Brotherly resemblance

Tarek Elrich is following the same path as older brother Ahmad

For those who have followed the football career paths of Sydney brothers Ahmad and Tarek Elrich, there is an uncanny resemblance to the way they play the game, but can the younger of the two, Tarek, reach the same heights that he brother has.

Ahmad, the older of the two, is an established member of the Socceroos and is contracted to English Premier League side Fulham, although he is currently recuperating back here in Sydney, after suffering a knee injury against Kuwait in August.

Tarek on the other hand, is heading to India with the Qantas Young Socceroos to play in the AFC Youth Championships, where he is an integral member of the side that is regarded very highly by many in the know.

The older of the two by five and half years, Ahmad was missed at an Under 17 level, before bursting onto the scene with Parramatta Power as an 18-year-old flying winger. He quickly became a regular member of the Qantas Young Socceroos and eventually went onto to play at the FIFA World Youth Championships in Argentina in 2001.

No doubt Tarek would love to emulate the feats of his brother and while he has yet to make the impression at the local level that Ahmad did, one gets the impression he is not far away. Things probably transpired against him, for as a 16-year-old he made his national league debut for Sydney Olympic, suggesting that he was going places a little quicker than it did for Ahmad. But the national league competition was closed down at the end of that season and it wasn-t until some 15 months later that the new Hyundai A-League competition came into being.

With squads limited to 20 players and clubs only required to have three players under 20, his chances of getting a place with any of the eight teams was always going to be difficult. Luckily for him, an opportunity arose at the Newcastle Jets during the inaugural season and he managed three appearances off the bench last season and it was enough to convince officials he should be offered a full-time contract for the second season as one of their required Under 20 players.

His coach at the Jets was Nick Theodorakopoulos (who has since departed and been replaced by Gary Van Egmond), who also coached his brother for two years at Parramatta Power in the old NSL and Tarek remembers one of the first meetings with him and soon made him realise that he would always get comparisons with his brother.

Speaking at Sydney airport, prior to flying out to India, he recalls the meeting, saying: “Nick Theo said to me at training that Ahmad has shown to me (at Parramatta Power) that he could run, so you show me you can run too.

“He also said that Ahmad also showed he could play, but you haven-t showed me that yet,” Tarek adds.

“Ahmad set the bar so high and so I suppose, while I viewed Nick-s comments ‘as early days- it showed that everyone has high expectations of me, because of my brother. Hopefully I can follow in his footsteps.”

It was only natural that Tarek would follow his older brother along the same path and they play in attacking right wing type roles, with their speed seen as their biggest asset. However this is where the similarities end says Tarek.

“Ahmad is a bigger boy and stronger than I am,” he explains. “My dad and other older brother tell me, that technically I am a different player. I like to take on 1-2 players, where Ahmad is more give and go, which is very effective for him.

“Fitness wise I think he has got me. I like the ball at my feet and he doesn-t mind it too, but I think I am more of a technical player.”

The younger Elrich also has no qualms in saying that Ahmad is his inspiration and that he is always turning to his older brother for advice.

“He is always there for me, he-s my older brother; he-s my mate; he-s like my dad; he-s everything. It-s good to have an older brother that has done everything that I want to do; he-s always helping me out, even it means calling me for half an hour from England, so it-s pretty good having him there.

“That is probably an advantage that I have got over some of the other boys. He-s made plenty of mistakes, like what happened in Korea when he was there, but he is always helping me and he knows what is wrong and is right and I will learn off him.”

But right now his main focus is on the AFC Youth Championships that start with a tough group match against China next Monday in Kolkata (Calcutta). It-s a challenge that he is looking forward and matched by the confidence he has in the team.

“It-s going to be the first time we are going to qualify through Asia, so it-s going to be a different experience, more of a challenge I think. I am looking forward to hopefully getting some silverware back to Australia.

“The goal is simply - we want to win it. We know if we make the semi finals, we are going to qualify (for the FIFA World Youth Championships in 2007), but we actually want to go through, win the grand final and be the Asian Champions.

“Most of the boys have been assembled together at the Australian Institute of Sport, so they have been training together a year, year and a half, so that-s been good. Our preparation has been unbelievable; we-ve had something like 20-odd games together, so the preparation is right.

“There are high expectations of us and I think the boys are ready and it couldn-t come at a better time, because at our last tournament we didn-t lose or concede any goals, so it has come at a good time.”

Conditions in India will be tough for the players, with high humidity, certain to have an effect during matches, while the pitches are very hard and dry. But Elrich believes like many other Australian sides, the team spirit within this group will be a major asset in the tournament and could prove a difference, especially in the tough opening match against China, who are one of the pre-tournament favourites and prepared extensively.

“We are a hard working side like most Australian teams. We-ve got the courage and heart to get through a game. We never give up; we-re the Aussie battlers, so that-s probably one thing that-s going to work for us. Our combination play is very good and we-re looking confident.

“That match (China) will tell us where we are going. If we lose, hopefully not, it-s a big uphill and we have to rely on other teams results, but we are not even worried about that, because we are just going in there to win.

“All we need is three points and we are going to do whatever is possible to get it, so it-s very important to win that first game. Like the Socceroos when they qualified for the second stage, the first game was the most important game and they got through.”

Elrich Profiles

Ahmad Elrich Date of Birth: 30-05-1981 Club: Fulham Athletic (England) Previous Clubs: Parramatta Power (NSL), Busan I-cons (Korea) Rep Honours (appearances/goals): Socceroos (17/5), Qantas Under 23-s (15/8), Qantas Young Socceroos (16/2)

Tarek Elrich Date of Birth 01-01-1987 Club: Newcastle Jets (Hyundai A-League) Previous Clubs: Sydney Olympic (NSL & NSW) Rep Honours (appearances/goals): Qantas Young Socceroos (10/1)