How a relative unknown became part of Socceroos squad
WHEN Ajdin Hrustic's name was read out by Ange Postecoglou last month, most Socceroos supporters asked: who is that, and how has a 20-year-old who has played 112 minutes of first-team football in his life, from seven substitute appearances for Groningen in the Eredivisie, catapulted his way into a national squad about to embark on its biggest month since January 2015?
But ask within the Socceroos camp, and it's hardly a catapult.
It's the latest leg in a program kick-started three years ago, a selection that is a fascinating portal into the way the current Socceroos set-up operates, with robust scouting, intelligence and sports science data tracking following all the Australians across the globe who are vying for a spot in the coveted final 23 that make up each Australia squad.
Ultimately, Hrustic being picked for this month, amid intense interest from Bosnia Herzegovina, comes down to Postecoglou.
But before he makes that call, he's got all the intelligence provided to back it up.
Peter Cklamovski, from the Socceroos' coaching staff, explains: "Ange will watch X amount of players in a week; (Ante) Milicic will watch a few, I'll watch a few and then (when the time comes to pick the final group) Ange goes away and makes a decision."
He adds: "Ange watches every player, full stop.
"It's his decision to make.
"There's not a match that goes by that he doesn't watch - which is amazing, because to watch every Socceroo that plays is a huge task, but he's fanatical about it.
"He watches everyone.
"Who makes the 30, or the 23, is his decision, and Ante Milicic and I have input where we can and the process continues."
So how, then, does Hrustic, the former Schalke youth player, enter calculations at such an early juncture in his career?
It's a process started long before he breaks into the news cycle for his debut match, or impressive first goal, in Holland's top flight.
"We unfortunately don't go there - there are times we do a trip and we tap into that and watch them train - but it's all online (including reserve fixtures). That's the best way to monitor the squad," Cklamovski explains.
It helped that Olyroos boss Josep Gombau was able to report back with good news when he ran the rule over the winger at a training camp earlier this year.
The coaching and technical staff absorb hours of footage to get a feel for a players' progress - subjective and real information that supersedes what raw, unfiltered statistics might show them - and to suss out their potential to fit into the Socceroos' style of play regardless of their club's tactics and style.
The sports science and medical staff track the players daily, taking in reams of data to get a gauge of each prospective Socceroo's physiological state - whether they are playing each week or not.
Then, when weighing up why to roll the dice with a Hrustic over a Craig Goodwin or Nathan Burns, or opt for a winger over, for example, another playmaker like Mustafa Amini, all the precision gives way to Postecoglou's instincts.
"Without sounding crude, it's an Ange decision, it's going with Ange's gut," Cklamovski says.
"He watches certain players for a period of time and then he goes - he's ready for it now.
"That's an Ange decision, it's why he's the best and at the top of the game."