Chelsea FC: Mark Schwarzer's Last Chance Saloon

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Chelsea FC: Mark Schwarzer's Last Chance Saloon
Matt King/Getty Images

Chelsea's new signing, Mark Schwarzer, wasn't guaranteed a starting position at Fulham following the signing of Dutch international Maarten Stekelenburg. Thus you're entitled to view his decision to willingly be Petr Cech's backup as easy money.

But the Australian deserves it after saving his European career from being thrown on the scrap heap 17 years ago. 

Even before his ill-fated Bundesliga journey, Schwarzer once had a lesser ceiling for success than compatriots Zeljko Kalacwho—would go on to play for AC Milan—and Mark Bosnich, who was so good that he was signed on two separate occasions by Sir Alex Ferguson.

"I remember in the [Nepean] under-10s, Kalac played every game and Mark [Schwarzer] spent every game on the bench," Hans Schwarzer, Mark's father, said to Aaron Timms at the Sydney Morning Herald. "Mark took it very hard."

It wasn't the only dispiriting situation Schwarzer would experience growing up, via Mark Schwarzer's World Cup Destiny: From Sydney to Stuttgart:

We decided that Blacktown City would be an ideal club for me when we discovered that Australian 1974 World Cup keeper Allan Maher was there. 

However, what seemed to be a perfect scenario turned sour when Allan was not interested in specialised keeper coaching and only wanted to coach a team. 

We quickly determined that without specialised training, we would be making a mistake by staying at Blacktown and we approached the club for a release. 

By 1993, Bosnich had played for Manchester United and Aston Villa. Schwarzer, on the other hand, was still back home with Marconi, back in the days of an ethnocentric Australian National Soccer League, via Philip Dorward at The Observer:

The way we often divided our football teams was that if you were from outside Australia then you were on the wog team and if you came from an English/Aussie background then you were on the Aussie team.

Schwarzer found himself having to prove his worth at his first professional club, Marconi, a team that began as a social club for Italians in Sydney.

It was difficult because all of a sudden I wasn't Italian and I wasn't Australian, I was a German again and I was pushed aside a little because I wasn't from their community.

His international career was kick-started by Bosnich's temporary retirement from the Socceroos, coupled with Robert Zabica receiving a fortuitous red card against Canada. 

A year later, Schwarzer was on the books of Dynamo Dresden, a reserve to Russian keeper Stanislav Cherchesov, whose kicker player rating that season was higher than Oliver Kahn's and Jens Lehmann's. 

Despite Cherchesov's heroics, Dynamo finished bottom of the league and conceded the most goals. 

The breaking point for Schwarzer would have been at Kaiserslautern, when he endured relegation again as a bench warmer. To make matters worse, the player in front of him, Andreas Reinke, was rated as the second worst keeper in the league according to kicker

Schwarzer was mulling over a return to Australia. But his girlfriend (now wife), Paloma, dissuaded him from quitting his European career.

Before mistaking Anthony Vanden Borre's red card as a substitution or stating that "Spurs were fighting like beavers," popular football broadcaster Chris Kamara used to be the Bradford City manager. He signed Schwarzer after the keeper impressed on trial for Manchester City against Bradford. 

Unbeknownst to City assistant Phil Neal (who had asked Kamara to test the Aussie trialist in goals with a strong, attacking starting XI), Kamara was looking for a keeper.

Things finally went the Aussie's way after two-and-a-half years of toiling away in Germany. 

  • Heeding to Paloma's advice on not giving up. 
  • Training with Steve Coppell's Manchester City without any guarantee of a contract.
  • Kamara losing confidence in his then-No. 1 Jonathan Gould.
  • City assistant Neal alerting Bradford manager Kamara about Schwarzer before a friendly. 
  • Agent Barry Silkman looking to wheel and deal.  

To this day, former Everton manager Joe Royle regrets the club short-changing Schwarzer, who was looking to move on from Bradford. 

"We weren't impressing Schwarzer," Royle reflected in his autobiography. "I told Peter Johnson [chairman at the time] how desperately short on personal terms I believe we had been."

Once Schwarzer signed on the dotted line for Middlesbrough, he felt secure for the first time in his European career; hence, he played 446 times for Boro. 

With his career moving forward, another barrier in the form Socceroos manager Terry Venables stood in Schwarzer's way. 

"There's a pact there and they're pushing Zeljko Kalac to be in the team to get him qualified to play overseas and that's the way it is," Schwarzer said, via Agence France-Presse. "I've had enough, I don't really care now." 

Adam Pretty/Getty Images

He would take back those words as he blossomed into an Australian hero eight years later. Schwarzer denied Dario Rodriguez and Marcelo Zalayeta in a penalty shootout against Uruguay to win the second leg of the FIFA World Cup qualification playoff. 

Typically, sheer dumb luck played a factor in Schwarzer staying on the field for the penalty shootout in what at the time was Australia's most important football match ever. 

"The statistics show Kalac's even better than Schwarzer in penalty kicks," then-Australian manager Guus Hiddink said, via Dan Baynes at Bloomberg

Kalac, 6'11", had a freakish wing-span and a sizable physical advantage over Schwarzer, 6'5". 

If not for Brett Emerton, a robust road-running utility player, cramping up, it would have been Kalac subbed on for Schwarzer instead of Josip Skoko replacing Emerton.

"When Emmo [Emerton] came off, the boss [Hiddink] turned around to me and said: 'I'm sorry,'" Kalac said to Michael Cockerill at The Sydney Morning Herald

Hiddink lived up to his moniker, 'Lucky Guus.'

Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Kalac's struggles at AC Milan may have served as a cautionary tale for Schwarzer, prompting him to turn down Bayern Munich and Juventus for Fulham. 

"Bayern made it clear I would be the second-string goalkeeper, so that left me with no choice," he said to Ray Gatt at The Australian. "It would have been professional suicide to sit on the bench and play second fiddle, which is what I would have had to do behind the likes of Gianluigi Buffon."

Perhaps Schwarzer's biggest regret to date was not moving to Arsenal, where the No. 1 spot was up for grabs. 

The allure of playing for a major club and his family being based in London would explain the choice to sign with Chelsea. 

When he spoke about declining major clubs during the prime of his career, he said: "Had I been a lot younger, then I would have been mad not to take one of those offers." That's also applicable to Mitch Langerak, 24, the heir apparent to Roman Weidenfeller at UEFA Champions League finalist Borussia Dortmund

Mat Ryan, 21, Australia's best keeping prospect since Langerak, will commence his first season with Club Brugge, the current club of former Chelsea great Eiður Guðjohnsen. 

Adelaide United's 32-year-old Eugene Galeković, aside from a brief stint with Portuguese club Beira-Mar, doesn't have the CV to oust Schwarzer. So you begin to understand the 40-year-old's calculated risk in signing with the Blues. 

Galeković is going to have to play every game like he did against South Korea, where he made a plethora of brilliant saves, to dislodge Schwarzer as the nation's No. 1 goalie for next year's World Cup. 

Throughout Schwarzer's career, he's referenced this cliché during the character-testing times, via Mark Schwarzer's World Cup Destiny: From Sydney to Stuttgart: "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

He needs one final break to go his way if he's to succeed in his first and last chance at a world-class club.

 

Follow @allanjiangLIVE

Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.comFox Soccer and Squawka.com

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