'At that point it was a difficult year for me': Deng's tough journey between Australia caps

It has been a long and arduous journey between Subway Socceroos caps for Thomas Deng.

A little under four years to be precise.

The resilient defender has had to overcome several challenges with groin-related injuries during that time, but the setbacks have only made him stronger.

Speaking to the Countdown to Qatar Podcast, Deng discussed the difficulties he experienced which forced him to miss a substantial amount of football last year.

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The 25-year-old featured just twice in the J1 League with Urawa Red Diamonds in 2021, but did star for the Olyroos as captain at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

A few months later, he was forced to watch from the stands as Australia faced Japan in a World Cup qualifier at the Saitama Stadium – the venue of his club team at the time.

The Aussies went down 2-1 – ending a record 11-match winning streak.

“At that point it was a difficult year for me,” Deng explained.

“Obviously still being injured and not being able to help the team and also (not) being able to play at my club was hard to swallow."

Socceroos home jersey 2022 - Our Story Is Never Done

Deng credits a change in scenery at the beginning of 2022, where he joined Albirex Niigata, and thanked the medical staffs of both club and country for turning his fortunes around.

With his career back on track, Deng was called up by Graham Arnold for the recent September friendlies against New Zealand following his impressive form with Albi.

Deng would later secure promotion to the topflight, and then claim the J2 League title with Niigata.

“Obviously a lot of hard work to come back and it’s a big credit to the medical staff at my club and also the Socceroos medical staff because I’ve been in contact with them ever since I’ve been injured,” he said.

“They’ve helped me a great deal and then obviously coming into camp was a really refreshing moment and just being able to speak to Arnie and seeing how happy he was to see me back, it made feel so much happier as well.”

While Deng did not appear in the initial game in Brisbane he played an important role across the Tasman.

In retrospect the centre-back realised being put in the same hotel room with Harrison Delbridge foreshadowed what was to come in the match in Auckland.

The duo – with Delbridge on debut – delivered admirable performances against the Kiwis in a 2-0 victory at Eden Park. It was his first appearance for his country since October 2018.

“It’s funny because with Harrison we flew to New Zealand and I found out we were rooming together,” he said.

“So I was like ‘how’s this going to work because of Melbourne City, Victory – the rivalry’.

“Big credit to the staff, they probably put that together, they knew we probably had a good chance to play together so it worked, and we got along really well.

“I think it was probably one of my best roommates besides Awer, so when we got on the park we just felt really comfortable together and obviously had a big performance on his debut.”

Legendary Dutch coach and former Subway Socceroos boss, Guus Hiddink was in camp for the two matches as part of the Centenary celebrations.

Deng admitted it was a surreal experience to learn from the 75-year-old and even exchanged a conversation in Hiddink’s native tongue, to his surprise.

“We all know what Guus has done for Australian football or football in general,” he continued.

“The experience that he has and expertise, it’s just to another level and having him in the camp was amazing for everyone.

“Young or old it didn’t matter, you can always learn something from him, and in that camp in New Zealand just before the game he was speaking to me and Harrison and making sure us as centre-backs were leaders; and we were able to communicate to the players in front of us and making sure they were do their jobs to make our jobs a lot easier as well.

“I had many conversations with him after that as well and I appreciate him for coming to camp.

“Obviously for me I played in Holland with PSV so speaking a bit of Dutch to him he was surprised when I told him.

“… I showed him a photo of me and Ruud van Nistelrooy and he was like, ‘I know Ruud very well, he was one of my players I’m still in contact with him’ so it was a nice feeling a really good interaction.”

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