In tune for retirement
AFTER almost 20 years playing the game he loves at the highest level, the cheering has stopped for Shane Stefanutto who admits he is now just another “regular Joe”.
The three-time Socceroos representative is now working as a jack-of-all-trades at the Roar, juggling roles between caretaker media co-ordinator and promoting the club.
It’s a far cry from winning A-League titles in front of a packed Suncorp Stadium, or having thousands of supporters sing his name on the way to a Norwegian Cup title with Lillestrom in 2007.
“They had their own song they’d sing for me every game – they’d just repeat my name to the tune of those old (Leggo’s) pasta ads,” Stefanutto said.
“To win a Cup final over there was amazing – the build-up was similar to an AFL or A-League grand final.”
But Stefanutto is now tackling his off-field role in the same fashion which allowed him to play almost 20 years as a top-grade footballer.
“I’m doing 10-hour days and I feel like a regular Joe again. It’s been hectic but I’m really enjoying it,” he said.
“When you’re a footballer it’s all about training, games and recovery.
“But now I’m really keen to sink my teeth into what I’m doing here at the Roar and learn as much as I can.”
Even as co-coach of the Villanova College First XI in Brisbane, Stefanutto admitted the learning curve had been steep with the team trying hard, but struggling for a win.
“I must have the worst coaching record in Villanova history,” he said with a laugh.
“But we’re still having fun – hopefully I don’t get sacked.”
That was the trademark of Stefanutto’s playing career – meeting every challenge head-on, but with good humour.
While he earned just three Socceroos caps from 2007 to 2009, Stefanutto’s hard-working attitude won him the respect of then-Australian coach Pim Verbeek.
After the Cairns product returned to Australia in 2009 to represent the North Queensland Fury, he suffered a serious knee injury against Perth.
That ended both his season and his chances of representing Australia at the 2010 World Cup.
But he was never far from Verbeek’s thoughts.
“Pim had to manage 50 players all around the world, but he would ring me every month just to see how my knee was,” Stefanutto said.
“I was in Townsville and he had no use for me in his squad but I thought that was really nice of him.”
Things were about to get a lot better for Stefanutto though, after moving to the Roar for the 2010-11 A-League season.
The 2011 A-League grand final is one which will never be forgotten by football fans, not only throughout Queensland, but across Australia.
The Roar came back to beat the Central Coast 4-2 on penalties, after being down and seemingly out when trailing 2-0 with four minutes left in the second half of extra-time.
Many Roar fans in the sell-out crowd at Suncorp Stadium headed for the exits, before dramatic late goals to Erik Paartalu and Henrique levelled the contest.
“In extra-time I’ll admit I thought we were done,” Stefanutto said.
“You never give up in any situation but the way we came back beggared belief – it was a 0.1% chance of happening.
“All three grand final wins I played in were very memorable, but you can’t go past that first one.
“Just the emotion of it all and the circumstances in which we came back – it was my first year at the club too.”
With a career that netted four titles, as well as two A-League premierships, Stefanutto said he had no regrets retiring at 36 last month.
“I was tossing and turning about whether it was the right decision, but when I look back on my career I think ‘wow, I achieved everything I wanted to’,” he said.
“I’d be waking up with a sore back and thinking ‘I can’t train the way I used to’, and I always wanted to train hard.
“I didn’t want to go one year too long, and I have no regrets.”
Reports have emerged yet again about the Roar’s uncertain future, with concerns growing over the club’s lack of direction under the Bakrie Group.
The Roar’s Indonesian-based owners are yet to provide a solid commitment they will continue to fund the franchise and build on the on-field success of last season.
David Pourre also quit as CEO earlier this month, leaving Brisbane with no off-field leadership.
It was a similar situation prior to last season, but under the coaching of Socceroo legend John Aloisi, the men in orange fell just one win short of the A-League grand final.
With Aloisi at the helm, Stefanutto said the strong on-field performances would continue regardless of what might happen in the front office.
“The boss did an excellent job keeping the group focused last season,” Stefanutto said.
“He told us ‘if you all buy in to what we’re trying to achieve, then I’ll stick by you 100%’.
“All the players and coaches can do is create a winning culture and I think we’ve done that.
“I’m excited for the future.”