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‘It’s a massive honour’: Tarek Elrich humbled to reach major A-League milestone

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There have been 1,181 players to have featured in the A-League since 2005, but only seven have had the honour of amassing 250 appearances.

Key points:

  • Tarek Elrich has played every A-League season since it began in 2005/06
  • Elrich appeared for the Wanderers in their inaugural season
  • He returned to the Wanderers after a stint with Adelaide United

Perhaps even more impressively, just four players have featured in every single one of the A-League's 14 seasons.

Western Sydney Wanderers defender Tarek Elrich is one of those four and this Saturday against Brisbane Roar in Mudgee he will become the eighth member of the 250-match club.

"It's a massive honour to be reaching that number and to be listed with the players that have achieved it," Elrich said.

"We haven't really spoken about it. Bridgey (Wanderers striker Mark Bridge) and the boys bought it up … I knew I was close to 250, but I didn't know how close I was, so it's massive."

The 31-year-old Elrich is western Sydney to the core.

He grew up with his three brothers and two sisters less than five kilometres from the Western Sydney Wanderers' inaugural home ground, the former Parramatta Stadium, and spent his formative footballing years with the Parramatta Eagles.

As is often the case, the game he loved dragged him away from his family, his home.

First to Newcastle, then to Adelaide, albeit via a brief stopover at his local A-League club when the Wanderers were established ahead of the 2012/13 season.

"When the A-League first started there wasn't much opportunity for me to play," Elrich said.

"I think in the first two seasons I only played 10 games altogether. My last stint here I only made I think 11 appearances."

Elrich's story is so much different to the others.

His younger brother Adham was hit by a car as a four-year-old and remained bedridden until he died aged 25 in 2015.

Elrich's older brother Ahmad, a former English Premier League player capped 17 times for the Socceroos, spent four years in prison between 2011 and 2015.

Elrich 'glad to be home' in western Sydney

Family is everything to him and the distance — both emotionally and geographically — between Adelaide and Sydney's western suburbs was exacerbated even further last year when the full-back ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and faced an uncertain future in the final season of his contract.

"Last season was a tough year in terms of injury, coming off contract as well wasn't easy, very stressful times, but I'm glad to be home now and to be achieving this milestone at my home club is massive for me," Elrich said.

Tarek Elrich re-joined the Wanderers after a five-season stint with Adelaide United.

The journey to 250 matches has been long and often lonely, and at times, appeared as though it would never be completed.

"I remember being at Newcastle, being a young kid, and a coach there after season two trying to get rid of me," Elrich said.

"You never know what's planned for you. Us players, when you're young you're very confident you will have a long career. It's not to be for everyone so I'm very blessed."

Starting life as a winger like his older brother, Elrich evolved into one of the A-League's most dependable full-backs and now, under Wanderers coach Markus Babbel, is reinventing himself once again in the centre of defence.

"I started as a winger at Newcastle. I remember Mark Jones was telling Gary van Egmond to play me at right back," he said.

"I stuck to full-back from there, right or left-back, and now I think with my age I've slowly gone back to centre-back.

"I don't know what message the coach is trying to send me, but for me it's just about doing what I have to do for the team, and I'm really enjoying myself again."

Elrich is one of the first on Babbel's team sheet. He feels at home at centre-back, he feels at home at the Wanderers, and most importantly, is home with his family.

"I'm just glad that I'm back from my knee injury playing week-in, week-out and helping the Wanderers hopefully succeed this season," he said.

"I know I'm one of those lucky guys to be around for so long, and clubs having the faith in signing me and giving me the opportunity to put a shirt on for nearly 250 games."

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