Melbourne City’s Michael Zullo against Edgeworth Eagles in the FFA Cup. Photo: Max Mason HubersEvery team has a buzz around it at the start of the season, but it’s impossible to escape the vibe around Melbourne City this year. Perhaps it’s the run that has taken the club to the semi-final of the FFA Cup.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the players and staff now feel at home at the City Football Academy, the purpose-built headquarters they moved into next to La Trobe University midway through last season.
Or maybe it’s simply because there are so many new players and fresh faces and their optimism is rubbing off.
One of those new boys, former Socceroo left-back Michael Zullo, is hoping to surf on the wave of hope all the way to the Asian Champions League and put himself in line again for a recall to n colours.
But, says the former Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United man, who also spent five years in The Netherlands with FC Utrecht, his first priority is to establish early season bragging rights in the Victorian capital with a win over Melbourne Victory in Saturday night’s derby.
Zullo, who missed a whole year after an anterior cruciate ligament injury while training for Utrecht in July, 2014, cannot wait to get out on the pitch in front of a large and and passionate crowd and make his debut for his new employers.
Its understandable given his long absence and the frustration he felt at being named on the bench for City’s opening round 1-1 draw in Sydney without getting the chance to take part.
“I was a little bit disappointed I didn’t get to play against Sydney but it was a pretty quick turnaround from where I have been injured,” he said on Thursday.
“I have had another week of training under my belt and it will have done me the world of good. I am hoping to get a start and contribute during the game.”
Its significance in a wider context has not been lost on Zullo either.
“For us, the three matches against Victory are the biggest, apart from finals games. Winning on Saturday could be a massive step forward in our season.”
“Everyone at the club is looking forward to this weekend. It is the sort of game I want to be part of, to play in. We all know Victory were the best team in the league last year, and in the front third they are probably the most dangerous team in the league.
“But if we want to be the best club in we have to beat the strongest teams. “
Zullo signed a one year deal with City; there was interest from elsewhere in the A-League and the possibility of playing in Europe and he acknowledges opting for such a short term deal was a calculated gamble.
“I have lived a nomadic life the past four or five years, but that’s the nature of being a footballer. If you want to try and maximise your opportunities you have to be ready to up and leave when you have to. Here is no different, it’s only a one year contract for me.
“I am definitely hoping I can prove myself and it’s definitely a place I can see myself staying longer. I am very happy off the park and on the park, Melbourne City provide everything you need to be a footballer.”
The A-League that he has returned to (he made his name with Roar over three years ago bursting on to the scene in 2007 as a tricky teenage left-winger) is now a very different beast, he says, an improved competition at every level.
“It’s now a place where you can really establish yourself and have a strong career and give yourself a stepping stone to be a part of bigger things, whether the Asian Champions League or the national team. They are both pretty big carrots in a footballer’s career. The ACL is something that aligns with what Melbourne City wants to do as well.”
He is reluctant to talk too much about an international recall, but left-back is one of the positions in the Socceroo squad that could provide an opening.
“I don’t want to speculate too much on where I stand. For me this year is just about performing.
“I had a huge injury lay off with a reconstruction, so for me coming back a year after such a big injury is just about getting some consistency in training and playing, performing and showing people what I can do. Whatever comes of it so be it, but I am definitely not banking on it or waiting for a call.”
The FFA Cup semi-final against Perth next Wednesday may at the back of his mind, while Victory is front and square, but Zullo says the whole City mindset will shift to that as soon as Saturday night’s game is over.
“Winning the trophy can be a massive kick in the right direction for us. All of our planning has been for moving forward over the next three or four years, but it’s based solely around being successful on the park.
“If we can be successful on the park we can build off it. It’s up to us to kick that upwards trend and it could be something as simple as winning the FFA Cup. Not that that’s simple, but it would be the first piece of silverware for us as a club, and it would be fantastic to be part of that as a player.”