Scott Musgrave


Before the reign of Guus Hiddink over the Socceroos, few had heard of midfielder Jason Culina who at the time had been plying his trade with Eredivisie club FC Twente.  Now, the utility man has become a mainstay in the Australia midfield and has since gone on to win three titles with current Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven.

The Gold Coast United bound midfielder started his humble career working through the ranks of Sydney Olympic before securing a transfer to Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam. The young Culina had long admired Ajax great Marco van Basten and a move to his idol’s club was a dream. However, Jason found himself struggling to break into the Amsterdam club’s starting eleven making only two appearances before going on loan with Germinal Beerschot in Belgium’s Jupiler League.

It was at this juncture that the Socceroo decided to seek first-team football and ended up with FC Twente. Quickly establishing himself as a reliable midfielder and a handy goalscorer it wasn’t long before he got his chance at another of Holland’s giants as PSV Eindhoven came knocking. Guus Hiddink, impressed by the midfielder during his spell combining being Australia and PSV coach, and by his goalscoring record of 13 goals from midfield in the 2004/2005 season, decided he was worth quickly picking up. 

Given the chance to impress Hiddink on a daily basis at club level, the 26 year-old sought to cement his place in the Socceroos squad for the 2006 World Cup.  Used mostly as a defensive midfielder in Hiddink’s favoured 4-5-1 system, partnering Vince Grella, he became a main-stay in the Socceroo’s side on the way to the tournament in Germany, also playing the whole game against Uruguay in the final qualifying game.

His passing, vision, and ability to set the tempo of a game greatly increased the success of an Australian side in dire need of a midfield playmaker with a high work-rate. With Vince Grella doing the tackling dirty work, Culina was left to his distribution, providing the forwards with sublime passes. He played in all the games for the Socceroos in Germany and has become a key player in the Australian midfield, rarely missing a game since his first cap.

Culina, having Croatian heritage through his father Branko (also a revered figure in Australian football for his time as coach of Sydney Olympic) , had the choice of playing for either Australia or the country of his ancestors, but the ever patriotic Culina chose the Socceroos and has endeared himself to Australian fans for his determination to do everything for the shirt.  He is truly a model professional, proud to represent his country and always giving his all.

It is however unusual that Culina never made himself a first team regular at PSV. Having stints in and out of the squad and the starting eleven, he has never found himself a central figure at the club. Since the departure of Hiddink from the Eindhoven side, Culina has been under the tutelage of Ronald Koeman, Sef Vergoosen and, until most recently, Huub Stevens. The former two never seemed to rate Culina and it wasn’t until Stevens started employing him as a right wing back that he became appreciated once again.

It is possibly for this, and for other reasons, that Culina has recently agreed terms for a three-year deal with Australian A-League newcomers, Gold Coast United. The Queensland based franchise has lauded the capture of the midfielder as one of the most amazing coups since the league’s conception and they may well be right.

Still only 28 years-old, Culina has a lot to give to football, and to the Socceroos. Even the overtures of other clubs on the European continent such as Hajduk Split and a contract renewal offer from PSV, could not entice Culina to continue with his European adventure.

Culina has decided, that in his own words, he wants to showcase his talents back home when he is at his peak. He does not want to come back to the A-League, like many former Socceroos, a shadow of what he once was as a player.

Becoming the marquee signing for the Gold Coast was also not a financial choice as PSV were willing to improve his current contract that already exceeded what the Coast was willing to offer. Yet, in order to improve football standards in the country of his birth, he chose to sign for the new ambitious A-League newcomers.

Ambitious they may well be now, having already contracted former Juventus keeper Jess van Strattan, top A-League marksman Shane Smeltz and current English League One, Blackpool star, Joel Porter.  With the amount of talent at the coach Miron Bleiberg’s disposal, owner Clive Palmer has already outlandishly declared that United not only win the title in their first season, but conquer Asia soon after. Palmer even has the ambition to one day win the Club World Cup too.

Time will tell whether ‘Big Clive’ is a bag of hot air or if he actually knows what a football is.

In any case, Jason Culina will be the inaugural captain of the team, and with the ex-PSV man as the fulcrum of the squad, who knows what may be possible for his new club.

A model professional and a true patriot; Culina is the football player we all aspire to be.