Ben Garuccio is an A-League winner with two different clubs. But his career hasn’t been without challenges. In this article, the Western United fullback reflects upon the setbacks he faced in youth football, moving to Scotland as a professional and suffering a major knee injury, and how he consistently overcame adversity to develop as both a player and person — and, ultimately, build a successful and fulfilling career in the game.

In This Article

From Youth Football to the Professional Game

Garuccio’s career can be traced back to his childhood in Sydney. Growing up in a family of six, the youngest child by nine years, he learned to enjoy competing at an early age. “I loved being outside and playing sports,” he says. “As a kid, my focus was always football, but I also played AFL and cricket at school. I think being active so young really held me in good stead for the future.”

Despite his early promise though, Garuccio still encountered obstacles along his journey in youth football: “I was tiny. I didn’t start to fill out until I was around 22-years-old, so it was common to face opponents who were much more physically developed than me. That’s normal when you’re young and still developing, though we don’t always appreciate it at the time. But you have to believe in yourself — that you will continue to grow and improve.”

Garuccio says his biggest setback as a junior footballer was failing to make Australia’s squad for the U-17 World Cup in Mexico. After starting for Australia’s Under-17s during the qualifiers, he began to struggle, ultimately missing out on selection for the main tournament: “There were two or three guys who didn’t go, and I was one of them,” he recalls. “There were players who hadn’t been involved in the Under-17s before, who then came in and were selected ahead of me.

“That one hurt. But there are highs and lows all of the time in football. You must be prepared for setbacks, and keep pushing forward when you experience them.”

Overcoming Adversity in Elite Environments

Despite early setbacks, Garuccio went on to make it in professional football, eventually moving overseas to play for Hearts in the Scottish Premiership. Once again, however, a promising start preceded a new set of challenges. “At first it was amazing,” he says. “We won our first ten games of the season, beat Celtic, and were top of the league.

“I played every single game and got selected for the Socceroos. Life was great. Then they [Hearts] signed another left-back and I was dropped. Then, after I worked to get back into the team, I tore my ACL.”

Recounting the difficulty of this period, Garuccio now counts it among the most valuable learning experiences of his career: “It was a moment where I learned a lot about myself. Before then, I didn’t think much about things like being hydrated, getting my body right, or doing movement training. But after my injury, I didn’t take that stuff for granted.”

To make matters harder, Garuccio returned from injury — after more than 12 months without playing a competitive game — at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic; the Scottish season was ended prematurely, relegating Hearts, and the club’s new manager did not include Garuccio in his future plans. “This was the pinnacle of all challenges,” he says. “But it helped me to mature as a person and a player.”

In the end, Garuccio moved back to Australia, winning the double with Melbourne City before joining Western United, helping the club to win its first A-League title in 2022: “I felt this was the best club to be at, and my gut feeling was right. They’re so ambitious in what they’re trying to do, but there’s also a fantastic family culture here.”

Now, having overcome many obstacles to get there, Garuccio finds himself in an environment where he’s enjoying his football again. “I’m hoping there’s more success to come on the pitch,” he says, “and that I’ll be here long-term, to be a part of it all.”

The Importance of Self-Belief

A strength to which Garuccio attributes much of his success is his self-belief. “Mentality is one of the hardest things to get right in professional sport,” he explains. “Sometimes you go out there and just don’t feel confident. I’ve been through that. But now, instead of worrying, I try to get comfortable feeling that way. Knowing that you can still perform when you’re not confident is important. Then, when you are confident, you feel like nothing can stop you.

“I always tell young players not to be fearful; you must be open to making mistakes, and prepared to move on from them. It’s also important to cut out external noise — particularly from things like social media. Even if fans boo you, remember that you’re in that position because you’re good enough to be there.

“When I was younger, I struggled with that — but I worked on it for a long time, and I believe that mindset now helps me to perform at my best. After all, if I don’t believe in myself, who is going to believe in me?”

Lessons for Young Players

Unsurprisingly, Garuccio regards self-belief and an ability to overcome adversity among the key attributes for young players to develop: “Being able to expect setbacks, not be disheartened by them, and maintain that unwavering belief in yourself is crucial.

“Watch professional athletes and notice the self-belief that they possess. A player like Cristiano Ronaldo could lose the ball 15 to 20 times in a game and still score the winning goal in the 90th minute. That’s due to the belief he has in himself.”

Finally, Garuccio advises players to enjoy what they do and apply themselves. “Put the effort in, listen, take advice, and learn,” he concludes. “There’s enough room in this world for people to be successful; if you’re passionate and willing to work hard, you will get there.”

Image Source: Mutlu Kurtbas

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