He’s plied his trade across the world, played alongside some of the very best in football, scored twice for the Socceroos and even taken on Manchester United at Old Trafford - but for Tommy Oar, there is still no place quite like home.
“Every place I’ve lived has been good in a different way, but I think when you move overseas you realise just how good Australia is,” Oar said. “For me, there’s no place like Australia. When I was 18, I moved overseas, so for the last eight years I have been away from home.”
Those eight years have been spent cultivating an impressive footballing resume. Since his professional debut for Brisbane Roar in 2008 at only 17, the 26-year-old has played in the UK, Holland and Cyprus, playing in the UEFA Europa League for Dutch side FC Utrecht and the UEFA Champions League for Cypriot club APOEL.
However, Oar’s career wasn’t smooth sailing from the beginning. Fresh from an outstanding season with Brisbane Roar, and with the NAB Young Player of the Year award under his belt, Oar set out to conquer new challenges overseas, but quickly learnt that football in Europe is a very different beast to the Australian competition.
“One thing for sure is the pressure and the competition for spots in Europe is much bigger,” Oar said. “There are no second chances, whereas in Australia, as a league, it’s quite young, so the culture behind that is very different.
“There’s not the pool of players that there is in Europe, although I think it’s improving very quickly. I think it’s just not as cutthroat, basically – which can have good and bad sides,” Oar said.
“People sugar-coat how good it is to play in Europe, and they think it’s like the be all and end all of football,” Oar said. “I think the reality of football is that outside of the top competitions in Germany, Spain, England – Australian football is much more organised, and it’s undervalued here as well.
“People in Australia are quick to criticise the A-League, but I think they don’t realise how good it is here, and as a player here, how good the conditions are for us, so we can just enjoy our football,” Oar said.
When he arrived in Holland after signing with FC Utrecht, Oar found it difficult to find his feet as a young player in a world-class squad.
“When I went and played in Holland, the first few years I was over there, we had an amazing team and I wasn’t really getting many opportunities to play, which, at the time, is hard to take,” Oar said,
“Looking back, when I’m honest with myself, I realise that I probably didn’t deserve the opportunity. It’s easy, when you’re in that position, to be complaining about things and saying, ‘Oh it’s the coach, they’re just not giving me the chance’,” Oar admitted.
“If I look back on the players that were there when I moved overseas initially, the kind of players that we had on our team, where they’re all playing now, they’re all playing for the biggest teams in the world,” Oar said.
“The left winger at Utrecht when I went there was Dries Mertens who is a Belgian international, and plays for Napoli, and is one of the most famous players in the world now, so the fact that I was pushing him for his spot, now it’s easy to see why I probably didn’t get the minutes that I thought I should have at the time.”
It was a tough time for Oar, but it was invaluable experience, helping him develop the personal and professional skills he needed to find success.
“I just really worked hard, and I think it took me around 18 months to really break through and establish myself in the first team, maybe it was even two years.” Oar recalled. “That patience though, that really payed off in the end. After that, I got to play in the Europa League!”
Learning early the value of hard work and humility has helped Oar truly appreciate the remarkable experiences he has had across his career, moments that some footballers can only dream of.
“I was fortunate when I was in Holland for Utrecht, we played in the Europa League in the first year” he said. “I got to play games against Celtic, Liverpool, teams like that and in their home stadiums as well, so it was amazing atmospheres, and to experience that so young was incredible,” Oar said.
“And last year, qualifying for the Champions League for my team in Cyprus, and when I was in England I made my debut for Ipswich town against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Those are the kinds of things that really stand out to me as being really special,” he said.
Europe wasn’t the only place for the young attacker to flex his talent: Oar has also made 28 appearances on the world stage with the Socceroos.
“My best Socceroos moment would be making my debut,’ Oar said. “Luckily for me it was in Brisbane actually, when I was 18, so all my friends and family could come along and watch as well, which was really cool, and a lucky coincidence that I debuted in my home town,” he added.
“There was one game where we played Iraq in Sydney,” Oar said, recalling another memory. “It was very close to a sell-out, maybe a 70 or 80 thousand crowd there, and we won the game, 1-0. That was the game where we qualified for the World Cup, so there was a lot of pressure on the game, and with a huge crowd there, it was an amazing feeling and a great atmosphere.”
It's not only the atmosphere that makes an international football game so exciting, it’s also the talent on the pitch, and there was one player that understandably made a lasting impression on Tommy Oar.
“I played against Neymar, when we played Brazil a few years ago with the national team,” Oar said. “He was just on a completely different wavelength to everyone else on the field. He is unstoppable. When I saw him play in person, it was just…wow,” Oar laughed. “It’s one thing to see it on the TV, but to see it in real life, to see just how good he actually is, it really puts things in perspective a bit.”
Speaking of perspective, it’s sometimes hard to remember that, having achieved so much, Oar is still only 26. So, what does the attacker want to achieve in the coming years? More than anything, he just wants to help his team as much as he can.
“I still think I’ve got some good years ahead of me, but I’ve been fortunate to have so many experiences in my career so far. All these things help me to perform more consistently, and to bring my experiences to help out the team more than I have in the past,” Oar said.
“I just want to help the Mariners. I just want to help the team in every way that I can, in order to get us back up the table where I think that we should be,” he said.
With Oar lending his talent to the Yellow and Navy, he’s come back into contact with an old mentor from his days at the Queensland Academy of Sport. Mike Mulvey is a coach who Oar knows, from experience, will bring out the very best in him.
“One of the things that I like about Mike as a coach is that he is very open and honest, and always just talks straight to you, which isn’t always the case with coaches around the world. That kind of open and honest relationship that he has with all his players resonates really well with me, and I know brings out my best football. You always know where you stand,” Oar said.
“Since I’ve come here, I’ve also been impressed with, tactically, how he has set up the team, it’s just a really good atmosphere with the team. He’s such a good people person that he always brings out the best in people,”
With the Hyundai A-League season only days away, it’s nothing but hard work for the squad on the training track, but according to Oar, Mike Mulvey has put together a squad that wants to put in the hours and achieve great things, not only for the club, but for each other. It’s an atmosphere of camaraderie that Oar has easily settled into.
“Everybody is just knuckling down and working hard. There are no big egos in the team, which is a really good thing.” Oar said, “Everyone is on the same page, and we know that in order to achieve or be successful this season, we need to stick together. All the teams that always perform well and win titles and win matches are teams that have a good team morale, that get along really well and so far, I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed it here,”
When asked if there is any team mate that he’s bonded particularly well with, Oar instead praised the exceptional solidarity across the entire squad – something that he hasn’t experienced before joining the Central Coast Mariners.
“That’s one of the unique things about this team, there’s not really groups within the team. Everyone, before the game, after the game, they’re all getting coffee or whatever it is. It’s everyone all together, which is really nice, and I don’t actually think I’ve had that in my career so far. It’s quite unique, and I think it bodes well for us for the future to have such a close-knit team,” Oar said.