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Opinion

Whatever Happened To… James Troisi

5 months ago
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Born in Adelaide, Australia to a Greek mother and an Italian father, James Troisi was spotted by Newcastle talent scouts and invited to The Toon for a trial.

The 16 year old Aussie impressed Beardsley and Carver with his pace, trickery and two-footed tenacity and was subsequently offered a scholarship by the club. His family had to take out a credit loan to up sticks and move to the North East so Troisi could follow his dream of playing in the Premier League.

He was earning only £100 a week at that time and he would walk to training every day to save money on public transport. It wasn’t until he earned a professional contract almost two years later that his family could afford to pay off their debts and Troisi could afford to focus fully on his development.

Despite the sacrifice and dedication shown, it didn’t go to plan for Troisi at Newcastle as the young prospect only made it as far as the bench under Sam Allardyce, and was then released by Kevin Keegan. Fans could be forgiven for asking not, “What happened to James Troisi?” but “Who is James Troisi?”.

However, NUFC anoraks like myself will likely remember the young Socceroo, a shining light in the academy alongside the likes of local lads, Andy Carroll and Fraser Forster. Of course, both Carroll and Forster went on to forge fairly successful Premier League careers but Troisi’s path in football has been much more complicated and less travelled than the Geordie pair.

After being released by the club amid the Cockney Mafia takeover, Troisi decided to join Genclerbirligi in the Turkish Super Lig on the advice of friend and mentor, Emre. The club have a long tradition of signing aspiring youngsters – their name literally translates to ‘Youth Union’ and at 20 years old, Troisi was desperate to get a season of first team football under his belt.

It was a baptism of fire for Troisi who would feature in 29 games for the club who battled bravely against relegation, retaining their place in the league on the final day of the season. Still, this was a successful season for Troisi as he contributed 6 goals, 3 of which were scored in a 3-1 victory over Kayserispor who he would end up signing for at the end of the season. He also made his full international debut against Singapore, which must have felt like a proud moment and a huge step in his fledgling career.

With the knowledge that another big season in Turkey could well catch the attention of the Socceroos manager, Pim Verbeek, as he prepared to select his squad for the 2010 World Cup, Troisi decided to sign a 3 year contract with Kayserispor. He featured in 25 games in his first season but only played the full 90 minutes on 6 occasions. The team finished 8th in what was a fairly uneventful time for Troisi, who went under the radar for most of the season.

His second season began with more vigour, as he started the first 6 games in the league, scoring 2 goals. His new manager, Shota Arveladze, obviously had faith in the youngster but during the sixth game, he picked up a nasty ankle injury which would keep his out for six months and dash his chances of a World Cup call up. Determined to come back stronger and pick up where he left off, Troisi returned before the expected date but struggled to get back into the starting eleven consistently for the remainder of the season. His most notable contribution coming against Eskisehirspor where he scored a brace in an important 2-1 victory. His team ended up finishing 6th in the league, narrowly missing out on European football.

After a couple of fairly lacklustre seasons, Troisi knew that he would have to produce more eye catching performances in his third season if he was to have a chance of realising his potential and capturing the attention of teams in Europe’s ‘big leagues’.

Then 30 games and 11 goals later, he was the luminous star in an otherwise flimsy squad for Kayserispor who lumbered to an 11th place finish in the league. This was without doubt his most prolific season to date but controversy was lurking at the end of the season. Kayserispor released a statement that suggested that Troisi had went missing, “leaving the club without permission.” A complaint to FIFA followed. Troisi fought back claiming that the reason for his absence was due to late payment of his wages and unprofessional conduct from the club. Troisi won the battle in the end and, taking the advice of the Australian footballers union, he decided to terminate his contract early.

After such a spectacular season, Troisi was certainly not short of potential suitors. Qatari club, El Jaish, apparently offered him a mammoth wage to join them but his dad said that “from a purely football stand point, Europe is preferable.” Chris Hughton, Norwich manager at the time, who had worked with Troisi at Newcastle, also enquired about his services but the move didn’t materialise.

His actual destination probably shocked most in the football community as he was offered the opportunity to sign with Italian giants, Juventus. The former NUFC prospect would move to Turin before being immediately sold to Atalanta in a complicated co-ownership deal which is actually quite common in Italy. It was reported that Troisi was being used as a bargaining chip in a deal to bring Manolo Gabbiadini to the club. Gabbiadini did sign for Juventus but he never played a single game for the senior team. The deal itself was perplexing, perhaps even suspicious, but it would not be the first or last of this type of transfer deal to happen in Italy.

Despite the complexity of the transfer, James Troisi was now a Serie A player, and would have the chance to hone his skills in his father’s homeland and one of the biggest leagues in Europe. Despite high hopes, Troisi spent much of the season on the bench and only ended up making 8 appearances across all competitions in a frustrating season. This was not good enough for a player with so much potential, particularly with the 2014 World Cup looming at the end of the following season. Troisi illustrated his irritation in an interview later saying “I hardly played and it was my lowest time in football, that’s not what I went for.” Juventus decided to buy out his contract for 1 million euros but clearly had no intention of actually using the player.

Despite more talk surfacing about a potential move to Norwich to reunite with Chris Hughton, Troisi decided to accept a season long loan to A League side Melbourne Victory back in Australia. Troisi had the World Cup at the back of his mind when making this move, hoping to be put in the spotlight on home soil before the squad for the finals was decided. He made a jet-fueled start to the season, scoring 5 goals in his first 5 games. Troisi continued to show impressive form as the season progressed, scoring 15 goals in 35 games in total, ranking as the league’s second top goalscorer. The Victory finished 4th in the league and Troisi was selected to travel to Brazil to compete on the biggest stage of all. The gamble of leaving Europe to put himself in contention for a call up had paid off and he could look forward to his first big tournament with the Socceroos.

Australia were drawn into a classic group of death with Chile, Holland and Spain and fell to inevitable defeats against each team. Troisi wasn’t given a place in the starting eleven during the tournament but he did make it on as a sub against Chile and Spain which must have been a source of great pride.

The World Cup was over for another four years and Troisi was yet again looking for a club with Juventus unwilling to give him a chance in their first team squad. There were many offers in Australia after his sterling performances in the previous season but Troisi knew he would have to play in Europe again if he was to improve as a player. This was also a big risk with the Asian Cup on home territory coming up the following year which he was desperate to play a part in.

Zulte-Waregem of the Belgian Pro League came knocking and a season long loan deal was secured. This was a club where Troisi could be pretty sure he would be playing in the starting eleven week in, week out, giving him the platform to impress before the Asian Cup. He played well in most of the games in the build up to the January Asian Cup competition and as a result was called up to the Australia squad by Ange Postecoglou.

His start to the competition couldn’t have been any better as he scored in the opening game in a 4-1 thrashing of Kuwait. Despite his goal, he was replaced in the starting eleven against Oman but regained his place in the team in the final group game against South Korea. The remainder of his tournament was spent in the guise of impact sub as he helped the Socceroos all the way to the final in which they would play a rematch against South Korea in Sydney.

Troisi came on with 20 minutes to go when it seemed that Australia had already done enough to win the competition. Of course, football doesn’t always go to plan and Son-Heung Min of Tottenham fame clearly hadn’t read the script as he hammered home an equalising goal in added time. 30 minutes of extra time ensued. With both teams throwing punches back and forth, Tomi Juric persisted with a mazy run, unhindered by the South Korea defence. He whipped a teasing ball into the box which the keeper palmed into the path of Troisi. He was presented with a gilt edged chance to win the game and the competition for the Aussies. Troisi duly obliged, thumping the ball victoriously into the back of the net.

Australia won the tournament for the first time in their history and it was Troisi’s name that would be carved into the history books. In an emotional post match interview he thanked his parents for their sacrifices stating, “To make my mum and dad so proud was payback for everything we’ve been through and all the support they’ve given me. They left everything behind for me when we moved to Newcastle.” It seemed in this moment that it had all been worth it for Troisi and his doting family.

Shortly after the wild celebrations that followed the final win, it was back to Belgium and back to reality for Troisi. He returned to the first team in February and played the final games of the season, none of which were wins. Zulte finished 12th (out of 16) in the league and a largely uneventful domestic season came to an end for Troisi. The only thing he may be remembered for in Belgium is a 40 yard chipped goal he scored against fellow Australian Mathew Ryan in a defeat against Brugge (well worth a search on YouTube).

Despite his historic heroics in the Asian Cup, Troisi was left out of the national squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Bangladesh and Tajikistan with manager, Ange Postecoglou, suggesting his physical condition had deteriorated in the second half of the season and advising him to find a club quickly at the end. Still contracted to Juve, but of course surplus to requirements, the usual talk of him being loaned back to the A League arose. The main stumbling block being the wages they would have to pay to secure the loan signing.

On the final day of the transfer window, Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad, submitted a loan bid which was accepted by club and player, most likely as a last resort. Troisi made only 10 appearances for the side, scoring one goal, but his stay was cut short as the player terminated his contract due to late payment of wages. This was not the first time Troisi had faced this problem in his career and, in no mood to play games, he took the club to court and they were ordered to pay all wages owed in full as well as compensation. Troisi was also released from his ‘phantom’ Juventus contract at this point, with both club and player agreeing the arrangement was now detrimental to both parties.

james troisi

‘James Troisi – The hair a little bit shorter now’

This left James Troisi in dire straights and desperate to find a club for the rest of the season. Living up to his growing (and probably unwanted) reputation of the journeyman, he signed for Chinese Super League side Liaoning Whowin, joining fellow countryman Michael Thwaite. He started the first two games he was available but dropped to the bench for the third after unimpressive performances. He was then deemed not even good enough for the squad before picking up an ankle injury which kept him out of action for a month. He never got back into the squad in what must have felt like the most frustrating period of his career. It was reported that there was also another payment dispute lodged by Troisi as he became embroiled in a bitter stand-off with the chairman who sought to terminate his contract for a cut price pay out.

Now 28 years old, Troisi should have been in the prime of his career and settled at a club where he could progress and feel wanted. Despite many rumours linking him with a move back to Turkey, on August 1st 2016, Troisi decided it was finally time to return to the A League. He signed a one year deal with Melbourne Victory and played 26 games over the season, contributing 6 goals and 5 assists. They finished second in the league and made it to the last match of the finals series in which they were beaten 4-2 on penalties by Sydney FC, despite Troisi burying the first penalty.

Out of contract, unsurprisingly Troisi was linked yet again to a reunion with Chris Hughton, manager of Premier League new boys Brighton at this point. It seemed like a crack at the Premier League could finally be a reality but the club and player could not come to an agreement over wages with Troisi reportedly asking for double what was offered by the club.

Instead, Troisi decided to use the forthcoming Confederations Cup as an advertising window for his services, as well as staking a claim to be in the next Asian and World Cup squads. They only qualified for this tournament as a result of Troisi’s heroic winning goal in the Asian Cup final so his stake on the international scene was still fairly high.

Australia battled bravely but were ultimately knocked out in the group stage after two draws and a defeat. Troisi featured in all three of the games, scoring a goal against Chile, but this wasn’t enough to attract a suitable offer from a European club. After much deliberation, he decided to sign a two year contract which would see him return to Melbourne for the third time. The Victory fan favourite knew this was a safe bet as he could stand out in the A League which would hopefully ensure his inclusion in future international squads.

Another productive season in Melbourne followed with Troisi leading his side to the A League trophy, playing in 30 games and scoring 4 goals. Despite being heavily involved and gaining plaudits for his performances, new Australia manager Bert van Marwijk decided to leave him out of the squad for the World Cup in Russia. Despite feeling he should have been selected, Troisi took the rejection maturely saying, “At the time it’s disappointing but I’m big enough and grown up enough to move on.”

Of course the Asian Cup would take place only six months after the World Cup which would give him the opportunity to gain his place back in the squad to play in the tournament he has such fond memories of. Australia only gained a point from their three group games in Russia so it seemed Troisi didn’t miss much.

The following season with The Victory started well as they won 6 games from the first 8, Troisi pitching in with a goal and 3 assists. He would have been confident that a call up to the Asian Cup was imminent on the back of this but when new manager and Australia international set up stalwart Graham Arnold announced the squad, Troisi’s name was not on the list. This time Troisi did not respond well. Troisi was seething and took aim at the new manager declaring the squad was “not picked on performance or merit.” He also claimed he didn’t have contact from anyone about the omission and added “I feel I’ve done quite a lot for Australian football so a bit of a phone call would have been nice.” Without Troisi present to work his magic, Australia were beaten in the quarter finals by the hosts, UAE.

Troisi ended the season on 29 games, 5 goals and 8 assists. Melbourne finished 3rd and have the finals series to look forward to in the near future. Now 31 and out of contract at the end of June, it will be interesting to see if he stays in Australia where he has prospered or decides to take what could be one final punt on playing away from home.

When at Newcastle in the early stages of his career, he dazzled Peter Beardsley and John Carver among others, but could never quite do enough to get onto the pitch for the first team.

Fellow Aussie and ex Toon defender Craig Moore said of Troisi;

“He’s an exciting player and has a lot to offer.

“I think James has got a very good future to look forward to at Newcastle.”

As we know, despite the sacrifices he and his family made when they emigrated to Newcastle from South Australia all those years ago, it didn’t work out for Troisi on Tyneside, but he has certainly had a colourful career since, full of ups and downs.

Whatever his feelings about the trajectory of his career, he will always have that night in Sydney which will live long in his memory and the hearts of Aussies everywhere.

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