Aussies Abroad: Holland breaking through

Australian midfielder James Holland always believed he would make it in Europe.

Australian midfielder James Holland always believed he would make it in Europe.

That is not to say he has not doubted himself from time to time. The 22-year-old, now at Austria Vienna, has not had it all his own way since he left the Newcastle Jets to sign for AZ Alkmaar in 2009.

Just 19 at the time, he initially struggled to adapt in the Netherlands and a lack of first-team football and injuries did not help.

"It was frustrating," Holland said.

"I'm a person who works hard and at times it felt like I was on a bit of a treadmill. I was working hard but I wasn't getting anywhere. The first six months for me (in the Netherlands) were personally difficult. I was young at the time and still a little bit naive."

After signing a short-term contract as an injury replacement player for the Jets in 2007, Holland's rise to stardom happened in the blink of an eye.

He scored three goals in seven Hyundai A-League appearances, earned rave reviews for his performances in midfield and came on as a substitute in the club's 2007-08 Grand Final win over the Central Coast Mariners, a club he trained and played with as a teenager.

"It all happened so quickly," he said.

"At the time I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have as I was so young. I was lucky enough to experience that early in my career... It was an amazing time.

"But then I sort of went from a somebody in Australia to a nobody in Holland. That was also a little bit difficult to deal with."

Holland still speaks highly of AZ, feels he learnt a great deal there and says the stint was instrumental in his development as a footballer. But that is looking back in hindsight and without a first-team appearance from 2009 to 2011, it is only natural that doubts would start to surface.

It was a loan stint at second-tier outfit Sparta Rotterdam that reignited Holland's stint in Europe as he scored twice in 14 impressive performances.

"Deep down I always knew I could make it and I always had the confidence to. But you do start to doubt yourself after a while of not playing. You go through periods of time where it is a little bit more difficult mentally.

"At Sparta, it was just good to start playing football again. It was something I really needed and it was good to get the minutes under my belt. At the time I was struggling a bit and it was good both physically and mentally. It gave me that little bit of confidence and extinguished the doubts."

While Holland was not playing at AZ, he was still involved for his country. He represented Australia at the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, scoring against the Czech Republic, and travelled to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa as a train-on player with the Socceroos.

Holland left just prior to Australia's opening match against Germany and returned to training at AZ with just a week's break under his belt. And with little to no rest, he broke down, which did not impress new manager Gertjan Verbeek.

"I needed more of a break and I had some problems with my groin." "We had a new coach at AZ and I came back injured. That wasn't good and it affected my position there."

The loan to Sparta gave Holland a chance to show his ability though, before a fellow Aussie helped him make the next step in his career.

"I got a phone call from Joey Didulica (Australian goalkeeper, a teammate at AZ and former Austria Vienna player) when I was on my winter break.

"Funnily enough I was in Austria on a ski trip at the time. He called me and asked if I would be interested in Austria Vienna because they were looking for a player like me."

"I was with him at AZ and he knew my situation. I was interested but he said they wanted to have a bit of a look at me first. I wasn't too keen on that and I wasn't sure AZ would let me... But it was an opportunity. So I backed myself to show them that I was good enough."

"I gave Joey the go ahead and I had one week-s training with AZ. Then I left to Austria to trial here for five days. At the end of that they presented me with a contract."

After signing a deal with the Austrian Bundesliga side, Holland was thrown immediately into the first-team.

He helped create a goal in a 2-0 win over Ried on his debut before starting in the centre of midfield in an always fiery derby against Rapid Vienna.

Early signs indicate Holland can play a key role for his new club and he is enjoying every minute of life in the Austrian capital.

"From the first minute I was playing. That was really a big thing for me and I was really grateful. The club is fantastic and the people are very welcoming and warm. They made it an easy transition for me.

"The life in Vienna is also very good. It's a beautiful place. I have a nice apartment in the city and it is rated the most liveable city in the world... It's not far from the truth."

The Sydney-born player is settled, happy and excited about his future. He has set his short-term sights on the league, with the third-placed Austria Vienna just two points behind table-toppers Red Bull Salzburg as they attempt to win their first title since 2005-06.

Holland also has a burning desire to be involved in the Qantas Socceroos set-up again.

"I want to get back involved on a more regular basis with the Socceroos. I'm getting some regular football here so that will hopefully get me back in contention. Then I can hopefully prove to Holger (Osieck) that I am worthy and get some opportunities.

"Obviously Brazil's in the back of my mind also. Every player wants to go to a World Cup and play there. That's definitely on my to-do list."

The well-grounded Holland knows he has to perform at club level for that to happen.

And given his bright start to life in Austria, one would not be surprised to see the midfielder in a Socceroos shirt in the not too distant future.