Sheffield United: It beats Magaluf and Scarborough

Nick Montgomery. 'Pic : Martyn Harrison
Nick Montgomery. 'Pic : Martyn Harrison
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It hasn’t all been sunshine, Tooheys and rainbows.

But, as Nick Montgomery sips a chilled Corona overlooking a New South Wales beach, he can certainly reflect on a job well done.

“I’m at Byron Bay with the rest of my teammates for an end-of-season trip,” the Central Coast Mariners and former Sheffield United midfielder says. “We’ve come here for a bit of a break and to try and wind down after a long competition.

“It’s absolutely beautiful and known as one of the best in the world. It definitely beats Scarborough or Magaluf.”

Montgomery, who spent over 12 years with United before emigrating Down Under last summer, deserves a taste of the high life, having enjoyed a remarkable first season with Graham Arnold’s side.

Mariners, the smallest club in Australia’s A-League, claimed the Grand Final crown six weeks ago after beating West Sydney Wanderers 2-0 at the Allianz Stadium and reached the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League before eventually bowing out to a club known as ‘The Manchester United of China’.

“The A-League has been brilliant and its profile has completely gone through the roof with the likes of Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey coming over to play here,” Montgomery continues.

“Del Piero, even at 38, is still world class and could have easily graced the Premier League if he hadn’t chosen to sign for Sydney FC. They didn’t do that well but he was outstanding and scored some great goals.

“We narrowly missed out on winning the league itself but only because West Sydney won 11 of their last 12 games and pipped us right at the line.

“But we went on the win the Grand Final which over here is the main prize, so that means we were the ones who were crowned champions.”

Guangzhou Evergrande, coached by Italy legend Marcello Lippi, proved a tougher nut to crack than Tony Popovic’s men when they met Mariners in the race to become Asia’s leading team.

The financial resources at Evergrande’s disposal dwarf those available to many teams in Europe, with Argentine Dario Conca enjoying an annual salary of around £12 million.

“Getting to the last 16 of the Champions League was a great achievement,” Montgomery says. “The experience of playing in countries like China, Japan and Korea was amazing and to spend time in them was unforgettable.

“They all have about four or five top-class foreigners who are paid a fortune so the standard once again is very good.

“The team we eventually lost to (Guangzhou) are the richest team in China and had a player who is the fourth highest paid in the whole world.

“To put things into perspective, our wage budget for the whole club is about $2.4m compared to their $50m. Crazy when you think about it but we did really well and learned a lot.”

Montgomery has no regrets about making the life-changing decision to cross the globe.

But, as he explained, sporting success can take its toll.

“I suppose the only negative of playing out here is the constant travelling because we have to fly to most places and stay away for a few days,” he said.

“I miss the kids when I’m away and it’s been hard at times for my wife as we have the twins who are two years old now and real handful.

“I know it’s been tough for her when I’ve been away for the entire week in the ACL.

“At least she has friends from the team with kids who are also in the same boat so when we’re on the road they all meet up and go to the beach together. They really try and help each other out.”

Despite moving 10,000 miles away, Montgomery has not cut his ties with Bramall Lane.

United, whose search for a new manager looks set to end this week, are contemplating the prospect of a third season in English football’s third tier having been beaten in the League One play-off semi-finals last term.

“I followed the lads all season and I was gutted they missed out on promotion,” Montgomery says. “It really hurts me to see the club struggling to get out of that division because they’ve still got a massive place in my heart. They will always be a part of me and my feelings will never change.

“The good thing is they’ve got a lot of young lads who have done really well and that promises a lot for the future.

“I hope Morgs (Chris Morgan) gets the job but whoever does knows it’s going to be hard because United are a big club and everyone at that level is desperate to beat them.

“Hopefully they’ll get promotion this time around and then can start rebuilding a team to challenge for the Premier League once again.”