As an academy acolyte at Manchester United, Grant Brebner once appeared in respected football magazine FourFourTwo.
Loading article content
In the end, he did not follow the illustrious path of his best friend and former youth team contemporary, Phil Neville, into the Manchester United first team squad. Neither did he go on to lead his country. Instead, a peripatetic career took him through Reading, Cambridge, United, Stockport County, Hibernian and Dundee United, before settling in Australia with Melbourne Victory. There are those who argue that he never properly fulfilled his talents.
In his more reflective moments, he might admit that himself.
Yet Brebner's is a human tale as much as a sporting one. From his late teens, he has been in the grip of a gambling addiction that, he now pragmatically concedes, will plague him for the rest of his life. If the wrestle with his demons stymied the development of that early promise, and there is no doubt that it did, then that is life. Reflecting on the what ifs' of Brebner's career is a pointless exercise, like pondering what life would have been like if he had been a completely different person.
Brebner is what he is - a gambling addict - and the acceptance of such has offered him a degree of liberation. So, too, has his emigration to Australia. Brebner's emotional baggage far outweighed his bulging suitcases when he emerged blinking into the Melbourne sunlight in 2006.
He needed a new start and the burgeoning Hyundai A-League offered exactly that. He has never looked back. In his first season, Victory won the A-League, and Brebner picked up the first silverware of his career. Then, last season, they repeated the feat. As he sits chatting in Victory's state-of-the-art training base in the shadow of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it is clear that on-field success has been matched by a degree of off-field contentment that eluded him in his homeland.
"I stepped off the plane in June 2006 and I didn't know a single person," he says. "This is now coming up for my third year. I could rattle on endlessly about that first season in particular.
I didn't think for one minute that I would be playing in front of 40,000 crowds, and 50,000 in Grand Finals."
Almost inevitably, there have been struggles. Earlier this year he was banned for two A-League matches after betting against his own team in an Asian Champions League match. The stakes were minimal - the equivalent of a few pounds - and the midfielder was injured and not with the squad at the time. However, he was severely censured and made a public apology.
"While I have stayed on top of this for some time, I have had a regrettable lapse," he said at the time. "Iam going to get further help. I realise how important it is for me to get this right. The biggest mistake of my career has me discussing this today."
These days, unsurprisingly, he would prefer not todiscuss it. The club's press officer requests of every interviewer not to raise the subject, but Brebner knows that there is no way of avoiding the elephant in the room when discussing his life and times. As he reflects on the decision to move Down Under, he alights on the issue. "Istruggle with things off the field and I needed tostart afresh. This gave me the opportunity to do that. I have never said I was cured.
It is an ongoing issue and it will be to the day I die."
At Victory, he has a strong support system. Staff and team-mates are fiercely protective of the 31-year-old, and Brebner shares a close affinity with the head coach, Ernie Merrick, a Scot who came to Australia in the 1970s. There is an endearing vulnerability to the softly-spoken midfielder which has won him a host of friends and admirers in Australia. Not surprisingly, he will not be rushing back to Scotland.
"What I can say is that I thoroughly enjoy life over here. Team-mates are a big part of settling in and there are a great bunch of boys here. Any foreigner who comes here doesn't want to leave. I now have residency and maybe I will make it my home. Itis certainly a place that will offer opportunities as I come closer to the end of my career. Football is growing so much here and more and more kids are playing it."
Of his own formative years at Old Trafford, Brebner reflects fondly. "Whether you are a plumber or a painter and decorator, everyone wants to serve their apprenticeship at the best place and I did that at Manchester United. The dream team of Scholes and Beckham were a couple of years older than me, but I was fortunate enough to see how they conducted themselves."
The decision to leave was a no-brainer - "I was behind players like Scholes, Beckham, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Bryan Robson, players who would have walked into any team in the world" - but apermanent move to Reading under Tommy Burns did not work out.
"I scored 11 goals before Christmas and Tommy actually knocked back some offers for me. In the second six months I bought a house in the country and I couldn't advise any young player more strongly against doing such a thing. I would just go home from training to this house and basically sitabout and wait for training the next day. WhenHibs came in for me the decision was made in about 10minutes."
At his hometown club, Brebner flourished under the tutelage of Alex McLeish and spent a productive six seasons during which time he played in a Scottish Cup final and in Europe. The thought of playing in Edinburgh derbies still fires his imagination. "Not a day goes by that I wouldn't love to lead the team out in that game. I would love to just go out and rattle into a couple of tackles. I won a lot more derbies than I lost during my time at Hibs."
Brebner developed into the old head in a team fullof precocious youngsters at Easter Road. Aswellas Derek Riordan, Garry O'Connor and IanMurray, the former Easter Road captain also had an influence on the fledgling careers Kevin Thomson and Scott Brown. Mention of the latter prompts a wry chuckle.
"Scotty was a hothead. You always knew what youwere going to get from him. I remember him shouting and squaring up to older players. I'm sure he had respect for these players but he didn't always show it. I loved the fact that he did all that but I laughed at the way he went about it. I thought Kevin was theone who do really well. Hewas left-footed, had a good passing range and good control. He was very, very good."
If Neville had to leave Old Trafford to fully establish his own identity, then Brebner had to escape Scottish shores to find the stability that hislife demands. "It's been quite a journey," he sayswistfully.
He is enjoying this stage of it more than any other.