Everybody loves Rojas

MARCO Rojas has come a long way in a short time, but the Kiwi youngster is determined not to let the headlines describing him as the brightest talent in the A-League go to his head.

The diminutive 21-year-old has some major career decisions to make over the next six months, decisions which will not only affect his own career trajectory but indirectly have an impact on the New Zealand national team, for which he is now a key player.

Close up he looks even younger and slighter than he does on television and certainly would not look out of place as an apprentice jockey.

But the way he handled the questions about his future, his role in the team and how Melbourne Victory will cope with the long-term loss through injury of Brazilian playmaker Gui Finkler when he faced the media on Thursday suggests there is a growing maturity and confidence off the field to match his development on it.

While rumours have been rife that Rojas could leave Victory in the January transfer window, the youngster says he has no plans to quit the championship-chasing club in the next few months. But he is no guarantee to be in the A-League next season.

The winger, dubbed the Kiwi version of Argentinian great Lionel Messi by his fans, says he remains committed to helping Victory's title pursuit this campaign. ''I am going to be here to the end of the season. I know there are rumours, but I am pretty sure I will be here … I have started the season and I want to be here to the end.''

Next year could be a different matter, however, despite his coach Ange Postecoglou's view that his development would be further enhanced by another year in the A-League. ''That's something I am going to have to decide on later on. I will have a look when the season ends. I will see how I feel, talk to my dad, who is my agent, and go from there,'' Rojas said.

''I can see the merit in staying for another year. I want to make a proper impact before I think about going anywhere else.''

Rojas says he won't be driven by financial interests. ''I am not too worried about the money - it will be about developing my football - the money is a bonus. None of my choices will revolve around money. I am just focusing on now and I will take it week by week and when the time's right I will talk about it with dad.''

Rojas grins shyly when asked whether all the recent praise is a bit embarrassing. ''I tend not to read about it, only mum does. I stay away from it,'' he said. ''It's nice to have people say good things about you, but I focus on what I do on the pitch, and it's got to be better than last game [the 2-1 loss to West Sydney Wanderers]. I wish I was half as good as Messi. He's a ridiculous, unbelievable player … he's one of a kind. It's humbling for people to say that but I think it's a bit outrageous.''

Last year, it's fair to say, Rojas was one of the bigger disappointments in a disappointing Victory side. It was his first year in Australia and he was still a teenager when the season started, but he all too often looked small and unable to cope with the physical demands of the league.

His improvement, he says, is down to a big pre-season and the mentoring of Postecoglou. ''I trained harder in the pre-season, it's the hardest I have trained. I think that was the key to what's going on at the moment. I am able to run out games, do a lot in games now,'' he said.

''Ange has made a difference. He's one of the best if not the best here in Australia coaching A-League teams. For me it's been great and for the whole team you can see it's been really good. He's helped me quite a lot.''

While Postecoglou insists on a disciplined, structured approach, he also admires individual flair and that suits Rojas, who has scored some spectacular goals this season.

''You have to have a main structure, but you also have to play off the cuff,'' Rojas said. ''Football is not a game where you can say this will happen, that will happen. Sometimes you have to think quickly and it comes off, as it did against Newcastle [for his spectacular winning goal]. I am always trying to think a couple of steps ahead to make sure I don't get stuck with the ball or involved in too many physical altercations.''

The news that Finkler is out for eight months with an ACL injury is, says Rojas, ''a huge blow''.

''He's been superb for us, he's created a lot of goals and been a key to our attacking play. But we have got quite a few players who could slot in there, who have been there in bits and pieces this season.''

On Saturday night he comes face to face with his old teammates from the Phoenix, and Rojas hasn't forgotten the role the Wellington fans played in getting him his professional start. The Yellow Fever diehards put together a scholarship program which got him a two-week trial at the club, where he impressed enough to land a professional contract.

This story Everybody loves Rojas first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.