Christian Salem is all business

Christian Salem is all business- on and off the field. The Sandringham Dragon’s midfield dynamo might not be too sure what he wants to study next year, but something in business is an option he’s considering. Yet it’s the business he gets down to on the footy field that has made draft experts draw comparisons to Trent Cotchin and Scott Pendlebury.

I sat down in the Legend’s Stand in Visy Park to watch the round one TAC Cup triple header. Within 15 minutes of watching Sandringham, I had already penciled down Salem as sharing the same unique and unteachable quality that Pendlebury flaunts: the ability to create time and space to dispose of the ball in heavy traffic. When quizzed about that natural talent, Salem played it down and said “before trying to dish it off quickly I just scan and see what’s on and if it takes a couple of seconds I’ll back myself to make that space and hit that target. It’s just more of an awareness thing.”

Don’t take his self belief in his kicking as an egotistical thing though, because Salem is as reserved and level headed as they come. He admitted in his time away from footy, he’s not one to go out and knock back shots like they’re water. Instead he prefers the humbling relaxation of spending time with his family. “I just enjoy hanging out with my brothers… watching the footy. I follow soccer pretty heavily.” In an age where rat packs and controversy dominate the back page, it’s a refreshing change to see a mature and modest role model come through the ranks.

At the start of the year, it looked as though on paper, Geelong, Oakleigh and Sandringham were the three elite teams. But with Vic Metro duties and school footy taking away the likes of Josh Kelly and Salem for lengthy parts of the season, Sandringham has slumped to a mediocre seventh position on the ladder. Despite this, Salem is confident that they can still win the flag; “We knew at the start of the year how hard it would be to make the finals considering how many of the boys had to leave… it’s hard but we all know that if we can get into the finals we can do some serious damage.”

In comparison to an elite runner like Kelly, you could say that Salem isn’t exactly a great athlete. But he does have a turn of pace and he has a tank that gets him through games. As a guy who isn’t as athletically gifted as others, Salem plays to his strengths and relies on his field kicking; “Whenever I get the ball I just try to take my opportunities and inflict some serious damage. I’ve been trying to improve my work rate too.”

When discussing Sandringham, it’s easy to pinpoint the big four- Kelly, Salem, Nathan Freeman and Max Hayes. Yet there is a dark horse who on form warrants draft day discussion. Salem delved into the world of the silent assassin Karl Amon; “He’s definitely slipped under the radar. He’s a booming left foot. He’s a good kid… not many people realise how much he works on the training track and he’s always trying to get the best out of himself.”

Salem was granted the honour of being an AIS Academy member and as a part of that; he got to train alongside the man he most looks up to from a football perspective, Chris Judd. “He’s just so professional in the way he goes about it. I was lucky enough at the start of the year to spend a week at Carlton as a part of the AIS Academy. I always followed him around. He’s the first one there, last one to leave and doing all the extra sessions.” The characteristic that Salem admired most was “It doesn’t matter that he’s proved himself now, he still wants to make a statement and the way he pushes himself- it’s just crazy to see how much hard work he does.”

After spending several years as a member of Vic Metro, Salem rated Oakleigh Co-Captain Jay Kennedy-Harris as the player who has improved out of sight. We chatted to Jay earlier “He’s improved dramatically since under 16’s. He’s a great kid and he’s always working his butt off. In the WA game and the SA game his pressure was amazing. You couldn’t ask for anything more- his tackles were up and he doesn’t stop. (He gives) 100% for the whole four quarters.”

Like Kennedy-Harris, Salem is focused on what is happening right now. He’s not entirely sure what he wants to do next year, although the quiet hard worker from Sandringham will have plenty of time to figure out what he wants to do next year. Right now though, thoughts of a suit and tie are merely in the background. The Sherrin and four points are the two things that matter most to him.

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