The five Australian talents that got away

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Thrust aside club loyalties, these players gave Australians something to shout about collectively.

These players flew the flag of Australia into the European football scene in their youth, and were destined for great things.

But, they never did realise their potential.

The Football Sack’s Ngau Kai Yan took a short trip down memory lane to unearth the five Australian talents that got away.

#5 – Kerem Bulut

Australia’s brightest teenage striker was led astray by off-field issues, and at 27 years of age, has never come close to reaching the heights he promised the nation.

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Kerem Bulut came onto the radar in 2010 when he was 18, and fired seven goals to send the Australia U19 to the AFC U-19 Championship finals in China. Despite losing out in the finals, Bulut was awarded the top scorer.

He made his first senior career move from Sydney FC U21 to Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in the same year, despite having not played a single minute of the A-League yet.

The trouble started brewing for Bulut, when he was said to have been involved with the notorious “MBM” (Muslim Brotherhood Militants) in a range of violent acts in Sydney.

He missed more than half a season at Mladá Boleslav because of the criminal charge. In his three years at Boleslav, Bulut only scored two goals in 23 appearances in the Fortuna Liga, with sources suggested that he was unable to perform due to the language barrier.

Despite his Turkish decent, he fared no better when he moved to Turkey in 2013 to play for Akhisar Belediyespor and Karsiyaka (loan) where he drew blanks in 22 appearances over a two year period. He experienced a mini revitalisation in his career when he returned to Australia to Western Sydney Wanderers in the summer window of 2014/15.

A return of five goals in nine appearances in the A-League was decent, but his criminal intimidation charge at an Auburn Maccas (ironically one of WSW’s sponsors) overshadowed his short stint. He jumped ship once more, to Greece’s Iraklis, but was back at the Wanderers after scoring just one goal in 24 appearances.

His “goal” against Melbourne City was the only one recorded in his six appearances. The Football Sack’s Joshua Thomas previously spelled out four reasons why he failed in his second stint, but it was chiefly because he was expected to perform as a lone striker.

He quietly departed Australia once more and saw more fruitless minutes with Germany’s SV Wehen Wiesbaden and Turkey’s Menemen Belediyespor. Being the enigma that he is, Bulut was catapulted back into the limelight once more in 2018, after testing positive for cocaine use, and was handed a hefty four year ban in the Turkish league.

A physically imposing striker that could’ve changed the Socceroos fortunes of late now lies on the sidelines of football, his destiny not even fully in his hands. Now unattached, Bulut knows that this is his final chance to rewrite his namesake, but which club will take the plunge on this unpredictable character?

#4 – Dean Bouzanis

Having been on the books of Premier League giants Liverpool and with manager Rafa Benitez heaping on the praise, Dean Bouzanis had everything he needed to develop into a fine goalkeeper – but he fell short, way short.

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What were you doing at Year 11? Well, 16 year old Bouzanis had trained with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso at Liverpool, signed a lucrative three year deal and was labelled by Rafael Benitez as the “best goalkeeper in the world for his age”. After spending some time as a backup with Sydney FC in 2007, he made some appearances for Liverpool’s U18 and reserve teams, before going on loan to Accrington Stanley.

With Pepe Reina, Péter Gulácsi, and fellow compatriot Brad Jones in goal, Bouzanis’ found it harder and harder to break through with each passing season, and left Liverpool in 2011. He signed for Oldham Athletic, trusting them to provide him regular minutes, for an Olyroos call up for the London 2012 Olympic. However, he was not given the crucial opportunity to audition for the Olyroos, and the phone never rang.

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He did go on to make 45 appearances in his two seasons at the Latics, but left England just as he was starting to gain some traction in his performances. The 23-year-old left to Greek club Aris Thessaloniki, making just two appearances, losing both matches. He then returned to England on a free transfer to Carlisle United on a short term deal, but made no appearances. In 2014, he returned back to Australia since his move to Liverpool, joining Western Sydney Wanderers as a reserve keeper.

While he only made six league appearances and no AFC Champions League appearance in his maiden season at the club, he and his side managed to cop the AFC Champions title, and Bouzanis walked away with his first and only major trophy to date. In the summer transfer window of his second season, he left for Melbourne City.

He finally managed to secure his spot as the first choice keeper in the 2016/17 season, after years of playing second fiddle. He started 42 regular league games in his two full seasons at City, but returned to Europe to join PEC Zwolle in the Eredivisie as a back up.

He created some A-League memories, for his irregular performances and for receiving a five match ban for calling Melbourne Victory’s Besart Berisha a “f***ing gypsy”. Bouzanis has recently registered some games for the PEC reserve side, but has yet to make an appearance in the Eredivisie.

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It looks unlikely that PEC will exercise their option to sign him, but if they do, the now 28 year old Bouzanis will once again find himself warming the benches. Another club, but unfortunately, the same situation. It’s proving all too familiar for Bouzanis, who has seen himself tossed around as cannon fodder for the clubs. Oh how wrong Rafa was.

#3 – Kristian Sarkies

“These players are future Socceroos…” then Socceroos Assistant Coach Graham Arnold spoke about four Olyroos players called up to train with the Socceroos for the Germany 2006 Germany World Cup campaign – among them was attacking midfielder Kristian Sarkies. Who would’ve thought his last game at professional level would be just at the age of 25.

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If anything, Sarkies’ first season playing at top flight football at 18 years of age had all the signs that pointed to a future elite midfielder capable of reaching the heights of European league. In his two seasons at Melbourne Victory in 2006/07 and 2007/08, Sarkies made 35 appearances. Although a significant portion of them was off the bench, the exciting, rising star was invited by Guus Hiddink to be part of the Socceroos’ training on squad in just Sarkies’ first season.

In his second season, Sarkies lifted the Premier’s Plate with Victory, and wrote himself into A-League folklore by smooching Prime Minister John Howard’s shiny, bald head at the prize presentation.

Sarkies then joined Adelaide United in the next season, the club he thumped 6-0 in navy blue colours in the grand final. The talent was there, but Sarkies was befallen with a multitude of injuries at his stay at Adelaide. Deep vein thrombosis, soft tissue injuries and a broken leg kept him out for large majorities of his three year stay at the Reds, despite playing a crucial role in helping them manoeuvre through the later stages in the AFC Champions League, and FIFA Club World Cup.

He left Adelaide after just making 33 appearances for the new team in town, Melbourne Heart. Arriving at the club still nursing his broken leg, Sarkies unfortunately wasn’t able to cement himself a regular spot in the first team, and only managed 11 appearances at his two years at Heart. The A-League was the highest level of competition he would play, something even himself, let alone football fans wouldn’t have foreseen.

He was then 25, and he went on to play for lower league sides in Heidelberg United, Port Melbourne Sharks, Bulleen Lions, Goulburn Valley Suns, and Dandenong Thunder. Sarkies is now 32, and is the club captain of, Beaumaris SC, who play in Victorian State League Division 1.

Sarkies’ unfortunate spell with injuries is a grave reminder that even the brightest player with the right attitude and mindset will find it tough to reach the heights they are easily capable of.

#2 – Marc Warren

You all know the deal. The teen prodigy that ousted Socceroos’ Trent Sainsbury for a contract at UK’s Sheffield United. A player that was billed for so much greatness – faded into nothingness. And let’s not forget that Marc Warren’s only 27.

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The left back burst onto the scene when he was plucked by Central Coast Mariners alongside Sainsbury from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Football Program. The pair went on a trial at Sheffield United, as part of the Coast’s partnership with the Blades. United clearly saw something in him during the two week trial, and off Warren went, having not even been involved with the Coast’s senior squad. 19-year-old Warren however, failed to make a senior start for the club in his two years there, and was released at the end of his contract.

As a free agent, he could not even make the cut trialing for Western Sydney Wanderers, but managed to snag a deal at Scottish club Airdrie United. It wasn’t a pretty sight as Warren failed to help the club stay up in the Scottish first division, averaging a paltry 0.59 points in his 27 league games. Warren managed to earn himself a contract at Sydney FC after leaving Airdrie United after just one season.

He had a fairly decent start, albeit peppered with many blooper-worthy moments. After picking up a red card in his fifth match for the Sky Blues, he only found himself playing for them another three times, on the back of a groin injury. For the Sydney fans who are absolutely furious about how Warren made it into this list, fret not. We hope we can appease you with this video of the man in action, compiled by none other than himself (we believe).

Spending just a year with Sydney FC, he went to APIA Leichhardt in New South Wales’ National Premier Leagues (NPL NSW) in the 2014/15 season. The 23-year-old was picked up by Perth Glory two years later, marking his final return to top flight. His first at the Perth outfit started promisingly, Warren claimed the left back spot and started 22 games in the regular season. His game time reduced considerably in the subsequent two seasons, making only 13 and two appearances respectively.

He was released just last year (2018), in the summer window, and has since returned kitted up for APIA Leichhardt and Marconi Stallions for short stints, and is now plying his trade for Sutherland Sharks.

We all seem to love the man nonetheless, so here’s a beautiful tribute penned by The Football Sack’s Benito Carbone back in 2018.

Warren only just turned 27 this year, leaving many to wonder what went wrong with his career? Was he unlucky with his transfers, or did he just lack the talent to take it all the way through? There’s still time left in his playing days, could we be seeing the unlikeliest of late resurgence in Marc Warren? He must’ve been selected over Sainsbury for a reason?

#1 – Kaz Patafta

The name boggles, and so does his career trajectory. From being signed to Benfica and managed by Jorge Mendes, to struggling at A-League clubs, and effectively retired at the age of 22 – Kaz Patafta’s footballing journey is one you wouldn’t even wish on your most hated payer.

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His performances for Australia at the Peru U17 World Cup put him in the same bracket as fellow participants Anderson, Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos, and the quartet were only waiting to be picked up and groomed by Europe’s biggest clubs.

They all did succeed (to a certain extent), but Patafta was never mentioned in the same breath as the rest. Labelled “the most technically gifted player I’ve coached” by Ante Postecoglou, the #10 was courted by PSV Eindhoven and Benfica at the age of 16, after not a single A-League club approached him.

He ended up not only getting a four year contract with the Portuguese giants, but he was also invited for Guus Hiddink’s 2006 FIFA World Cup train-on squad. Patafta kept up his performances for the side, had a handful of games for the senior side, and featured regularly for the youth team. He was offered a contract by Benfica’s direct rivals, Porto after his showing at the Portuguese Youth Cup final but he decided to stay with the Eagles.

In his second year, Patafta locked down a move to Melbourne Victory in search of more playing time at a higher level, despite stern advice that his European playing days would be over. Unfortunately for Patafta, his advisors were right. Patafta made 14 appearances for Victory, but only two of them were starts. With a poor return of one goal in 291 minutes of game time, the Canberra born Patafta sought an early release from his Benfica contract.

His move to join the Newcastle Jets did not only shock Victory fans (who thought he would’ve re-signed for them), but also Australian fans. Why is our 19 year old wonderkid back on our shores so soon? His three mediocre seasons at the club did nothing to ail fans’ doubt that Patafta was another one of Australia’s “Golden Generation” gone missing.

With just 10 starts in the A-League season with the Jets, Patafta involvement in most of his games were off the bench, scoring only one goal. By age 22, Patafta called time on his game and was officially “retired”. He might’ve had a few run outs for Canberra FC, Sydney United 58, Khonkaen United (Thailand), and Lanexang United (Laos), but Patafta never did play at a professional level again.

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So where did it all go wrong for Patafta? While he did have his fair share of injury like any football player, it was never career threatening. Some blamed his unwillingness to work on his physical game, given his 1.74m stature, while others claimed he simply did not have the willpower to succeed at the highest levels of the game – and took the easy way out.

Now 30, he has since put his Deakin Law Degree to good use, acting as special counsel and legal advisor to several firms. On the football front, he enjoyed a short lived tenure as the general manager of a Laos football team, after failing in his application to become Sydney FC CEO, and his attempt to play for the Laos national team (his mother was born in the capital Vientiane). There is however, some light at the end of Patafta’s unfortunate football tunnel. Together with his brother, he runs Patafta Football, a youth development program, which has seen youth footballers go on successful trials at Rayo Vallecano, Levante UD and Belenenses.

There’s always “ifs” and “buts” when it comes to pathways a footballer has had to make, but just imagine if Patafta turned out the player he was supposed to be. A left footed, zippy, technically brilliant creative midfielder – a rare gem that the Socceroos would really kill for right now. From playing with the likes of Rui Costa and David Luiz, to teeing the legal lines in the corporate world – only Patafta himself will truly know where his success story lies at.

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Ngau Kai Yan
Ngau Kai Yanhttp://ngaukaiyan.com
Journalism undergrad at Monash University, Kai is a multimedia journalist covering Melbourne Victory. Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. Once "stole" Shinji Kagawa's plane ticket.

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