From Melbourne to Berlin via three other stops in German football, Mathew Leckie has had quite the career so far. This season, the Australian has stepped out of the shadows.
Since his summer switch from Ingolstadt to Hertha Berlin, Mathew Leckie has stolen the headlines and proven his doubters wrong. For a man who has largely flown under the radar, Australia's football fans are starting to take notice of the Socceroos' star.
Upon moving to the German capital, the general consensus regarding Leckie's style of play was that he was a one-dimensional winger with raw pace. Three goals in the first three games of the new Bundesliga season later, and Hertha Berlin have quickly grown reliant on a player so little was expected of before the new campaign.
Not even Leckie himself would have expected to equal the goal tally from his previous 71 Bundesliga appearances in just 3 games for Hertha. Especially when you consider he was one of the most harmless forwards in the league last season, failing to find the back of the net with all 49 of his efforts on goal.
"I can't name a reason why things didn't work out for me last year," the Melbourne native said following Hertha's 1-1 draw with Werder Bremen. "Self-confidence is a factor. I had plenty of chances, but when you go so long without scoring you begin to believe that luck is against you."
Change in fortune
Luck appears to be back on Leckie's side now that he has taken the next step in his career and Hertha sporting director Michael Preetz has understandably been full of praise for his star signing. "Mathew has silenced all the critics that had written him off," Preetz told BILD. "He's scored every Hertha goal in the Bundesliga this season and set-up both goals in the DFB Cup [2-0 win over Hansa Rostock]. An optimal start."
Anyone who has watched Leckie's progress throughout his years in Germany, will know that what he brings to the table goes far beyond his goalscoring exploits. Perhaps one of the most underrated Bundesliga players, the 26-year-old boasts admirable qualities at both ends of the pitch and is as much about the hard graft of pressing and tracking back as the guile and technical ability needed in attack.
Having failed to break into the Borussia Mönchengladbach first-team when he moved to Germany in 2012, Leckie hails his decision to sign permanently at FSV Frankfurt following a successful one-year loan as a "turning point" in his career. On the back of a 10-goal season with the second-division side, Leckie went on to impress for Australia at the 2014 World Cup. Scouts from England and Italy were interested, but Leckie made the surprising decision to join Ingolstadt.
Under the tutelage of Ralph Hasenhüttl, Leckie truly began to flourish. His goalscoring record might have left something to be desired, but his penchant for winning challenges made him a figurehead for Ingolstadt's battling qualities.
At Ingolstadt he only had Pascal Gross as creative support, but at Hertha he can share the burden with the likes of Mitchell Weiser, Vladimir Darida and Salomon Kalou. Not having to bear the extra load has allowed Leckie to shine in other areas without neglecting the work-rate that stems from his background in athletics and Aussie Rules football.
In his home country though, Leckie still has to compete with a fan base and media that are star struck with English football. Scoring the winning goal in the 2-1 win over Thailand that secured Australia a spot in a World Cup qualifier play-off with Syria bodes well for his rise to prominence in the land down under.
In the eyes of Australia head coach Ange Postecoglou though, it seems Leckie has little left to prove. "I've rated him highly from the moment I took over," Postecoglou said of Leckie back in 2016. "I know people look at his goal-scoring return and think he doesn't do enough but for us he's a very important part of what we do. It's not just what he offers in an attacking sense, physically he's very intimidating to opposition both with and without the ball and he's continuing to mature."
With the World Cup in Russia looming, Hertha's gamble looks to have been an astute one that has bred a win-win situation for both Leckie and the club. On his current trajectory, Leckie is on course to become Australia's marquee player for years to come. Now he just needs more fans back home to take notice.