LONDON: When Mark Bosnich walked out at Old Trafford to make his debut in goal for Manchester United in 1990, the precocious 18-year-old Australian had the world at the tip of his talented fingers.
Thirteen years later, he was sacked on Tuesday by Chelsea after testing positive for cocaine and appears just the latest in a long line of players who have allowed the distractions of stardom to hasten their journey to the football scrapheap.
In between those events, Bosnich scaled the heights of his sport, winning trophies, international caps, the respect of his peers for his skills, and a huge salary.
Unfortunately, at the same time, he was always dogged by independence, arrogance and a lust for life away from football that made it always unlikely that his career would follow the traditional course.
Born in Sydney of Croatian parents in 1972, the schoolboy Bosnich was brought to England in 1989, joining United on a non-contract basis while studying at Manchester Polytechnic.
Following his league debut in April 1990, he made two further appearances the following season, before being forced to return to Australia because of problems obtaining a work permit.
In 1992, he returned to England, this time at Aston Villa, though the controversial move cost the club a £20,000 fine for a breach of FIFA transfer rules.
On the field, Bosnich quickly developed a reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in the country.
Sharp reflexes, acrobatic saves, a terrific shot-stopping ability and a useful knack for saving penalties made him a real favourite at Villa Park.
In 1994, he saved four Tranmere penalties in the shoot-out to decide a League Cup semi-final, going on to win the trophy with a 3-1 final victory over his old club United and winning it again two years later.
Internationally, he became Australia’s first choice, even scoring a goal from the penalty spot in a 13-0 World Cup qualifying win over the Solomon Islands. However, it was not all plain sailing.
He left Tottenham Hotspur’s Juergen Klinsmann unconscious after smashing into the German striker with his knees in a reckless challenge and later infuriated the same club’s Jewish fans when he mimicked a Nazi salute and Hitler moustache – earning a fine for his “forgetfulness.”
Off the pitch, his first marriage failed and he became a regular in the tabloids, which carried lurid tales of his exploits, often in the company of Villa striker Dwight Yorke.
There were also rows with managers Brian Little and then John Gregory, and he became an early beneficiary of a Bosman free transfer in 1999 when he returned to Old Trafford.
It always looked a move likely to cause sparks, with manager Alex Ferguson famously unimpressed by the party antics of any of his players and with Peter Schmeichel a tough act to follow in goal.
The relationship got off to a bad start when Bosnich turned up late and overweight for his first training session and hardly improved when he was arrested on the morning of his second wedding day on suspicion of assaulting a photographer on his stag night.
On the pitch, Bosnich never looked comfortable and though he had some good games early on, his almost comical inability to kick the ball off the ground and bad handling errors meant that he spent the last few weeks of the Premier League-winning season on the bench.
Ferguson brought in French World Cup-winner Fabien Barthez in the summer and Bosnich was left out in the cold.
He appeared quite happy there, until a surprise move took him to Chelsea on a free transfer in January 2001.
A series of injuries meant he did not make his Chelsea debut until nine months after his arrival, and after only seven games, he was injured again to end his season in November 2001 and he has not played since, with Italian Carlo Cudicini and Dutchman Ed de Goey fighting it out for the goalkeeper’s shirt,
However, Bosnich was not completely inactive, moving into a Knightsbridge home with model Sophie Anderton and continuing to frequent the capital’s nightspots.
That scene became his undoing in the end, as he tested positive for cocaine. Last November, he checked himself into the Priory clinic, rehabilitation home of the stars, for treatment for depression.
Charged by the FA in December with bringing the game into disrepute, Bosnich will hardly have noticed he is banned from playing until his case is heard.
Chelsea, no doubt delighted to have been given a way to stop paying him £40,000 a week to attend parties, duly terminated his contract on Tuesday, six days before his 31st birthday. – Reuters