By Josh Thomas
In early 2011, a young Mitch Duke was working at a Supercheap Auto in the heart of Western Sydney about to give up on his dream to play professional football and become an electrician.
A decade on and the Australian striker will return to Parramatta on Thursday night donning the green and gold of the Socceroos as he looks to spearhead the side’s quest to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Duke’s journey to becoming a Socceroos regular has been a long and challenging one with many doubting his abilities as a young player.
Born and bred in Western Sydney, the now 30 year old played youth football for Parramatta Melita, but even at that level struggled to turn heads as a teenager.
That was until Australasian Soccer Academy founder and technical director Tony Basha spotted Duke’s ability after a chance encounter.
“He was playing for Parramatta Melita at the time, I was sitting in the stands and saw this blonde kid come on and he looked really good,” Basha told Sporting News.
“The coach put him on for literally 10 minutes and took him off. His dad was actually sitting in front of me and he goes, ‘That’s my son, they do that to him all the time.’ So I told him, ‘Your son is a very good player, if he wants to be a professional, call me.”
“He joined the academy from then on and he had a few tough years. No-one thought he was good enough.”
“We went on tour to Singapore and Duke was phenomenal. Clubs in Singapore wanted to sign him as a 17 year old but his dad and I agreed it wasn’t the right move.”
“I was adamant he was good enough for the A-League so I got on the phone to someone at Sydney FC but they said he wasn’t good enough.”
“So I got on the phone to Central Coast Mariners and their youth coach Tony Walmsley. He knew of Duke but didn’t know if he was good enough for his team. I begged him to take him on trial and the night after his trial he calls me and says, ‘You were absolutely right, he’s a great player, I’m going to sign him.”
While playing and starring in Mariners youth team, Duke was already 20 by this point and seriously considering a career change.
But in February 2011, current Socceroos coach Graham Arnold handed Duke his senior debut with the Mariners and the young attacker stepped up to ignite his football dream.
“He made his A-League debut under Graham Arnold on the Gold Coast and scored on debut having scored a lot of goals in the youth team. They signed him on his first pro deal at 21 after that,” Basha said.
“He was close to becoming an electrician, he was working at Supercheap Auto in Wetherill Park and he was going to give up the game. But then Arnold signed him to the first team and the rest is history.”
“He’s a great player and even better person too. He’s so loyal, always coming down to the academy to speak to the players. People don’t know how many knockbacks this guy has had.”
“He’s played over five years in Japan now. No Australian player can go there and last more than a few years. It’s so demanding.”
Duke recently played his 100th competitive game in Japan with current second division club Fagiano Okayama and has also cemented himself in the Socceroos set up.
After making his senior international debut in 2013, the forward returned to the fold in 2019 after a six year absence and hasn’t looked out of place.
In his ninth appearance since being back, Duke has scored four goals in World Cup qualifying and is a strong chance of starting against Saudi Arabia in Western Sydney on Thursday night.
Returning to his roots, the Socceroo has proved his doubters wrong and will reward those that believed in him having secured over 40 tickets for friends and family to attend the game.
Basha, unsurprisingly, will be one of those cheering Duke on having played his part in the player’s defiant rise to the top.
Original article from https://www.sportingnews.com/au/football/news/from-supercheap-to-the-socceroos-mitch-dukes-defiant-rise-to-the-top/1tjsxyfusz4jq1xvgc0el78w8e