Socceroos debutant with eyes on the Premier League

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The high-energy midfielder is in line for an Australia debut in the coming days in the double header internationals against New Zealand, as he looks to build on his pedigree with the Olyroos and state a cast-iron case for World Cup selection.

At the same time, Francois, 22, is the sole Australian remaining on the books of a Premier League club - a breed in danger of extinction after the heady days of the early 2000s when Antipodeans roamed in packs across the competition.

A ticket to Qatar would only enhance Sydney-raised Francois’ profile, which has been on a slow burn at Fulham where he has tasted top flight action twice in his nine years at the club. Just enough of a sniff to whet the appetite for more.

The Cottagers sit an impressive sixth on the EPL ladder seven games into the new season under Portuguese manager Marco Silva, and Francois was a part of every squad before heading to Croatia to chase the senior football he craves.

“I was on the bench on every week before I left - but I just thought for my career to progress I needed to play week-in week-out to get momentum and rhythm going, for my body and my mind,” Francois said. “The EPL is the best league on the world, don’t get me wrong, I was very fortunate to be with the first team squad at Fulham.

“But I’m 22 now, with not a lot behind me in terms of a profile, so that was the thinking behind it all.

“Being in Croatia is really to help me bridge that gap and get into the Premier League (playing regularly).

“This is about having an open mind to coming back (to the EPL), not to walk away or look elsewhere for another option. That’s the goal - and it always has been. So this move can help me with that.”

Francois has three appearances under his belt for Gorica already, where fellow Aussie Deni Juric is a teammate, and is there initially until January.

“It’s all about getting as many minutes as possible because the last couple of years I haven’t played as much football as I’d I’ve liked because of Covid and injuries. So to come out to Croatia was a no-brainier,” he said.

Fellow Olyroos star Juric - brother of Tomi Juric - is also on loan at Gorica - from Dinamo Zagreb - scoring once in four appearances this season.

“He’s helped me settle in and is a very good striker - I think he’ll score quite a few more this season,” Francois said.

Another plus for a budding number six in the Vince Grella mould is the possibility of regular club minutes landing him a boarding pass to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.

“That was certainly in the back of my mind,” Francois said. “If I’m playing every week, and do well in this camp, hopefully it gives the manager a decision to make,” he explained.

“Graham Arnold knows all about me - and coming into the senior set up won’t be a shock to me in terms of the system and style we play. It’s the same way the Olyroos play.

“I spoke to both Arnie and (assistant) Rene Meulensteen (before coming to Croatia) and they basically said only I can tell what’s best for me and my career in terms of what the feeling is like at Fulham and what my gut is saying.

“They were very supportive in terms of all that. Fulham is a great club and being the only Aussie in the Premier League is a big thing and hard to walk away from.

“But I’m still a Fulham player and I’m out here for experience in an elite environment.”

Francois is heartened by Fulham’s bright start to life back in the EPL, though not surprised.

“We’ve picked up some very good points and have won games which would have been more difficult for us in previous seasons,” he said. “I think we’ll make a statement this season to be honest with you, and prove a lot of people wrong.

“We look solid, have brought in some really good players and had a good base already.

“The manager also knows all about this league (from spells at Watford and Everton) and tactically we’re very strong. I don’t see us having issues this season.

“The vibe and spirit in the camp is about going into every game knowing and believing they can win. It’s not a case of surviving. It’s more about showing how good they are, and how they can perform against the top teams.

“There are points to be proven for the club - and they’re doing it slowly.”

While breaking into the Australian midfield is a big ask, Francois harbours no self doubt.

“It will be difficult but I back myself and have full belief in myself,” he said. “The squad is strong in that area but I just have to show what I can do.

“It’s a great test for me - I’m looking forward to it.”