Behich’s star on the rise


Aziz Behich turned 21 last week, but the diminutive Melbourne Heart fullback has already lived a lifetime of footballing experiences – good and bad – before receiving the key to the door.

Aziz Behich turned 21 last week, but the diminutive Melbourne Heart fullback has already lived a lifetime of footballing experiences (good and bad) before receiving the key to the door.

He has become a crucial member of Melbourne Heart’s setup since being given his chance by coach John van ‘t Schip early in the club’s debut season.

Included at the expense of one of the most experienced members of the squad, Dean Heffernan, the faith shown in Behich has developed him into one of the rising stars of the Hyundai A-League.

In 18 months, he has gone from a player whose professional career was at a crossroads, into becoming one of the first picked by Van ‘t Schip every week and a crucial player in Australian Under 23 coach Aurelio Vidmar’s plan to qualify for London 2012.

“The club gave me a second chance at playing professional football and I’m really grateful for that,” Behich said after signing a two-year contract extension.

“They’ve welcomed me with open arms and I appreciate that. We’re still taking steps forward and as a player I’m learning every day.”

From the scrapheap to the Olympics in the space of two years would be quite an amazing journey for a pacey kid from Melbourne’s western suburbs, whose professional career could have ended on an infamous note.

While Melbourne Heart fans love Behich’s speedy runs down the left and combative style of play, in the blue half of town he is known as the kid who missed the unmissable goal in the 2010 Grand Final against Sydney.

Late in a game which ended up being decided on penalties, he had a chance to score the winner for Victory from about a metre. But he tried to head the ball, rather than toe it in, and watched on in misery as Victory lost the final on penalties.

That was Behich’s last Hyundai A-League game for Victory and after the completion of the AFC Champions League campaign, he was told his services would no longer be required.

He assessed his options during a spell at VPL side Hume City and decided he wanted another shot at the big time. He trialled for Heart and got his chance as an injury replacement player for Kristian Sarkies.

He came on in their first game, immediately felt and home and that he was ready to make an impression of a different kind.

“Obviously on the park there’s different coaching staff so different styles of play is the main thing,” he said when asked to compare the two teams.

“I don’t know how the (Victory’s) style is this year because I’m not there and they’ve got a new coaching staff. But with us, we try to play a nice brand of football, keep the ball, keep possession, that’s what we’re all about.”

Behich made another piece of unwanted history when he become the first player sent off in a Hyundai A-League Melbourne derby, picking up his second yellow card in a fiery match at AAMI Park.

But by January he was playing well enough to earn the nod as Young Footballer of the Month, putting him firmly on Vidmar’s radar.

In June, he made his first appearance for the Under 23 team and given his rapid development, and the difficulty of finding good consistent left backs with strong attacking qualities, he now looks ensconced and destined for London should the Under 23s make their way there.

Beyond that, and given Holger Oseick’s difficulties in finding a permanent Socceroos left back, having tried a few options, including David Carney and Michael Zullo, even higher honours could await Behich, especially with a view to Brazil 2014.

That’s well off in the distance, but given the progress Behich has made, and the fact he has secured his club future for the long term, it is certainly within realms of possibility.

And in the meantime, he has the pleasure of playing in one of the best young sides, in terms of potential, in the competition’s history.