Euro Football

Meet Joey: ex-A-League striker with 20 goals in 13 European games (and that isn’t half the story) – FTBL

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28-year-old Gibbs has firmly hit his second wind and is in career best form in the Icelandic second division with league leaders Keflavik IF. 

Gibbs’ 20 goals in just 13 games this season makes him one of the most prolific goalscorers on the continent this season (counting any level) a record he shares with a fellow Aussie, Nikita Rukavytsya.

That form includes seven braces and a hat-trick all in the past three months alone, with the Icelandic second tier often featuring games every three or four days. Gibbs has scored a whopping 14 goals in the past month and a half.

It may be a world and a sea away from Europe’s powerhouses, but it’s something worth celebrating for a journeyman NPL striker.

Gibbs’ career has taken him from Sydney FC’s academy to Belgium, Hong Kong and now the small village of Reykjanesbær on the very tip of Iceland’s east cost.

There’s also been the obligatory cameos at virtually every major NPL NSW club. He was even the Central Coast Mariners’ community manager and a manual labourer.

It’s a truly fascinating story, encapsulating all the elation, challenges and heartbreaks you would expect from a talented but unfortunate NPL warrior who never quite broke into the big time…at least yet.

“I come from a town about 100 kilometres north of Sydney called Central Coast,” he told Fotbolti.

“I started practicing football as soon as I could, from the age of five, which is the age most people start in Australia. My dad and older brother were in Rugby League but my middle brother was in football and I followed him and fell in love with the game.

“I was playing with Manly United’s U/16 team and took this step into the main team, which was a rather big leap, and as a result I dropped the U/18 and U/20 teams.

“I was also lucky enough to receive a grant that the club provides annually in the name of Lucas Neill, to a player who has excelled in this 15-16 age group. I went to England for two weeks and visited some clubs. It was a really good experience that I’m grateful for.” 

Gibbs then joined Sydney FC’s academy and seemed to be set for stardom, even making his debut for the club as a complete unknown in the dying minutes of the club’s winning 2010 A-League Grand Final in a penalty shootout, in front of a packed to the rafters stadium, back in the league’s heyday.

“The story behind it is fun and something I will always have and be proud of,” he continues.

“Earlier in the year, I had suffered a stress fracture in both ankles and was in a wheelchair at the beginning of the year. I recovered and went through rehabilitation and was just really grateful to be back on the field. 

“Then I get the opportunity to train with the main team which was a great experience, as at that time there were players like John Aloisi who played in Spain, and many players with experience from England with the team. 

“So the group was hugely experienced and I was really excited to be around these big names, but the team’s best players were also often injured – as the average age of the team was quite high. 

“The captain was injured, Aloisi was injured and all of a sudden I’m on the bench in the final. Came in overtime after 113 minutes as I recall and got my first game in the A-League in the final itself in front of tens of thousands of spectators.

“We then won the game in a penalty shootout…I also remember that I had never been to a nightclub until that night…so the experience was really good overall.”

He believes the development of young players in Iceland is superior to in Australia, which may come as little surprise given the Viking’s success at international level. Despite a population of only 300,000, Iceland are currently ranked precisely even on points with Australia in the FIFA World Rankings in 41st place.

The Icelandic second division champions are also definitely not to be sniffed at, with Keflavik one of Iceland’s biggest clubs, which have played host to Aussies in the past – a fact Gibbs was “surprised” to find out.

They’re a fully professional club and given Iceland’s remote location, Gibbs’ ridiculous scoring record has put him firmly in the shop window, which could in turn lead to bigger European opportunities on the mainland.

The Scandinavian leagues are particularly fond of Icelandic talent and are generally regarded as one of Europe’s best stepping stones.

But despite professing a strong ambition to still make it in Europe, after his first European opportunity at a Belgian club collapsed when he was just 18 due to the team’s financial concerns, Gibbs has relished some certainty in his career and the powerful Australian recently signed a new contract with Keflavík until 2022. 

“The opportunity to go to Belgium came up right after the A-League Grand Final. I was 18 years old and I felt good about things,” he said.

“But as an Australian without a connection to Europe, it was very difficult to get a visa and a work permit to play football in Europe. An agent gave me the opportunity to go to the third division with Olympic Charleroi and I signed a two-year contract there. 

“The club had recently been bought by an English agent who was, among other things, Andy Carroll’s agent, so there was a lot going on and it was a very interesting time. 

“I accepted and the plan was to be in Belgium for four years and get a work permit and hopefully, since the club had changed owners, to play with it in the upper divisions of Belgium.

“But everyone knows football. International economic crisis strikes, all investors withdrew from the company, I did not get paid and suddenly I’m 18 years old without money in Belgium. 

“I spent a total of seven months in Belgium, which was a definite experience and I think I learned a lot from it as a person, but football was in decline as everything fell apart.

“So, I am very happy to remain here. I have been very impressed with how (coaches) Eysteinn and Siggi work and how we play. Iceland is a very nice country and very different from what I am used to in Australia. ” 

” This is a good change for me and I look forward to enjoying the country and culture even more next season.

Despite his incredible form now, it’s understandable that Gibbs is keen to take the opportunities at hand, given only a few months ago the striker was mowing lawns to keep a full-time wage throughout the league’s COVID shutdown.

From the GFC to now, he’s managed to find himself in Europe at the worst possible times. His current spell has been hit by COVID’s outbreak, yet his form on the European continent is nothing short of superb.

“This has been the most difficult part of the move to Iceland,” he admitted. “But we have done well as a company, and always kept ‘standards’ and professionalism. It’s without a doubt the hardest part of it all. For example, my girlfriend was supposed to come to me last April, but I left in February. Since then, all this time has passed and it has been difficult for us. ” 

“The last game I played in Australia before I came here, there were huge wildfires raging in January and my last game in the western part of Sydney was played in 38 degree heat and smoky air. 

“In retrospect, I think it was not legal to let us play them, as in Australia there are rules about how much smoke can be in the atmosphere to be safe to play. 

“But then I come here and the first weeks everything is covered in snow. I had never seen snow before so the change was considerable.”

But the former Western Sydney Wanderer – Gibbs made 13 A-League appearances for the club back in 2012 – is now back on the international radar and feeling great in the process.

His A-League spell at the Wanderers coincided with the club’s own peak period, he was their final signing in Tony Popovic and the club’s inaugural season, but it meant Gibbs was up against some of the A-League’s very best to make an impact.

“I think I was the last player to be brought to the club before its first season,” Gibbs continues.

“Of course I was playing in the lower division and many other players came to the team from other countries, Aaron Mooy who is now at Brighton was in the team as well as Shinji Ono and the team was very good. 

“I got 13 games that season, which I think is very good, I had a decent season. We ended up winning the league in the club’s first year but lost in the finals. 

“Before the tournament I had signed a one-year contract and I felt I had done well, but Australia international Tomi Juric, who now plays for CSKA Sofia, was on his way to the team and (Popovic) desperately wanted him. 

“I was looking forward to playing little so I joined the Newcastle Jets instead. But there I found Emile Heskey and a few others with experience from the English Premier League and again it was a very competitive team and I did not play as much as I would have liked.”

Now he’s 28, in Iceland, and in the best form of his career.

He couldn’t have predicted any of this. He didn’t even know he was going to move to Iceland until the offer came up at the last minutes while he was banging in the goals at Blacktown City.

But he’s definitely loving his football right now, which considering what he’s overcome to get here, is enough for the moment.

“It’s my job to score goals, and I expect to finish the chances I get,” he said.

“I know I have many good players around me who will always create opportunities for me. It makes it easier to adapt to a new country when you are good on the pitch. ” 

“The positive thing that comes out of this is that you value the time you get on the pitch much more. You never know when or when it will be taken from you. ” 

“It’s funny to predict the future at this time. You do not know what you will do on Saturday and what you’ll do next season, but I must say that the club has been good for me, the people here have been good for me as well as my teammates.

“I am happy with how everything has been so far. But as I said before, it is difficult to be as far from family as it is, so let’s just see what time reveals. ” 


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