Injuries, vice-captaincy and hopes of a Socceroos recall – All in a year’s work for Josh Risdon

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Many fans are quick to forget that Josh Risdon was selected in the Socceroos’ 2018 FIFA World Cup squad.

Not only was he selected, but he was one of the few players to have played 90 minutes in all three games against France, Denmark and Peru.

While the team secured only one point, Risdon’s performances left no doubt in the minds of Australian football fans that he was the premier right-back in the country.

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Fast forward three-and-a-half years, and Risdon finds himself at a crucial stage of his career.

After making the move from Western Sydney Wanderers to Western United ahead of the club’s inaugural 2019/20 season, the 29-year-old’s form has been impacted by some devastating leg injuries over the past 12 months.

After suffering a tibial stress fracture during pre-season, Risdon went on to suffer complications.

He managed to return to the pitch in round 17 of the 2020/21 season, making a late cameo off the bench against Central Coast Mariners.

However, three games later, an ankle ligament injury put an end to the defender’s season.

It had consisted of three games and three separate injuries.

For a player who was just one season removed from a standout 2018 World Cup campaign, it was a tough pill to swallow.

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“I guess for me, the toughest part was just the setbacks. It wasn’t like I had one injury that ruled me out for the whole year. It was an initial one and then another setback after two or three months,” Risdon said.

“I got my first injury and then when I was doing rehab I injured it again. That there was eight months out of the game. Then working so hard to get back after those eight months and my third game back it was yet another injury, but the other leg.”

Footballers love to play football. It seems like a relatively silly thing to say, but taking away someone’s ability to do what they love can have a powerful impact.

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Yet Risdon never once let the injury affect his want or passion to play.

When questioned on whether retirement ever creeped into the back of his mind, the veteran was staunch in his response.

“No, I never thought about that. I always had a pretty positive mindset to just get back as soon as I could,” he said.

“Obviously injuries are part and parcel of the game and it was frustrating. It’s not like it was soft tissue, they were just contact injuries from matches.”

Some believe there is a silver-lining behind all unfortunate circumstances. For the former Perth Glory junior, these injuries presented a chance to become more of a leader within the club.

This was recognised a few weeks ago by new head coach John Aloisi, who named Risdon Western United’s vice-captain.

“When they pulled me aside to say that I’d be the vice-captain this season, it was a pretty humbling moment for me. It’s something I’m really enjoying, but also not something I ever really thought I’d put my hand up for,” Risdon said.

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It’s all about adding different strings to the bow. For Risdon, the next string is securing a spot in Graham Arnold’s 2022 World Cup Squad in Qatar, while also developing as a leader at Western United.

“Missing 12 months of football you realise you miss playing for your club and then for your country. There’s a lot of national team games coming up before the World Cup so if I can keep growing and doing well for Western United then hopefully I can get another call-up,” he said.

“To go to another World Cup would be an unreal achievement, and something I’ve definitely set as a goal.”

Both the right and left side of defence have been troubled positions for Australia over the course of the past 12 months. Aziz Behich and Rhyan Grant have made the positions their own, but disappointing performances over the recent World Cup qualifiers has left the door ajar to other options.

The four-at-the-back system that Arnold employs with the national team is perfectly suited to a defensively-strong and high-energy player like Risdon. That’s why he played all three games at the 2018 World Cup and has been in high-demand whenever he’s been out-of-contract in the A-League Men.

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However, all that counts for nothing if he can’t put in consistently good performances this season.

“[Arnold] looks at how you’re playing at club level. He likes players to be in good form and most importantly playing week in and week out. That’s my first goal this season and I feel like if I can do that I’ll be in a good chance to hopefully get back into the squad,” Risdon said.

While the season is barely underway, few can argue that a fully-fit Josh Risdon is not one of the top two or three right-backs in the country.

His ability to stay healthy will be a big determinant of Western United’s success this season, though his leadership and impact on the club extends beyond the pitch.

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After two strong performances to start the season, it’s clear to see that last season’s leg injuries are a thing of the past.

United fans will be eager to watch him return to his 2019/20 form in which he played 21 games and was directly involved in eight goals – the highest of any defender in the league.

When asked about whether he was the best right-back in the country when fully fit, his response was modest.

“I don’t know about that. I’m just trying to get fit first and then we’ll see,” Risdon said.

Whilst he may not want to say it himself, a fully fit Risdon is definitely among the best defenders in the country.

It’s a big 12 months for all Socceroos hopefuls, but after all he’s gone through, perhaps none have a better chance of a recall than Josh Risdon.

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Dillon Izon
Marketing graduate at Monash University. Sports addicted, fan of Manchester United and Melbourne City. My gran “knows” Gareth Bale.

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