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Opinion

'The best technical players in Europe': The A-League’s bridge to the Balkans

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Roar Guru
5th October, 2021
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Some 83 different nations have been represented in the A-League. 

While players from countries like Brazil, England and the Netherlands have traditionally struggled in the A-League, the recent views of an A-League coach have eyes fixated on a region that has had plenty of success in the A-League: the Balkans.

The Balkans are made up of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia.

This is what Brisbane Roar coach Warren Moon said in a recent interview upon singing Juan Lescano from Russian club Yenisey Krasnoyarsk.

“I needed a striker that had a high work rate, with a nice frame on them and I’m thinking about where (Besart) Berisha is from. Those leagues are physical, they’re tough. It’s hard to play in those leagues because it’s so physical… So that’s why I was looking in the Eastern Bloc, and looked at leagues in Croatia, Serbia, Russia, places like that.”

Players from this part of the world will regularly be over six foot tall in height, have chiselled physiques, be strong in a tackle and have fiery tempers – but their ability with the ball is generally sublime.

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Albania has had one representative in Migjen Basha, who was a mainstay in a Melbourne Victory team that finished bottom last year.

There have been no players from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria or Montenegro yet in the A-League.

Players from Croatia have been solid but without the flair. Mateo Poljak was a good servant for two A-League clubs and Dino Kresinger became a cult favourite at the Wanderers.

Josip Tadić and Goran Paracki had respectable seasons at the Heart and Phoenix while the less said about Dario Bodrušić and Krunoslav Lovrek’s time in Adelaide and Sydney the better.

Kosovo has been represented by the A-League’s greatest ever goal scorer Besart Berisha.

Besart Berisha

(Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

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North Macedonia has got serial trophy winner Daniel Georgievski. His countryman Mensur Kurtiši’s time in Brisbane wasn’t so lucky.

Lucian Goian was the sole representative from Romania. He had a short stint in Perth as an injury replacement player.

Serbian players in particular have been famed for their technical skills, so much so that the nickname ‘the Brazilians of Europe’ given by their South American counterparts has stuck around for decades.

Sydney FC has been the A-League club to benefit the most from Serbian players.

Strong centre back Nikola Petković, striker Ranko Despotović as well as midfield maestro Miloš Dimitrijević and possibly the A-League’s greatest ever attacking midfielder Miloš Ninković have enjoyed great success.

Milos Ninkovic from Sydney FC

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Perth Glory can also boast success stories in Branko Jelic, Milan Jovanic, Milan Smiljanić and the supremely talented Nebojša Marinković among their ranks over the years.

Milan Đurić, Andrija Kaluđerović, Miloš Trifunović and Matija Ljujić can also count their single-season stints with Central Coast, Brisbane, Newcastle and Wellington as positives.

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Robert Koren has been the most successful player from Slovenia after his two-season stint in Melbourne.

Denis Kramar and Tomislav Mišura were two forgettable names at Perth and Newcastle, while Džengis Čavušević’s career ended in Adelaide when he tore his ACL and subsequently retired.

It’s not all one-way traffic though. Australian players from the Balkans are regularly being watched by their lineage overseas. An Altona Magic player from the Victorian NPL is currently on trial with European glamour club Crvena Zvezda in Europe.

There are currently 14 young Australians in the Balkans playing football, let alone the many that are on trial due to family links.

Many children’s grandparents migrated to Australia after World War Two and then generations later whole families migrated here after the war in the ’90s.

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What we have seen since is an incredible production line of players and coaches across all levels of Australian football that have gone on to represent the Socceroos and massive teams in Europe.

Warrens Moon’s recent comments will hopefully once again have clubs looking at the region that produces the best technical players in Europe, the Balkans.

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