Former Socceroos goalkeeper Adam Federici called time on his playing career this weekend, bringing an end to a remarkable story of one of Australian football’s most underrated exports.
Any goalkeeper’s career is incredibly difficult. The lack of playing opportunities makes getting regular game time next to impossible. The scrutiny goalkeepers are under is immense, with mistakes often game-deciding and obvious to any casual observer.
It’s fair to say then that Adam Federici had it even harder than most. He was a late beginner in the trade, after being converted from an outfield player to a ‘keeper at the age of 14.
With the NSL in turmoil, Federici had to move abroad in search of professional footballing opportunities. He trialled with several clubs in England, but eventually was signed to a non-contract by Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2003. He didn’t stay in the Black Country for long however, joining Italian club Torres for the 2003/04 season.
After a season in Serie C, Federici returned to England for a second crack at the Football League
In 2005, he was picked up by Reading FC, again on a non-contract. After loan spells with non-League clubs Maidenhead United and Carshalton Athletic, his first professional deal came in the summer of 2006, tying him down to the club that he would go on to represent for nearly a decade.
This was the point at which Federici first came to my attention. As a boyhood Reading fan, I grew up whilst he was an integral part of the club as they returned to the Championship following a couple of years of glory in the Premiership.
After cementing his spot as the first-choice keeper in 2008/09, he played major roles in two Reading sides that will go down in club history.
First, the promotion winning side of 2011/12, alongside other future A-League players Adam Le Fondre, Jem Karacan and Joseph Mills, with manager Brian McDermott at the helm. It was fitting that in the game that sealed promotion, Federici would keep his 20th clean sheet of the season in 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest.
Secondly, he played an important part in Reading’s infamous FA Cup run in 2015, that saw the Royals reach the semi-finals for just the second time in their history. However, despite making a string of saves to keep his side in the tie, the semi-final against Arsenal left a bitter taste in Federici’s mouth, after he allowed Alexis Sanchez’s shot in extra time squirm between his legs and over the line in a 2-1 defeat.
His error did nothing to affect his status as a firm fan favourite, and his departure was a sad moment for many supporters. In his 209 appearances for the club, the veteran shot stopper kept 73 clean sheets and even bagged a goal of his own, a late equaliser against Cardiff City.
Federici spent the rest of his career in England as an understudy, first at Bournemouth in the Premier League, then Stoke City in the Championship, making fleeting appearances when called upon.
In 2020 he returned to Australia with A-League Men new-boys Macarthur FC. After a season in which he played every minute of the Bulls’ inaugural campaign, he was announced as captain ahead of the 2021/22 season but retired due to injury a month before the season was due to kick-off.
In terms of the national team, Federici again faced an uphill battle. It wouldn’t be entirely wrong to say he was unfortunate to be sandwiched between the prominence of two of Australia’s most talented goalkeepers, in Mark Schwarzer and Mathew Ryan.
Schwarzer was untouchable right up until his retirement in November 2013, and when he eventually did make way, Federici was second-choice at Reading following the emergence of future England ‘keeper Alex McCarthy.
Instead, then-manager Ange Postecoglou made clear the battle for the starting jersey would be between younger prospects Ryan, who was playing regularly in the Belgian Pro League with Club Brugge, and Borussia Dortmund’s Mitchell Langerak.
Nevertheless, Federici did manage to earn eight caps, and made a penalty save against Oman in a World Cup qualifier in 2011.
I must at this point confess that, as a boyhood Reading fan, Federici was the first footballer I properly idolized.
His on-field performances were beyond impressive, he had an incredible leap and reach, and a ‘side-winder’ kicking technique that allowed him to distribute the ball much further than most other keepers in the league.
But what as a young fan I appreciated him for most was the way he interacted with the fans. He was one of the first players I met in person after a game. No matter the result, he was always happy to take photos, sign autographs and have friendly chats with supporters, and that meant so much to me and so many others no doubt. In fact, one picture with him remains on the wall of my bedroom even today.
Overall, Federici had a rollarcoaster of a career, but his resilience gave him the best opportunity to play he could possibly give himself. He embodied everything a professional goalkeeper should be, whilst also being one of the most pleasant and charismatic people off the field.