Fairytale football comeback for bad boy Bosnich

In his first top-level game in seven years prodigal Australian goalkeeper Mark Bosnich defied both the passage of time and the ravages of an outrageous drug-fueled lifestyle in Britain to put in a performance worthy of celluloid boxer Rocky Balboa, dpa reported.

For the 7,107 spectators at the Central Coast Mariners ground an hour's drive north of Sydney at the weekend the 36-year-old turned the clock back to his halcyon days with Aston Villa and Manchester United.

Bosnich, who left for Britain at 16 and only returned this year, not only kept a clean sheet but saved a penalty in his side's 3-0 victory over Sydney FC.

Sydney FC coach John Kosmina heaped praise on the former Australian international,saying he "was the difference between the two sides."

A formal contract is likely to be signed this week that will make Bosnich a professional player again. A tumultuous career covered on both the front and the back pages of Britain's tabloids could be back on track.

"One swallow doesn't make a summer. There's still a long way to go," a back-from-the-brink Bosnich said after the game. "If today went another way I'd still say the same thing. Experience has taught me not to get too out of control either way, but it was a really good start."

Bosnich has bucket-loads of experience of the highs and lows.

In the seven years at Aston Villa before he moved to Manchester United in 1999, Bosnich was one of the world's best goalies. Still in his 20s, he was earning big money and was his country's most valuable football export.

The lows were precipitous too. In 2001 he was turfed out of his million-dollar home and had his contract cancelled by Chelsea after testing positive for cocaine. The tabloids couldn't decide whether he was to blame for fashion-model girlfriend Sophie Anderton's drug addiction or whether they were both as bad as each other.

Bosnich, suspended by the Football Association for nine months, quit football after the Chelsea debacle - and seems to have quit earning money as well.

He was declared bankrupt in the High Court in London earlier this month and friends told The Sun newspaper that Bosnich had "hit rock bottom" and "hasn't a penny to his name."

At the game on Sunday it was evident that months of fitness training with London club Queens Park Rangers last year had paid off.

Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna flagged a contract for Bosnich. "It all fell into place for Mark today and he was good," McKinna said. "He's come out here and shown he can play."

Bosnich grew up in the rough end of Sydney and thanked those who stood by him.

"Family is a very, very important thing and you shouldn't take it for granted," he said in the post-match press conference. "My sister's got three young children who look up to me as well. That's really knocked me for six in terms of how you should behave."

Bosnich said he didn't feel a contract was in the bag and his career back on track. He was just happy to have played well and received praise from his teammates and the coach. "I am just trying to be a little bit humble - balanced - for once. It felt really good," he said.

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