Leap of faith that saved a Socceroo who turned down World No. 99 for the ultimate ‘long shot’

Melbourne City winger Andrew Nabbout once kept his career alive through sheer determination, and seizing “one last chance to make it.” It’s what helped turn the City winger into a World Cup Socceroo and A-Leagues mainstay.

In 2015, Andrew Nabbout was a player without a club, and running out of options. 

In fact, after being released by Melbourne Victory, he was presented with just two: drop back down into the National Premier League, or try his hand abroad in the Malaysian second division.

This was a player with a dream of representing the Socceroos – and that dream was fading fast.

“At that point, I was at a pretty low point in my career, and in my life,” Nabbout says. 

“I had already been contacted by a fair few of the NPL clubs… you could say I was in denial, (but) I didn’t want to make that move because I knew if I did, it was going to be extremely difficult to come back up.”

Almost eight years later, Nabbout speaks to KEEPUP as a World Cup Socceroo, and a decorated Premiership/Championship winner with Melbourne City, ahead of playing in another Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final on June 3.

He rescued his career with a leap of faith, seizing “one last chance to make it as a pro footballer.” And now, he’s on the cusp of another piece of silverware. 

When Nabbout looks back to 2015, trying to put into words how he got from where he was then to where he is today, he sums it up best with one simple statement:

“I always did believe I’d have a great journey.”



Nabbout was 22 when released by Victory. He played less than 40 minutes across five games as Kevin Muscat’s side secured the Isuzu UTE A-League Premiership/Championship double.

His agent received ample offers from clubs around the NPL – but one opportunity stood out amongst them all: to link up with Australian head coach Gary Phillips at Malaysian outfit Negeri Sembilan. 

Fellow Aussies Joel Chianese, Alex Smith and Taylor Regan joined Nabbout in taking up the offer to join the second-division club that season.

 “I said to my fiancée at the time (now wife): ‘We’ve got to do it, we’ve got to go’.

“There was a lot of uncertainty. Going to the second tier in Malaysia where there was a lot of turnover of players. Generally, the owners of teams expect you to be Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo when you get over there. 

“I thought I did extremely well… but it wasn’t good enough.”

Nabbout was sensationally axed by the Malaysian club after just 14 competitive games. He was Negeri’s top scorer, having notched nine goals and just as many assists in a blistering start to life in Malaysia.

“They ended up releasing me,” he says. 

“I found myself in a weird predicament, where I was contemplating life after football at such a young age.

“I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know how to react. I thought I’d given absolutely everything they needed. We were second in the league, we qualified for the Malaysia Cup which is massive in a country like that. I was just baffled, to be honest. It was so confusing for me. 

“I didn’t know what more I needed to do to stay on and finish off the season. Clearly, they had other agendas and other things going on that are out of your control.”

Andrew Nabbout in one of five brief substitute cameos for Victory in the 2014-15 A-League Men season.

All that he could control during that turbulent spell in Malaysia was his on-field performances – and his brief and blistering spell at Negeri caught attention back home.

Nabbout had trialled unsuccessfully with Central Coast Mariners prior to departing for Malaysia. On return to Australia, he earned another opportunity one hour’s drive up the M1 motorway from Gosford.

“I was lucky enough to be given a trial by Newcastle (Jets),” Nabbout adds. “I went over there and gave it absolutely everything, knowing it was probably my last chance. I did really well, and the rest is history.”

Nabbout spent the next two seasons at the Jets, scoring 18 goals in 46 A-League Men appearances. Then came a dream week in his life; In March of 2018, Nabbout signed for Japanese club Urawa Red Diamonds, and days later earned his very first Socceroos call-up. He made his international debut later that month against Norway.

Nabbout had timed his run into the Socceroos squad to perfection. Three months after his international debut, he was leading the line for Australia at the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Russia, starting against Denmark and eventual champions France.

For Nabbout, it was a “surreal moment” that validated his decision to turn down repeated approaches from his country of origin Lebanon in order to keep his Socceroos dream alive.

“My heritage is everything to me,” he says. “Both of my parents were born in Lebanon. Most of my cousins and uncles moved over here as well. I’m a very family-oriented person, I’ve grown up with all my cousins and siblings in a family where Arabic was pretty much the only language spoken at home.

“It’s where I came from. It helps define who I am. I am Australian, I was born here and grew up here and have become accustomed to this country and everything it offers.

But you don’t really know where you’re going or where you are until you know where you’ve been. That’s my heritage. You can never count that out.”

Nabbout received intermittent contact from the Lebanese FA through the first phase of his career – and in that tumultuous period in 2015, he came as close as he’d ever been to accepting the offer.

“To be looked at and approached by any nation to play for the country is an honour for any footballer.

“To be approached by my country of heritage was a massive honour. It gave me a lot of confidence and belief in myself and my ability. But for me, as a young kid growing up and watching the Socceroos, waking up early in the morning to watch the 2006 World Cup, 2010, 2014, watching all those World Cups from when I was a young kid I always gave myself the goal of one day playing for the Socceroos. 

“I’m going to be honest with you: I never dreamed of playing at a World Cup and starting at a World Cup for Australia. My goal was to play for Australia, and everything after that was a massive bonus.

“It was a long shot at one point, to look at it and say: ‘I’m going to play in a World Cup’. But I always had the belief I’d have a very big journey, and it ended up (happening) sooner than I thought.”

Nabbout’s 2018 World Cup campaign was cut short by a shoulder injury suffered against Denmark. He required surgery and was initially given an estimated six-month stint on the sidelines. 

But less than four months later, he was back in action in the J1 League with his Japanese club.

Nabbout describes himself as an “aggressive rehabber” – and so often throughout his career it has helped him return from injury at an alarming pace.

In 2021, it’s what helped him become an A-League Men Champion for the very first time, just weeks after snapping his adductor tendon off the bone.

“I was not supposed to play in that game, I can tell you that much,” he says. “It is normally a 12 to 14-week injury, I think I was told by the doctor. It was a really big one, But when I spoke to our head of performance, Andrew McKenzie, he said: ‘I’m gonna get you back in four weeks. We’re gonna get you ready for the Grand Final’.”

Nabbout suffered the injury against Adelaide United in mid-May. He returned less than one month later for a 46-minute cameo against Newcastle Jets, before playing off the bench in the Grand Final in late June.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always been a really, aggressive rehabber and I always find myself coming back a lot earlier than expected and a lot stronger than before,” Nabbout says. “But even four weeks for me, I didn’t really believe that I could be able to do that.

“In the first sort of acute phase of any injury, which is the first week or two, I literally don’t even leave home. I’m either going to training and rehabbing at training and then I’m coming home and I’m just icing on and off all day.

“I was, to be completely honest with you, probably playing at about 50%. My groin was still hanging on a bit. I had it heavily strapped and I knew that I wasn’t going to start. But I knew that at some point I’d probably have to come on and, and make an impact.”

Nabbout played 17 minutes off the bench in City’s maiden Grand Final triumph over Sydney FC that season. He will hope to feature more prominently for his side in Saturday’s title decider against Central Coast Mariners, although competition for minutes is fierce as part of a City squad oozing with talent. 

Lifting a fifth piece of silverware in three seasons at City would be an immense source of pride to a player who, at 22, was wrapping his head around the possibility of walking away from the professional game. 

The birth of his first child, Rio, in 2019 helped reaffirm the notion that the career he willed into existence is now allowing him to both fulfil his professional ambitions while carving out a better life for his son.

“It’s given me a real purpose in what I do,” says Nabbout. “I have a responsibility to create a life, and a solid future for my wife and I, but since Rio has come into the world, it’s given me even more purpose to make sure his life is easier. 

“Of course, I’m going to teach him the value of hard work. But as I grew up, watching my parents both work multiple jobs to give us a future, it’s made me appreciate what they did and how hard it was for them. The harder I work now, the easier life will be later on.

“But in terms of football, I wish I could say he’s taking an interest! We put him in a football school for a term, but we’ve taken him out because all he wants to do is play golf – which I am absolutely obsessed with nowadays. 

“To have Rio wanting to play golf gives me extra excuses to get out on the golf course. It gives us a real bond together, because he’s a big mumma’s boy.

“At the moment, if you ask me right now, that’s the path I can see him going down: being a golfer, which I have absolutely no problems with.”