IT'S incredible to think that only 12 months ago defender Trent Sainsbury could not make the Central Coast Mariners' team.
Last month, the 21-year-old proved a colossus in helping to keep the Western Sydney Wanderers to a clean sheet in the A-League grand final.
He is also an Asian Champions League goalscorer and, perhaps most significant of all, the winner of the Mariners' Medal - the club's award for its best player - last week.
Sainsbury hopes to stand strong at the back once more against a star-studded Guangzhou Evergrande side in the Asian Champions League round-of-16 clash next Wednesday night at Bluetongue Stadium.
He is relishing the challenge of lining up against Lucas Barrios.
The Paraguay striker is reportedly on a deal of more than $8.5 million a year, in a team that is headed by 2006 Italian World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi.
"I'm eagerly awaiting this game - I faced off against Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono this season, so this is another notch I can add to my belt," Sainsbury said.
Making his transformation over the past 12 months even more meteoric is the fact Sainsbury will trial with Swiss club FC Basel after the first-leg clash against the Mariners' Chinese opponents.
"I had a three to four-year plan at the Mariners to play well and then hopefully get a chance overseas," he said. "If the trial doesn't work out, I'll have another year at the Mariners to work on a few things."
It was that exact plan, combined with his freakish ability, which had Sainsbury at times feeling over-confident of making an instant impression after first breaking into the Central Coast squad.
"I went from making $50 a week to being a professional footballer, so I felt bigger than some people, but some of the older boys at the Mariners quickly made me earn my keep," he said.
Sainsbury has enjoyed his time at a national training camp this week, for the best Australian A-League talent, under the eye of Socceroos coach Holger Osieck.
"I'm pretty happy I'm being considered, but it only gets tougher from here," Sainsbury said.
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