Croatian youth international Ivan Vujica has vowed to “do the dirty work” for the Newcastle Jets after signing a two-year contract with the A-League club.
The stocky teenage left back arrives from the Dinamo Zagreb under-19s set-up, where he played in UEFA Youth League wins over Arsenal and Bayern Munich and in Croatia’s successful Euro Under-19 Championship qualifying campaign.
Vujica, who was born in Sydney and moved to Croatia as a 14-year-old in 2011, said on Monday that he was unsure where his national allegiances would lie if forced to choose but was instead focusing on his first venture into senior football.
“It feels like the right time, a good stepping stone to come back to the A-League and continue my career here,” he told the Herald. “It feels good to come home.”
Vujica trained several times with Dinamo’s B team, but this will be his first exposure to men’s competition.
“It will be a tough challenge, but it’s something I’m completely up for. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot over there. I had a good coach over there. He used to kill us every training. He wanted us to be ready for senior football.”
He said he was combative by nature, a trait reinforced by his former club.
“That’s me, slide tackles, hard tackles, the dirty work for the team – that’s what I love doing. If I get a good tackle in, it feels like I’ve scored a goal.
“I like to get forward as well, but the way we were taught at Dinamo is left fullback you’ve got to look after your defensive duties. You can’t be a hole at the back.
“If you see a space in front you bomb forward. You were always expected to get the crosses in and make sure you’re a rock at the back.”
Vujica is the second of three under-20 players the Jets are obliged to sign – the first was former Wanderers defender Daniel Alessi – and his arrival leaves four places open on the club’s roster.
He is a specialist left-sided player who will compete for a starting place at the Jets with Nick Cowburn.
His signing comes after the arrival of fellow youngsters Steven Ugarkovic, Devante Clut, Alessi and Andrew Hoole this year.
“Ivan has been well educated technically in Croatia and has an aggressive, dynamic style which we believe will help our group both physically and tactically,” coach Scott Miller said in a club statement.
“He has been part of a full-time environment at Dinamo Zagreb . . . and from our analysis he rates very favourably statistically compared to his peers in games.”
Vujica left Sydney for Croatia as a 14-year-old with his mother, Ivanka. She returned to Australia two years later when he joined older brother Anto at Dinano.
Anto returned soon after, leaving a 16-year-old Ivan to fend for himself for two years.
“I just had to learn by myself,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for mum or dad. Whenever I had a problem I had to solve it for myself.”
He said he could have stayed at “Dinamo House”, where many of the club’s other youth players lived, but chose instead to live alone in an apartment to “focus on soccer”.