As recently as February this year, it appeared as though Scott McDonald was done with football.
Aged 35 and without a contract after an unsuccessful promotion push with Scottish side Dundee United it appeared as though McDonald was set to pursue a move into punditry and coaching; making numerous appearances across Scottish media and completing a UEFA Pro-Licence.
Had he chosen to hang up the boots at that point, McDonald would have quietly put together one of the more impressive careers of an Australian in Europe in recent memory.
Born in Melbourne’s southeast – the striker at one point was an ambassador for Team 11’s A-League bid – and a student at Dandenong’s St John’s Regional College, McDonald began his career with local sides Doveton, Gippsland Falcons and Casey Comets before departing for Britain as a 15-year-old in order to trial with Southampton.
After some unsuccessful stints south of the border, McDonald eventually made his way north of Hadrian’s Wall to sign with Motherwell in 2004 and, in doing so, truly kickstarted his career.
Forty-two goals in 108 games at the Fir Park Stadium then followed, before another fruitful stint at Celtic (51 goals in 88 appearances) and spells with Middlesbrough, Millwall, a return to Motherwell and Dundee United; scoring over 170 goals in all.
Heavily linked to a move to Western Sydney Wanderers when they were under the guidance of Tony Popovic, McDonald never discounted a return to Australia for the twilight for his career but, as he told Daily Football Show in August of 2018, no offers from the A-League were forthcoming.
“I’m just really waiting,” he said in that interview.
“I’ve had a couple of things come up and opportunities abroad, nothing from Australia which obviously was disappointing.
“Obviously I’m getting a little bit older, and in terms of what people are probably looking at, then that’s fair enough so that opportunity never arose.”
In February, though, just as it appeared that the book on his career had been finally been closed, a call came in from former Celtic teammate Gary Caldwell and current boss of Glaswegian Scottish Championship side Partick Thistle.
Relegated from the Scottish Premiership the year prior, Thistle were rooted to the bottom of the Championship when Caldwell came knocking; the Thistle gaffer seeking to avoid the same fate that befell the 2003-04 Thistle side when they ‘achieved’ rare back-to-back relegations.
Since then, however, The Jags have undergone a renaissance in their form – with McDonald leading the way.
The former Socceroo has scored six times in eleven appearances across all competitions for the club, whilst also grabbing a further three assists.
On Saturday he delivered yet again for Thistle: pulling them off the bottom of the Championship table after placing a sumptuous free kick under the crossbar and into the back of the net to secure a 2-1 win over an Alloa side that had entered the contest unbeaten in four games.
Should they win their mid-week game-in-hand against Ayr United Wednesday morning Australian time, Thistle could find themselves as high as sixth on the table – two places clear of the relegation playoff spot – with only two rounds on the season remaining.
But what next for McDonald?
Could that elusive return to the A-League finally be in the offing?
Given that he will be 36-years-old at the beginning of the 2019-20 A-League season, McDonald would likely be relied upon to serve as a complementary piece should he lace up the boots in Australia; able to contribute with the occasional goal whilst also putting that UEFA Pro Licence to work as a valuable mentor and leader in both games and on the training ground.
The side he was once linked to, Western Sydney Wanderers, could be in the market for a striker if the likely departure of Oriol Riera comes to fruition.
Set to lose Apostolos Stamatelopoulos to Western United and having desperately needed some semblance of consistency up front this season, Adelaide United could serve as an ideal landing place – although such a move would likely hinge on the system implemented by their new manager.
Closer to home, both Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City could – if the price is right – also be in the market for complementary pieces for their established strikers in Ola Toivonen and Jamie Maclaren respectively.
With his ability to serve as a leader both on and off the field McDonald could prove a particularly tempting target for City gaffer Warren Joyce should he continue his attempts to mould City’s culture and mentor young Australian talent next season.
The aforementioned Western United could also prove an excellent landing spot for McDonald.
With Stamatelopoulos the only recognised striker currently on their books and with a squad average age of just 22.83 years veteran leadership, particularly going forward, will be at a premium for the A-League newcomers in their first season in Australia’s top flight.
Should he so desire to, the club could also offer a seamless transition into coaching when it eventually establishes an academy and junior setup of its own.
Nonetheless, regardless of what he may choose to do, the 26-time Socceroo’s exploits at Firhill Stadium is certainly showing there’s some life in the old dog yet.
HEADER IMAGE: Partick Thistle | Donald Wilson