a game and offering articulate thoughts on the state of the national team, on Australian football and various matters besides.

That contribution should continue into a burgeoning coaching career, for you get the sense that this “retirement” is just the beginning of a new chapter for a servant of Australian football.