Emerton aims to prove another Aussie jewel

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The Independent Football

There was a feeding frenzy of Premiership sides keen to acquire his talents. During the transfer negotiations Graeme Souness, the Blackburn Rovers manager, recalls that the phone of the player's agent was constantly ringing as more clubs joined the hunt. The pack may have given chase, but for the Australian Brett Emerton there was only one destination.

"Once I was aware of Blackburn's interest, there was no other club, I'd decided on them from the start," says Emerton. "I'd seen Blackburn a few times last season. They play a good passing game and I think I'll fit in well with that. I like to play attacking football. That's what my game is about."

The 24-year-old is a product of the celebrated Australian Institute of Sport, where he still holds numerous sprint records. From there he went on to play in Australia's National Soccer League and captained the national team for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. It was Emerton who scored the final goal to seal the Australian victory over England in a friendly earlier this year, and on 20 August he and his Socceroos have a date with the Republic of Ireland.

His arrival in England may be the fruition of a boyhood dream, but with all the bad blood that spilt out of Blackburn this summer following the acrimonious departures of David Dunn and Keith Gillespie, wasn't he rather hesitant about signing for the Lancashire club? "Not at all. The comments of Dunn and Gillespie didn't put me off. I've never been at a club where every player liked the manager."

Perhaps it was conversations with Blackburn's other Australian inter-national, Lucas Neill, that reassured him that all was rosy at the Rovers? "Not really. I talked to Lucas, but him being here was just a bonus. I chose Blackburn for my own reasons."

It was Souness who was the deciding factor in Emerton's move. "I liked the manager, not just from a football point of view but a personal one as well. That's important when you've got to work with the guy every day. I liked what he had to say about where and how he wanted me to play. We both saw my position as right midfield. I think I can do a great job for Blackburn there."

At £2.5m, Emerton could prove to be one of the most astute buys of the season. His former employers at Feyenoord certainly think so. "He's been one of our best players," says Feyenoord's technical director, Rob Baan. "His passing is excellent and he can also provide good crosses as well as goals. I hope he does very well; if one player deserves to do well it is Brett Emerton."

Emerton spent three seasons with the Dutch club, but from the outset they were aware that their emerging talent had one eye on his ultimate destination. "Feyenoord was just a stepping stone," says Emerton. "I couldn't get a work permit for playing in England at first, but I always saw the Premier League as where I wanted to be."

He responds almost with disdain to the suggestion that he may have gone to Italy's Serie A or La Liga in Spain. "No, I never wanted to play in those countries. As a kid I just dreamed of playing in England, and my plans never changed." Those plans started back in Macquarie Fields in Sydney's western suburbs when his father first handed him a "soccer ball" at the age of five. "My dad got me into the game, he used to play a fair bit. There wasn't much soccer on TV but I remember watching Ryan Giggs, he was my idol, that's how I wanted to play."

A new Giggs for the Premiership? Perhaps not, but his performances on Blackburn's pre-season tour have cast him as a star in the making. Today marks his home debut at Ewood Park, against the Italian side Chievo. The weight of an expectant audience may hang heavy on his shoulders, but they are broad enough. Emerton is a man more than comfortable with the belief in his own abilities, and his ambitions are clear.

"Blackburn did well last season qualifying for Europe," adds Emerton. "I don't think it's out of the question to be looking to get a Champions' League spot this season." Come next May, Liverpool's claim that the signing of Harry Kewell for £5m was the bargain of the season could well look like a case of right country, wrong player.