It is rare in this day and age of trophy hunting for professional sportspeople to go from a big time, wealthy, success driven entity to a lesser club not only struggling on the field but is perennially trying to keep its head above the financial abyss.
When you have also played at a decent level overseas and have seen first hand how the system works then that decision takes on even more of a raised eyebrow factor.
But for Central Coast Mariners goalkeeper Mark Birighitti, it was a “no brainer” when then Mariners coach Alen Stajcic came knocking on his door before the start of the 2019-2020 Isuzu UTE A-League season.
Far from being put off about joining a Mariners set up that had collected successive wooden spoons and had the lowest budget of any club in the League, Birighitti relished the opportunity and saw it is a challenge and, more importantly, a chance to re-establish himself after a season in the footballing wilderness with Melbourne City.
Now in his third season with the Yellow and Navy, Birighitti, who has had stints in Italy (Varese), England (Swansea City ) and Holland (NAC Breda), has clearly made a huge fist of the challenge while establishing himself as the best goalkeeper in the national competition.
That the club has also remarkably turned around its fortunes on the field is due in no small part to the professionalism, determination, passion and dedication that the classy goalkeeper has brought to the Central Coast.
“I have been been around the League (after stints with Adelaide United, Newcastle and Melbourne City) now for a number of years and I am glad that I am at a club like the Mariners – this is home for me now,” Birighitti said.
“When I was overseas, I paid strong attention to the A-League and I could see that the Mariners were last and always struggling for whatever reason.
“But, I can honestly say the dressing room we have here at the Mariners is unbelievable. It’s a great dressing room, one of the best I’ve been a part of.
“And, yes, obviously I had chats with Staj and the coaching staff at the time and he wanted me to join in a leadership role, being a more experienced player and a voice, that was a challenge I wanted to accept.
“It’s been great. We have had our ups and downs. The first year we finished last, so it was a tough year. Then last year we turned it around. It was an amazing year, disappointing how it ended, but a fantastic year nonetheless. The boys really fought hard.”
Eloquent, a deep thinker and not afraid to make his views known. Birighitti is fiercely passionate about his football, the Mariners and football in Australia. It is no surprise then that one of the things closest to his heart is the Socceroos.
While he acknowledges the competition among goalkeepers in the national team set-up is super strong, the 30-year-old is not afraid to admit he is totally driven to add to the only Socceroos cap he got back in 2013 when he played against China in the East Asia Cup.
Given his outstanding form, not just this season but in previous seasons, there are many who consider he was extremely unlucky to miss out on the latest World Cup qualifiers.
“It’s a hot topic,” he says. “I am a proud Australian. When I get that opportunity to represent the Green and Gold I’d die for it.
“It was a bit disappointing to miss out on the last few camps and I’m not going to lie about that. Yes, there’s a lot of strong competition and we produce a lot of good goalkeepers
“But, I just have to keep doing my thing. If I get that call up I’d be proud to go into camp and showcase what I can do.”
Whether Birighitti can achieve that dream again by continuing to play in Australia or overseas remains to be seen.
Playing overseas still burns strongly for him.
“Definitely,” he says. “I am still a pup as far as goalkeepers are concerned. I am in my prime.
“I’ve found stable ground at the club here and the Central Coast is home for me. But I’d be silly to say I don’t want another crack at European football.
“I do see myself back in Europe, Asia or the Middle East. I have a young family, two kids, and I want to do the best for the family. If it happens, it happens but if not I am happy here.”