World Cup 2014 | Socceroos skipper Mile Jedinak always ahead of pack

Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak leads team mates in a run during an Australian Socceroos training session at Arena Unimed Sicoob in Vitoria, Brazil.  Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak leads team mates in a run during an Australian Socceroos training session at Arena Unimed Sicoob in Vitoria, Brazil. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

From the moment Mile Jedinak slipped on the boots for the first time at Ian McLennan Park, Jorge Alarcon knew he was going to be something special.

At just 20 years of age, the gangly midfielder had already made a name for himself as a first-team regular in the now defunct National Soccer League with Sydney United.

So when he arrived at South Coast United in the Illawarra Premier League in 2005, he hardly had a point to prove. But as his former coach Alarcon would soon find out, he'd prove one anyway.

In a short stint in the Illawarra, the future Socceroos captain would leave a lasting impression.

"His dedication for football was incredible," Alarcon remembered.

"He was pretty young and came from Sydney for training when he was here, but he was always the first one on the field and the last one to leave.

"I knew then. I spoke to my son and said, 'this kid is going on to bigger things than this.'

"He has got to play somewhere else."

Jedinak would spend close to a season honing his skills in the Illawarra after spending most of his youth career in Sydney.

It was the midfielder's Croatian roots which helped South Coast secure the services of a player who will now forever live in the club's folklore.

South Coast proved to be one of the final launching pads. He would play in the A-League with Central Coast Mariners just a year later before finally leaving Australian shores for good in 2009.

After a brief stint in Turkey, the midfielder wound up in England at Crystal Palace in 2011 where he was quickly handed the captain's armband.

"To think someone who played in the Illawarra Premier League has been able to make it at many levels [is fantastic]," former South Coast president Eduard Loncar reflected.

"Even playing in the English Premier League is a feat of its own. Being a distinct leader there as well is fantastic, not only for someone who played in our league but for an Australian."

For Alarcon, the rapid rise came as no surprise.

"I think he was a very determined young man. He wanted something and on the field he showed that. He was passionate for football, always wanting to win. That is the sort of thing that made him stand out from the lot."

While Jedinak's hard work and determination were easy to see, it was his leadership skills which soon set him apart from the crowd.

His ability to command authority began to blossom when he was still young.

"He was a quietly spoken bloke. You can see even now that he is not really flamboyant in his communication off the field but on the field it is like a different person," Loncar said.

"He was playing in the centre of the park and he was running the show both with his football and leadership skills.

"He was encouraging and directing play. We could tell that we were only going to have him for one season. We knew we had to enjoy him while we had him."

Loncar's former clubman Alarcon reckoned he transformed into a lion on the pitch - dominant and brave in battle.

It's a characteristic that Australia will call upon more than ever in the next fortnight.

Set an unenviable task of leading the Socceroos against several powerhouses of world football, Jedinak will hold the captain's armband in three testing Group B clashes with Chile, the Netherlands and Spain at the World Cup in Brazil.

It's a far cry from blustery afternoons at Kembla Grange.