Van Marwijk’s a man of his word, says shock Socceroo Susnjar

Bolt-from-the-blue Socceroo Aleksandar Susnjar has greeted his shock call-up as the latest milestone in a football dream he’s pursued since leaving Perth for Serbia as a 13-year-old kid.

Hungry to learn his trade in Europe, Susnjar was accompanied by his father to Serbia nearly a decade ago on the first leg of a journey which has taken him on to Lithuania, Romania, the Czech Republic ... and now possibly Russia with the Socceroos.

He represented Serbia, the land of his heritage, as a 17-year-old but still speaks with an Australian twang, and never lost the ambition to play for the country of his birth.

Fast-tracked into the FIFA World Cup reckoning after impressing as an unknown for the Olyroos in January’s AFC U23 Championship in China, the 22-year-old mystery man knows he still has it all to prove to Bert van Marwijk.

But he is backing himself to impress, assuming he makes the cut when van Marwijk shaves his preliminary squad of 29 down to 23 for this month’s friendlies against Norway and Colombia.

“Leaving Australia so young was about pursuing my dream,” Susnjar said.

“If you go at 16 or 17, there are already players who’ve developed into the first team at that age.

“I wanted to rise through the youth ranks and adjust to the European style of football.

“It was a bit of a risk, but that’s how life is. If it hadn’t gone well I would have returned to Australia (where his parents and extended family live) to study at university.”

Being singled out by van Marwijk is still sinking in, with his phone clogged by congratulatory texts.

“I think he’s a man of his word,” he said. “He announced that he would be scouting far and wide, and as you can see that has happened.

“It’s good that he wants to change Australian football by bringing in new players.

“It’s easy to stick with what you have but fresh players can sometimes bring in a different sort of energy.

“Getting the call up is huge for me ... I think it has a bit to do with injuries to some Socceroos central defenders (Trent Sainsbury and Ryan McGowan) and maybe how I went with the Under-23s.

“I don’t think anybody knew much about me because I’ve been in Europe so long.

“I feel I proved myself to (Under-23’s coach) Ante Milicic and now I have to keep my head down and stay focused.

“Hopefully everything I’ve done so far will pay off and a lot more people will get to know who I am.

“I still have that Australian in me, and it will never go away.”

Newly arrived at FK Mlada Boleslav after stints with Donji Srem (Serbia), Lietava Jonava (Lithuania), Gaz Metan Medias (Romania) and Czech side Teplice, the 192cm left-footer plays alongside former A-League striker and Socceroos hopeful Golgol Mebrahtu.

Asked to describe his style, he says: “I like to keep the ball on the ground but I’m quite strong in the air.

“I just try to adjust myself to who we’re playing and what the coach wants.”

He’s made just one start to date for his new club, based in a working class town best known as the home of Skoda car production.

But he’s shaken off the lingering effects of tonsillitis and is ready to show his Socceroo selection is anything but an aberration.

He played UEFA Europa League for Lietava Jonava after breaking through at just 17, and has faith in his own ability as his career moves in an upward arc.

“That was a big stepping stone for me, then in Romania you had quality players and we were second in the league and I think I adapted well.

“It’s been so far so good for me and I believe in myself.

“I want to keep going bigger and better and believe I can play in a top league in Europe at some stage.”

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4 min read
Published 7 March 2018 at 9:05pm
By Dave Lewis