Lucas Neill is one of his role models and now Alex Wilkinson is competing with him for a spot in the Socceroos’ defence ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Wilkinson received a surprise call up into new coach Ange Postecoglou’s first national squad and is in camp hoping to make his international debut when Australia face Costa Rica at Allianz Stadium next Tuesday.
At 29, the South Korea-based former Central Coast captain is the only uncapped player in Postecoglou’s 22-man squad and says he needs to make his chance count.
“I’ve got a week to prove myself,” Wilkinson said.
“I’m going to do my best this week and if I can manage to get some game time against Costa Rica that would be fantastic.
“If not, I’m just grateful to be here and hopefully I can do enough to impress Ange and warrant a call-up in the future.
“It’s the pinnacle of the sport being at a World Cup.
“Ange has said that everyone is on a clean slate so I really need to have a good week at training and impress.”
Postecoglou has pinpointed central defence as the problem area that needs the most urgent attention and having long been a fan of Wilkinson, who he coached at under-17 and under-20 level, the new mentor sees him as part of the solution.
Wilkinson, along with Neill, Rhys Williams and Ryan McGowan, are the squad options Postecoglou has at central defence.
But while out to earn a spot, Wilkinson has also backed Neill to prove his doubters wrong.
“Every squad always has a few central defenders in it and we’re all here to hopefully play,” he said.
“But he (Neill) has been the captain of the team and a fantastic player and I’m just looking forward to meeting him and hopefully learning off him.
“He’s definitely someone I’ve looked up to, he’s been in the national team for so long and played at such a high level for so long.
“In regards to all the pressure, players are used to pressure so I’m sure he’ll do very well this week and lead the team like he always does and do a great job against Costa Rica.
“That’s the kind of player he is.”
Wilkinson spent seven seasons at the Mariners before he signed a short-term loan deal with Chinese side Jiangsu Sainty in 2011.
From there he went to current club Jeonbuk Motors where he’s been since July 2012, and he says the time at the South Korean club has transformed him not only as player but as person.
“The Korean league is a physical league… it’s fast, it’s played at a high pace so I think it’s definitely added something different to my game,” he said.
“Going to a new country where English is the second language and a completely different culture it obviously helps you grow, not only on the pitch but off the pitch as well.”