Long Reads

Mark Bresciano – The Colourful Career of a Cannabis Farmer

In 2018, 38-year-old former international footballer Mark Bresciano was widely reported to have given up interest any in football, having decided to become a cannabis farmer in his native Australia, producing the herb for medical purposes. If it seems a rather unusual post-career move for a footballer who enjoyed long spells playing in Italy and won 84 caps for his country. It’s not the only thing that marks out Bresciano as something rather than the norm. Bresciano had retired in 2015 after a three-year spell with Qatari club Al-Gharafa, marking the end of a colourful career.

Growing up in Melbourne, Bresciano graduated from VPL club Bulleen Lions, through the Australian Institute of Sport to NSL outfit Carlton. He would stay with the Blues until 1999 when, along with team-mate and fellow graduate of the AIS Marg Grella, he completed a move to Italy, joining Empoli. By this time, the midfield player’s abilities had already been recognised on the international stage by Australia at Youth, U20 and U23 level. More recognition would follow. It was a career clearly on an upward swing, and the move to Calcio was another step along that path.

He quickly settled into the Italian club’s play, becoming a regular feature of the team. In his third season with the club, his ten goals helped Gli Azzurri into a fourth-place league finish, leading to promotion back to Italy’s top tier. The success ironically led to him leaving the club though, as a reported €7 million bid from Parma persuaded the Tuscan club to take the money.

His first term with Parma was hampered by injuries, but he still managed 28 appearances for the new club, seeing them finish in a creditable fifth place in the league, and securing European qualification. The same term also illustrated the wisdom of his move, and perhaps the folly of Empoli in accepting Parma’s money. His former club were relegated back to Serie B.

In the following season, Parma again finished in the top six in Serie A, but a now fully fit and firing Bresciano revealed a killer streak in his play, delivering eight goals from his 33 league appearances, making him the top scoring midfielder in Serie A. It was an apparently an unsustainable high for the club. Despite flourishing in the UEFA Cup, the following season saw a dramatic downturn in Parma’s domestic fortunes. An 18th place finish forced the club into a relegation play-off against Bologna. The consequence was that both Bresciano and his international team-mate Grella missed the 2005 Confederations Cup. There was some compensation however when the playoff was decided in favour of Parma, and their top tier status was preserved.

In November, Bresciano proved his worth to his country in a return to the international colours. Paired with Uruguay in a play-off to decide a place in the World Cup Finals, the Australians were fancied to struggle against a country with a solid World Cup pedigree. A 1-0 victory in Montevideo seemed to underscore this, but back ‘Down Under’ for the return, Bresciano would be the difference. On the half-hour, a mishit shot fell towards him and he lashed the ball into the roof of the net to, not only, give the Aussies a 1-0 victory, but also a path to the finals as they eliminated the South Americans in the resulting penalty shootout.  The season also proved to be successful in club football. Recovering from their trauma of threatened relegation the previous term, a rejuvenated Parma climbed to a respectable tenth position, although thanks to the Calciopoli scandal, this was eventually upgraded to seventh.

In the summer, Bresciano travelled to Germany for the 2006 World Cup. He would feature in each of the Socceroos’ group games, providing the assist in the team’s crucial encounter against Croatia that led to Harry Kewell’s goal, a 2-2 draw, and progress to the second round. It meant a tie against his adopted home country of Italy, and when Marco Materazzi was red carded for a ‘professional foul’ on Bresciano, with the Australian poised to score, it seemed that his right of return may have been hampered. In typical Azzurri style, the Italians kept the numerically advantaged Australians at bay and profited from a late penalty to go through. Bresciano and the Socceroos went home instead.

The summer also saw a move to a new club, when Palermo secured the midfielder’s services on a four-year deal, taking Bresciano to Sicily. His first term on the island brought half-a-dozen goals, but his first one is particularly well documented. It came in the opening game of the season against Reggina, as the Australian opened the scoring for the home team in a game that would end up a 4-3 thriller. A ball in from the right flank appeared to below and behind the midfielder who had made his way into the box. Turning into an almost horizontal scissor-kick though, a now shaven-headed Bresciano volleyed spectacularly into the net before being mobbed by team-mates and acclaimed by the fans. Bresciano was to experience the less savoury side of Italian football later, when, in February, trouble flared in the Sicilian ‘derby’ against Catania, and tear gas was used to break up fights between fans.

Transfer speculation later in his time with Palermo suggested a move to Manchester City would be next on his Bresciano’s travel agenda, but despite a deal apparently being agreed, it broke down over the small print and payment arrangements. The midfielder stayed with Palermo.

In the summer of 2010, a move did materialise. A two-year deal with Lazio, took Bresciano to the Eternal City, albeit ironically only for a short time. The following August, he signed for Al-Nasr, the Dubai club in UAE Pro-League. Again, it was a short-term assignment. One year, 17 appearances and ten goals later, a move to Qatari club Al-Gharafa completed the Australian’s wanderings before returning home to Australia, retirement and a particular kind of farming.

Some footballers paly out their careers, albeit relatively successfully, in a mundane and understated manner. Perhaps typified by that goal against Reggina, it’s not really a charge that could be levelled against Mark Bresciano. Almost 350 league games in Italian football, 84 caps and 13 goals on the international stage, plus travels to both the UAE and Qatar, are anything but the stuff of ordinary careers. Perhaps cannabis farming isn’t that extreme after all.

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