San Pedro Sula: Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak was brought back to fitness in time for Australia's World Cup qualifying play-off against Honduras only after Football Federation Australia's chief physio was allowed to work with the midfielder after being granted exclusive access by Aston Villa.
Fairfax Media can reveal that the Socceroos' famed physio Les Gelis spent a week in late October working directly with Jedinak specifically to ensure he would be available for Australia's crucial play-off series against the Central Americans.
The often tense barrier between club and country was broken down after Aston Villa went against the norm by allowing the Socceroos' staff to help Jedinak recover from an injury despite being outside the international window.
Such is their high regard for Gelis, the Birmingham club allowed him to help accelerate Jedinak's recovery from a recurring groin injury that has plagued the 33-year-old since early June and limited him to only three cameo appearances all season.
The FFA spared no cost in ensuring the Socceroos will have their strongest team available for the first leg in San Pedro Sula on Friday evening (Saturday morning AEDT) and flew Gelis to Europe to monitor the fitness and conditioning of several stars.
The national team's highly rated and long-serving physio is understood to have spent the majority of his time in Birmingham with Jedinak, whose availability was deemed all the more important because of the suspension to vice-captain and defensive midfielder Mark Milligan.
After extensive rehabilitation work with the Socceroos' physio, Jedinak returned to the playing field for Aston Villa, making two appearances off the bench in the club's past two games. The captain trained with the national team in Honduras on Monday afternoon during a light session that was the team's first since arriving and is understood to be a strong chance to start in the first leg.
Gelis remained in Europe to monitor the fitness of the likes of Matthew Leckie and Robbie Kruse who will both miss the first leg due to suspension and injury respectively. Kruse is overcoming a knock to the knee that ruled him out of the clash in San Pedro Sula but is likely to be available for the return fixture in Sydney on November 15.
Meanwhile, Socceroos defender Milos Degenek praised FIFA's decision to wipe out Australia's yellow cards going into the series against Honduras that relieves six players from walking a suspension tight-rope going into the second leg. Degenek was one of those that carried a yellow card into the series and would have been suspended for the return match in Sydney had he been cautioned in Honduras.
Relieved of that added stress, he says Australia's defence will enter the first match more relaxed, with the knowledge that any mistake won't be punished by suspension and further jeopardise the Socceroos' chances of progression to the World Cup.
"I was excited and I think the other [six] players would be excited about it as well. Shame they didn't do that before the Syria game, so we'd have Leckie and [Milligan] here," he said. "You'd want to have the backing of, if you get one, you can still go to the next game ??? if we do the job right, we shouldn't be getting cards. But, you never know, you might have to do something last-ditch to save the team, and obviously I wouldn't mind doing anything to save the team and to help us progress to the World Cup."
The 23-year-old has another year to run on his contract with J-League club Yokohama F Marinos but has set his sights on returning to Germany where he spent four years with Stuttgart's youth team and 1860 Munich.
"It's my dream to play in the Bundesliga. I've still got one more year left in Japan, so if it happens in January, if it happens next year, if it never happens,I'm never going to die wondering why," he said. "I'm going to keep working hard and always have a goal and ambition to go to the top and do the best that I can. That's all I can do so far. Work hard and hope for good things."