Is Emerton really one of the best?

Much has already been written about the memorable career of Brett Emerton, who announced his retirement from playing in January 2014, aged 34.

Much has already been written about the memorable career of Brett Emerton, who announced his retirement from playing in January 2014, aged 34. While these words rightly put the Sydney-born Socceroo up with the all-time best of Australia's players, does Emerton's statistical record justify his all-time greatness tag?

Let's look at the numbers.

At club level Emerton made his national league debut with Sydney Olympic, after growing up in western Sydney and spending 1996 at the Australian Institute of Sport. He played out an almost unbroken 17 year run with Olympic (1996 to 2000), Feyenoord (2000 to 2003), Blackburn (2003 to 2011) and Sydney FC (2011 to 2014), with injury ruling him out of action for most of 2009. In addition to a total of almost 500 national league matches in Australia, the Netherlands and England, Emerton played many more national and international club cup matches including a UEFA Cup winning campaign with Feyenoord in 2002. Later that year he was awarded the Oceania Player of the Year. When he announced his retirement on the 16th of January 2014, Emerton had made 569 senior club appearances, including 490 national league matches.

His national team career started at the Under 17 level, when selected for the Joeys team that ultimately qualified for the 1995 Under 17 World Cup in Ecuador. He was an automatic selection for the Young Socceroos and played at the Under 20 World Cups in both 1997 (in Malaysia) and 1999 (Nigeria). Emerton was an integral part of Australia's marathon 2000 Olympics preparation and campaign. He captained the Under 23 Olyroos side at the final tournament in Sydney, which was effectively his fourth World Cup (with the Olympic Games in effect acting as the Under 23 World Cup).

At the senior level, Emerton made his debut for the Socceroos against Chile in early 1998, aged just 18. He barely missed a game in the qualifying campaign and other lead-up matches to the 2006 World Cup, and started in almost every game of Australia's 2006 (Germany) and 2010 (South Africa) tournaments, missing out on the Round of 16 match in 2006 after being sent-off in the final group battle against Croatia. His final match for the Socceroos in late 2012 was his 100th match, including 95 A internationals.

So, how does 490 national league games, six World Cups and 95 Socceroo A caps stack up against other Australians?

In terms of appearances in national league matches, Emerton ranks amongst the highest on the all-time list. With 490 national league appearances, only Mark Schwarzer, Kevin Muscat, Alex Tobin, Lucas Neill and Aurelio Vidmar have played more national league games. Had injury not cut his career short at age 34 Emerton may well have ended up in the top three, with Schwarzer still playing at 41 years old, Muscat retiring at 37 and Tobin 38.

And with 339 appearances at the top level in overseas leagues (all with Blackburn in the English Premier League), only Schwarzer (510) and Neill (357) has played more club games in the top tier of an overseas league.

Six World Cups is unequalled. It puts Emerton above Vince Grella and Craig Moore (five each), and several other Australian legends with four World Cups such as Mark Viduka, Tony Popovic and Cheryl Salisbury. Emerton's tally of 19 World Cup matches is also the highest of any Australian, ahead of Moore (16), Grella and Collette McCallum (15 each).

Leading into 2014 only two other Socceroos have made more than 95 A international appearances, Mark Schwarzer and Lucas Neill. When we also consider his five Socceroo matches against other international opposition (World Stars, Brazil B x2 and Manchester United x2) Emerton has played a century of matches for the senior national team, an honour only shared by Peter Wilson, Paul Wade, Alex Tobin, Schwarzer, Jimmy Rooney and John Kosmina.

The stats indicate therefore that Emerton is truly one of the greatest, with only a select few playing more games for club or country. But what perhaps sets him above the rest is his consistent record in the green and gold at the pinnacle global tournament for each national team. Nineteen matches in six World Cups is unrivalled in Australian football history, and it could be some time before another player - male or female - matches Brett Emerton's record at the highest level of international football.

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