Mebrahtu eyes A-League return after lethal edge honed in Europe

Full story first published for SBS’ The World Game:

Back in Australia after spending more than four years playing abroad, Golgol Mebrahtu has set his sights on a return to the A-League – declaring that he’s hungry to contribute to a “winning culture”.

Mebrahtu has been a free agent since leaving Hungarian side Puskas Akademia following the 2019-20 season – a campaign in which the Hungarian side recorded their best-ever Nemzeti Bajnoksag finish (third) and qualified for European competition for the first time.

But having battled a series of niggling, yet frustratingly persistent, injuries and with the cloud of COVID-19 hanging over Europe and its footballing leagues, the former Olyroo made the decision to return to Australia last month.

Arriving back in Melbourne, the attacker has begun working with the highly regarded Tim Schleiger of the Sports Clinic of Melbourne to bring himself back to full fitness. 

Once there, the 30-year-old excitement-machine is targeting a return to an A-League competition in which he has had previous stints with Gold Coast United, Melbourne Heart and the Western Sydney Wanderers.

“I’ve been back here for a few weeks and everything’s looking really good,” Mebrahtu told The World Game.

“It’s good being back home and to be surrounded by some good friends of mine and family, considering where the world is at now. I’m looking to come back, put myself in a good place and look for a home here.

“I’ve had opportunities to go abroad, to play in the Middle East and Asia, but I think it’s a good time for me to come home.

“Considering all the experience I’ve gained in the past four-and-a-half years in Europe, I think I’ve got a lot to give and now would be a good time to come home, contribute to a winning team and use my experience to help a team achieve some success.”

Primarily known as a winger during his first spell in the Australian top-flight, Mebrahtu shifted into a more natural striking role during his time in the Czech and Hungarian leagues. 

And now, having added an eye for goal that proved frustratingly elusive during his first stint in Australia, the attacker believes he has what it takes to prove a difference-maker for whichever club signs him for the coming A-League campaign. 

“When I went to Europe, I was really fortunate to work with the likes of Karel Jarolim, David Jarolim and Tomas Rosicky, who all saw me as an out-and-out striker and helped make me a goalscorer,” Mebrahtu said. “I really enjoyed that and it brought the best out of me.

“But I’m also versatile in that I spent a few years out in the A-League playing out wide, and I’ve also played as a 10 in Europe as well; depending on the needs of the team.

“I think my best position is as a striker for sure, but I do have that versatility where I can play as a second striker and winger as well.”

First unearthed when then-Gold Coast United boss Miron Bleiberg noticed him training in a public park while waiting for Clive Palmer’s helicopter – Mebrahtu won a Y-League title and made 26 appearances for Gold Coast before shifting to the Heart ahead of the 2012-13 season, and then on to Western Sydney the following campaign.

Leaving Western Sydney after an injury-plagued two-and-a-half-seasons, which heartbreakingly started with the then-23-year-old injuring both his ACL and MCL just six minutes into his debut against Sydney FC, he then signed with Czech club FK Mlada Boleslav and began to find the net: scoring 10 goals in 26 appearances.

Yet, despite scoring 19 goals in 47 games across all competitions in his first two seasons with the Bohemian club and doing enough to be touted as a possible bolter in Bert van Marwijk’s 2018 Socceroos FIFA World Cup squad – the arrival of Jozef Weber as Boleslav’s coach eventually led to Mebrahtu’s disappearance from the teamsheet and exit from the club.

A move to Czech powers Sparta Prague followed, then a move to Akademia, with whom he scored two goals and netted two assists across 23 appearances in 2019-20.

“I spent a little over three years in the Czech Republic with Mlada and Sparta, who are really competing for the title every year in a very competitive league,” Mebrahtu said.

“With that competition comes a lot of pressure, a lot of intensity and a lot of competition both within your team and in the league as well. That helps you to find your character and help you grow as a player – and I relished that.

“Even if they’re not perhaps covered in Australia, those leagues are well known in Europe for producing some top-class talent and it has a rich history in football – especially in that region.

“When I moved to Sparta I was 28 years old and that was the first time that a club brought me in to have a leadership role with the team – to be a part of the leadership group. I enjoyed that quite thoroughly and I grew because of it as well.

“My intent always is to help be part of a winning culture, a successful culture. In Hungary, they brought me in specifically for that – to help lead the team on and off the pitch and we were able to achieve some impressive stuff.

“I’ve definitely grown in that area and added it to my game and I believe I can bring that to a team: the leadership capabilities that I’ve grown into in the last few years.

“I’m 30 years old now, so I really want to succeed – I believe I’m in the peak of my career right now and I want to be part of a winning culture and be part of a bit of stability.” 

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