AFTER a career taking in 162 A-League games and an unbeaten World Cup campaign for New Zealand, Leo Bertos believes he still has what it takes to play professional football at age 33.
But, for the sake of his young family, Bertos made the tough decision to transition to life after full-time football a little earlier than planned.
The former Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory midfielder has signed to play with Hamilton Olympic in 2016 after leaving Indian Super League club East Bengal one year into a two-season deal.
The turning point for Bertos and his wife, Regan, was the birth of their first child, Zeno, eight months ago.
“My wife, my son and I found it really tough to live over in India,” Bertos said. “It’s a cool place to experience and visit, but to live there, it’s tough as a family, just compared to what we’re used to. We’re pretty spoilt this side of the world.
“You have to wash your teeth using bottled water, it’s hard to get good produce, just everyday stuff you take for granted here.”
The Bertoses moved in with Regan’s parents at Stockrington while Leo trained with the Jets in the winter and looked for another contract. Overseas opportunities came up, but not in places Bertos wanted to take his family.
Now Bertos, whose father, George, is Greek, is focused on starting his coaching career with the under-11 Emerging Jets side while staying on the pitch with Hamilton.
‘‘I decided to, I guess, call it quits on playing professionally and look to try to stay here and make a life here,’’ Bertos said.
‘‘It’s a tough decision because I can still play, I know that, and I want to, but it was more of a lifestyle decision.
‘‘I still want to play, though, and I’ve got some family friends who are affiliated with Olympic. I’ve got Greek in me as well, so it all comes together.’’
The 2008-09 Wellington player of the year is completing his C-licence coaching course with fellow former national league talent Daniel McBreen, Troy Halpin and Brad Porter.
He hopes it is the first step in a new career in the code.
‘‘I want to stay in the game. I love the game,’’ he said.
‘‘It will be hard for me to go and do another job.
‘‘Financially it will be a big difference, but it’s more about finding somewhere you are going to enjoy working, so I want to be qualified to work in the game.’’
Although coaching is his main focus, Bertos is keen to help Hamilton take the next step after their third place and grand final loss in 2015.
‘‘I don’t just want to play for the sake of playing,’’ he said.
‘‘I want to try to help, and if I’ve got some experience or professionalism I’ve gained that I can pass on to some of the players, that’s part of my role as well. But I guess the main one is to try and improve the team on the field.
‘‘They did really well last year, and generally the club is pretty successful, so it would be nice to go that step further.’’
Bertos’ signing is another coup for the NPL, which has also secured McBreen (Edgeworth) and kept the likes of Matt Thompson (Maitland) and Jobe Wheelhouse (Jaffas) for 2016.
But the addition of Bertos, a World Cup player, is a rarity for the region’s top division.
He played in all three of New Zealand’s games at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where the All Whites drew 1-1 with Slovakia and Italy, and 0-0 with Paraguay.
Adamstown legend Col Curran is the only Newcastle product to have played at a World Cup, and Bertos could be the only other to experience the tournament then turn out in the NNSW competition.
Bertos, who played 56 games for New Zealand, hopes to carry his World Cup experiences into the next phase of his football career.
‘‘It was a dream, a childhood dream,’’ he said.
‘‘I remember growing up, getting up in the early hours of the morning to watch the World Cup finals on telly and hanging out for the next ones to come around.
‘‘I never thought I would get anywhere close to that, coming from New Zealand.
‘‘It was a great experience, and hopefully I can stay involved in the game and maybe help develop some players and, who knows, maybe get there in a coaching capacity in the future.’’