Is Croatia the new Brazil for A-League recruitment?
It appears that Croatia has become the latest buzz recruitment ground for Hyundai A-League clubs, with so far a quartet of Croatians entering our local league with the hope of re-energizing their stalled careers.
While Brazil was the clear flavour of the month in previous seasons, season eight will have a prominent Croatian vibe.
The dominant Australian dollar and economy, relaxed lifestyle and allure of the unknown are the most logical reasons behind the move to Terra Australis for these Croatian footballers.
English being compulsory in Croatian schooling means the language barrier is also no longer poses an issue. Josip Tadić, Kruno Lovrek and Western Sydney’s latest signings Dino Kresinger and Mateo Poljak can say farewell to the ćevapčići and say g’day to the meat pie.
As a Melbourne Heart supporter, the signing of 24 year old Josip Tadić definitely has me excited. Boasting a high class pedigree and a deft first touch it has me thinking that perhaps we have nabbed the best Croatian of the four. Tadić boasts on his resume spells in the leagues of Germany, France, and Poland, and of course the national league in his native Croatia.
The standout spell clearly has to be the 2006 – 2009 seasons that Tadić spent at Croatian powerhouse Dinamo Zagreb. Scoring a highly credible 20 goals in 62 appearances for the club, Tadić was playing regularly alongside Croatian stars Luka Modric, Mario Mandžukić and Vedran Ćorluka. Claiming titles was a regular habit for this particular Dinamo Zagreb team, with Tadić surely learning how to taste success, while playing the beautiful game at the same time.
While recent spells in France, Germany and most recently Poland being far less productive for Tadić, well definitely from a goal scoring aspect, the skilful forward has a chance to rejuvenate his career. More than just a finisher Tadić can play wide, second striker or even as a playmaker, so let’s hope he recaptures that lethal hunger that was shown at his time at Dinamo Zagreb. At only 24, almost the prime footballing age, youth is certainly on his side.
Sydney FC was the next A-League club to lure a Croatian down under, with the signing of veteran hitman Kruno Lovrek, who has previously had stints all over Europe and even in Korea and China. Brought up through the highly acclaimed Croatian youth system not dissimilar to Tadić, Lovrek’s footballing journey began at rival Croatian club, NK Zagreb.
Lovrek would depart the homeland for disappointing spells in Japan and Belgium before returning to NK Zagreb for a more stable stint in 2006. It was the club of his youth where Lovrek would recapture his love for the game and parade a stunning return to form. It would be these 32 goals in 47 appearances in the Prva Liga that generated a big money move to Turkey for Lovrek after he signed for Super Lig club Eskişehirspor in 2008.
Limited playing time in Turkey led Lovrek to Asia, with time spent in Korea and China before he decided to take the punt and head down under.
At 32 years old, Lovrek has a chance to end his career on a high note, and has the ability to play several more good seasons in Australia. While his recent form has been uninspiring, Lovrek certainly has shown ability over his career. Let’s hope Sydney F.C have unearthed a real gem.
On Monday the Western Sydney Wanderers were the next club to announce the signing of two Croatians, both at very different stages of their careers. Dino Kresinger and Mateo Poljak have taken the total number of Croatians in the A-League to four.
Dino Kresinger has come to Australia as a 30 year old, looking for a renewed challenge to his career before he considers retirement. Closely monitored by Tony Popovic over the past few months, his total of 11 goals for Cibalia in the Croatian Prva Liga last season showed that he still plenty to offer. Spending his entire career in his native Croatia, this veteran striker looms a very promising signing.
Mateo Poljak comes to Australia at the ripe young age of 22. After beginning his career at Dinamo Zagreb, he was loaned out to rival club NK Lokomotiva and has played in the first and second divisions of Croatia. The defensive midfielder has come through a proven system and will be looking for regular game time under Tony Popovic who obviously sees him as talented young prospect.
Perhaps there will be even more Croatians to come before the season starts in October. It is certainly uplifting to see this previously untapped talent pool finally getting the attention it deserves. While everyone knows about South America, recruiters are finally looking abroad to more diverse countries. Let’s hope that this latest influx of Croatians is a successful one and many more Europeans look to Australia as viable career path.
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