Berlin – During his first few weeks in Berlin, Mathew Leckie was confronted, again and again, with the same number: 2,700. That was how many minutes the attacker, who arrived at Hertha in the summer from FC Ingolstadt, had gone without scoring. It was a long, baron run, and the Australian acknowledged that himself, but it soon came to an end in his first Bundesliga appearance for his new club. In the season opener against VfB Stuttgart, Hertha’s number 11 scored both goals in a 2-0 win. ͞"The criticism of me was understandable. Last season, it just didn’t work out in front of goal, but I didn’t let that deter me and always believed in myself – I’m even happier now," said Leckie on the first Bundesliga matchday.
A perfect start
The 26 year old’s positive start gave Michael Preetz hope that the transfer would be a success. ͞This will spur him on over the coming weeks or months. When we signed him, many sneered at his lack of goals. Our hope, though, was that this drought would end in a new environment and new way of playing,͟ said the sporting director. And his wish was fulfilled. In September, Leckie’s goals secured a draw against Bremen, and the Blue-Whites won their next home game against Leverkusen 2-1 with help from the Austrialian’s fourth strike of the season.
In late summer, the new arrival was seemingly the missing piece in the puzzle for Hertha’s attack. "Lecks is a good lad, who has settled in wonderfully. He is a real weapon for us," said Pál Dárdai. The coach was convinced from the start that his new signing would not just bring his pace and dynamism to the Blue-Whites’ game, but also finishing qualities. With the arrival of Autumn, came somewhat more unpleasant Bundesliga times for Leckie. October and November did not really go as planned for the good-humoured, yet shy winger. One reason was, of course, that he had set the bar so high for himself after his superb performances at the start of the season.
A more significant factor was, however, how much he was forced to travel for his nation’s World Cup play-off matches. At the start of October, he flew to his native Australia for a couple of important play-off games. After these energy-sapping ties, including extra time, and a total of 210 minutes of playing time in which he claimed two assists, his Socceroos overcame Syria. After his return to the German capital, he still had not fully gotten over the strain of traveling, and also suffered a few niggling muscle injuries which caused him to sit out of training. All of this meant he missed out on the games against Hamburg and Wolfsburg.
A few days after the league game against the Wolves, his next World Cup play-off game awaited him. Suspended for the first leg against Honduras (0-0), Leckie and his teammates won the return fixture 3-1 and secured qualification for Russia 2018. "It’s an honour to play for my country. I’m very happy that we qualified for the World Cup," said the Australia international, who has 49 caps for his country, including some gained at this summer’s Confed Cup.
A frequent flier
After the second tiring journey "down under", the winger’s batteries were almost empty. "Leckie hasn’t trained with us properly for four weeks as he was representing his country and has travelled half way around the world. He should get some rest and be fit or the next games," reasoned Dárdai, after leaving the attacker out of the Gladbach match. The player himself understood his boss’choice: "With the shape I was in, I wouldn’t have been able to help the team."
And the break definitely did Leckie good. Although his contributions in the encounters with Athletic Bilbao (a goal) and Eintracht Frankfurt (an assist) could not avoid defeats, they at least got him in the spotlight again for the right reasons.
Despite the brief blip in Autumn, Leckie has fulfilled everything that was expected of him, and has shown how important he can be to Hertha. It can also be said with some certainty that the 26 year old has, in every sense, settled into his new home. Just days before his first Bundesliga brace, his wife gave birth to their first child, leading Leckie to label this summer as͞ the best time of my life.
And all Blue-Whites certainly wish him similarly beautiful moments in the upcoming second half of the season and beyond - luckily for him, next summer is just around the corner!