FPF exclusive: Mustafa Amini on Jurgen Klopp, Danish drama, and becoming a Socceroo
Having experienced life as one of Australia's more notable exports of the 2010s, Mustafa Amini has embraced a unique challenge throughout the 2022/23 A-League Men season.
He's wearing the armband for a Perth Glory side in the heart of their rebuild, sitting seventh on the ladder with four matches left and everything to play for, with another chapter set to be written in the club's proud history.
Front Page Football sat down with Amini to discuss his career and what brought him to this point.
The AIS was an important stepping stone for many Australian footballers, including Amini. (Camw)
A unique journey like Amini's started similarly to many others at a senior state league level. But his pathway into professional football originated through the National Youth League and Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) programme.
"The AIS was one of the most important parts of my career; I think it was a great programme. We went to school there, and we trained every day like pros. We had gym in the morning and learned about nutrition, training every day with the best players in Australia at that time; it was the players born in 92' and 93' I spent a lot of time training with. A lot of them went on to become professional footballers, play overseas, and for the Socceroos," Amini told FPF.
From there, it was not long before a young Amini caught the eye of his first professional club.
"I played against the Central Coast Mariners youth team; they happened to have a lot of first-team players playing that certain game in Sutherland, and Lawrie McKinna, who was the head coach, happened to be at the game. He took a liking towards me, and from there, I signed my first professional contract with the Mariners," Amini added.
After one season with the Mariners, the journey was about to take a significant step forward, from palm trees and sauce bottles to one of Europe's more iconic clubs. But how did Mustafa Amini get the call from Borussia Dortmund?
"It didn't really connect in that way, but with football, a lot has to do with timing and luck. I went to the U20s World Cup qualifiers and was two years younger than everyone there. So I went and played there, and we made the World Cup. [I] went back to the A-League to get my debut, which also came with someone getting injured, and that's what I mean with luck and timing. I played in the A-League, and I guess I took my chance."
Amini added on what was a great season with the Central Coast.
"We made it to the Grand Final that year. We lost against Brisbane in the penalty shootout. I was 17 at the time and in the starting lineup with 55,000 people at Suncorp. It was an amazing experience and put me in good stead for the move overseas," he said.
So after a fantastic season at a young age, people took notice—those at the height of the domestic game, and crucially, Borussia Dortmund and Jurgen Klopp.
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Amini in his early days at Dortmund, alongside former manager Jurgen Klopp. (DeFodi)
"It was a big shock because I wasn't really into German football. I knew Bayern Munich, but that was the only team I knew at that time. I followed the Premier League and big clubs like Barcelona. But yeah, I didn't really know much about Dortmund," Amini said.
A determined Amini was in for a shock after his start with the German giants, learning the club's stature very quickly.
"When I went there and trialled, my first day was with the second team, and funny enough, Jurgen Klopp was watching from the stands. I trained in the morning, and later he said, 'bring that Aussie kid' to the first team this afternoon. My agent was with me and said, 'mate, Jurgen Klopp was watching; he said he wants you in first-team training'," Amini explained.
"I went into the changing room with the first team. They (Amini's new teammates) were all quite nice; the big guns were away on international duty. So Klopp came in and shook my hand, and I trained with the first team. It was quite funny; it was an open session, and there was 6,000 people there."
After training for two weeks, it was time to sign his contract.
"After my two weeks, we went into a little room. It was me, my agent, and Jurgen Klopp, pretty much. He said, 'I want the kid; he's pretty good. Whatever we can do, let's get it done.' He asked me in front of my agent, 'you want to come play here?' Of course, I was star-struck and said yes, so I signed with Dortmund, and that was quite nice," Amini said.
Eventually, after injury struck, there needed to be an outlet. A trip north made all the difference.
"After Dortmund, a great three years there, I sat on the bench for the Champions League a few times and trained with the likes of (Robert) Lewandowski. There came a time where I got injured and was coming out of contract. After that, I started training again, and we were looking for the next move," Amini added.
"Then Denmark came along; I had never heard of Randers or Danish football before, so it was like, 'hey, Randers had European qualifiers, they could play Europa League, and this is a club that wants you', so literally we went there and [I] signed. I played the whole season there, 36 games. It was great; I was 21 and playing senior football against a lot of youth and first-team internationals."
What seemed like a match made in heaven soon turned sour, with the footballing hierarchy at Randers FC turning their back on the Australian. They had discovered that Amini, free to explore his options, was approached by fierce rivals AGF Aarhus.
AGF was Amini's home for nearly five years as he became a mainstay at the club. (Instagram: @mustafaamini)
"My sports director ended up moving to AGF, the new director came in, and as football is, it's a game of opinions. The new sports director did not take a liking to me; he put a cheap price on my head. Funny enough, the rival team paid for that transfer," Amini explained.
It was here that things got very ugly. That same sports director, Michael Gravgaard, took AGF's approach very personally, with Amini's perceived betrayal paramount to the move.
"Once the new sports director saw that it was the rivals going for me, he backtracked, saying, 'no, we are not selling to this club.' At the end of the day, it was already on paper; he couldn't get away with it. I forced my way out to leave the club in that way, and he's pretty much said, 'you're for sale', and only because he knew it was AGF Aarhus, he did not want to do it," Amini said.
A furious Gravgaard made the move public. In his eyes, Amini's betrayal was solely the Australian's fault, and he made his feelings known with a very obscene gesture. Gravgaard used an Amini-patched Randers kit as toilet paper in a public video posted to social media.
"Yeah, I've seen the video. Because it's such a rival club and the way this (the transfer) happened, they pretty much sold an asset. I was in the Socceroos and went to World Cups for juniors; they put the price on my head, and almost immediately regretted it. Because the fans really liked me at Randers at that time, and I played every game, it was not normal to change to the rival team," Amini said.
"The fans and everyone did not like it. With Michael Gravgaard, we were playing in a derby, they were promoting the game, and he's put my jersey in the toilet, using it as toilet paper and that kind of stuff. So yeah, it was a bit rude in that way, but that's how it works. It should not be like that, but at the end of the day, I was happy to move to Aarhus."
AGF became the club with which Amini spent the longest time, accumulating 119 games from 2016 to 2020. He is still fond of the club and follows them.
"The sports director moved on to Copenhagen, and my head coach David Nielsen has left. So do I like the club and the fans? Yes. The chairman is still around, who I'm quite close with, and we sometimes message on Instagram. I follow the club on Instagram as much as you can follow the club on those things, and when I can, I'll watch them play. I still have a lot of teammates back there; to see them doing quite well and the fanbase getting bigger, I miss it in a way and wish them all the best," Amini said.
It's worth noting that during this period with AGF, Amini's Socceroos debut followed, with further subsequent appearances. He reiterated that, like the Dortmund move, the timing was crucial.
"I was pretty much a Socceroo for every camp. I went to the Asian Cup in 2019, though I didn't get a minute, and started against Lebanon in the pre-tournament friendly. I played the first three games of qualifiers for Qatar, and like I said, in football, there is a lot of luck and timing. At that time, [I was in] every camp, and then my knee struck. After that, I was 22 months out of the game," Amini said.
Amini added more about what it was like to play under Ange Postecoglou. The current Celtic manager debuted him for the Socceroos as he replaced then-captain Mile Jedinak.
"I got my debut under Ange, so that was a proud moment, in a World Cup qualifier. It is something I will keep for the rest of my life. To be put on by Ange, with Mile Jedinak coming off and me coming on for him, shows a lot. You know you don't win an Asian Cup if you're not a good manager; what he did for the Socceroos and how he did it, he has a different approach, but I have nothing bad to say about him. I will be forever grateful for that debut," Amini said.
Amini ahead of a Socceroos AFC World Cup qualifier. (Instagram: @mustafaamini)
So, we fast forward after an injury-ravaged period, with Amini raring to prove his worth, knowing the A-League Men is precisely the stage to prove what he has left.
"When I came home, I signed with Sydney FC for six months to test what I had left and prove myself in the A-League. This (the move) was nice because they were playing [in the] Asian Champions League, and I got my games in," he said.
"The off-season came, and I had to think about which club to sign for. Perth Glory came and showed they really wanted me. I spoke with Ruben Zadkovich. They wanted to build something here, so I took the chance, came here [for] pre-season, and with three and a half months pre-season, that was quite tough, but the season came, and I was named captain. It's a proud moment with one of 12 clubs in elite Australian football; it's also a reminder you have to always be on your game."
With the finals beckoning and Glory right on the fringes of the top six, securing an elimination final matchup is likely going down to the wire.
"If you interview any player...they know anything can happen. That's the A-League. If you're not on your game, you are going to lose. I hope we get the points on the board and make the top six. I firmly believe we deserve it," Amini said.
He did concede the club's away form is an issue, with Glory having the third-best home record in the league.
"That is something we have to adapt to. A lot of the team is new, and flying to the east coast isn't easy with [the] time difference and all that. Not to make excuses, but you see [it] when teams come here; we have only lost to Melbourne City," Amini added.
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Macedonia Park was at the heart of an enjoyable season for Amini out west. (Keepup)
But should Glory make an elimination final, they will likely face either the Western Sydney Wanderers or Central Coast Mariners. Amini is confident his charges could get the job done in a winner-takes-all affair.
"If we make the finals, [we] can give it a big push, and no team wants to come up against that; that is what I believe. With [the] Wanderers, we have beaten them twice, and Central Coast, we beat away. Going away, you need to show up on the day, and we need to make sure we show up; it's on us at the end of the day," Amini said.
With Mustafa Amini, you sense nothing but the determination that defined him and his career. His journey has taken him from Jurgen Klopp, to inciting a passionate rivalry, replacing a Socceroos captain, and leading Perth Glory into an intense finals race.
Nothing will stop that fire inside. It's a fire that has made Amini one of the true icons of the Australian game in recent years.