AFTER a return to football with his junior club Dandenong City this year, Jets fan favourite Ljubo Milicevic will continue his comeback in Newcastle next season with Northern NSW NPL club Charlestown.
In a major coup for Charlestown, the 36-year-old former Socceroos defender signed on Friday.
Before playing in the Victorian second-division this year, Milicevic had been away from the game after splitting with Perth Glory and featuring for Melbourne Knights in the NPL in 2013.
Keen to escape the “rat race” of Melbourne, Milicevic moved to Bondi immediately after the season with Dandenong. He started talks with Charlestown after meeting coach David Tanchevski’s brother, Chris, at an Australian Institute of Sport reunion in Bondi.
“They knew I was looking to play up this way, here or in Sydney, and from the start there was a common ground, respect and relationship that led onto talk around the football side of things,” Milicevic said. “It’s a great opportunity to be back up here and reconnect with all my mates here and the community, a place I fondly call home and always felt a part of, so I’m really glad to be back.”
Milicevic plans to stay in Bondi while playing for the Blues but said “I’m sure the travelling won’t affect me”. He was keen to help Charlestown, in a rebuild under new coach Tanchevski, become title contenders.
“I’m training everyday, doing yoga and I played midfield for most of this year, so I’ve still got run in my legs,” the former Hajduk Split, Basel, Thun and Zurich player said. “I’ve come up here to win. I want to play for a team that’s aiming to play in the finals and is having a crack. I hate losing and I don’t want to be part of a team that’s content with being mediocre.”
Outspoken and candid, Milicevic became a cult figure with Newcastle fans during his Jets stint from 2009-11. He has opened up in recent times about his personal battles with anxiety and depression and said he had “a couple of years away from football, but also really from life” before this season.
He was now exploring “the more creative side of life” in Bondi.
“I’m not trying to say I have it figured out, but definitely after many years of trying to figure s--- out and trying to understand why, I’d say I’m in a place where I’m at peace with it all,” he said. “But it’s a daily thing. I wake up everyday and do yoga at 6, eat certain foods and not other foods, and I’m very aware of what I’m putting myself through and making conscious decisions about my life, whereas in the past when I was a professional, you were racing from contract to contract. It was a rollercoaster existence.”
Tanchevski said Milicevic would be a natural leader on and off the field for the Blues.
“Even after 10 minutes on the phone with Ljubo, you can feel the inspiration, so I’m sure he’s going to bring some inspiration to the team and myself as well,” Tanchevski said.
“Having someone of his experience and also with that positive outlook on life. I’m sure that’s going to bring a lot to the team.”
“We were always a centre-back short, I thought, and obviously with Ljubo, he brings real leadership to the team as well and I think that’s something in the backline that we really need to have.”
He believed the signing of Milicevic would be a major positive for the Blues and the NNSW NPL.
“Ljubo was a really loved player at Newcastle and the community connected with him, so I’m sure that will bring people to the game,” he said.
Milicevic said it was “a really enjoyable experience to be back playing the game I love in front of family and friends” this year.
“When I started getting fit and healthy again, and making public appearances, one of the things that has always brought me joy and a deep love, I guess, is football,” he said.
Like former Jets and Sydney midfielder, Stuart Musialik, Milicevic has spoken about his personal struggles during his professional career.
“We were taught a lot of things about nutrition, recovery, technique and tactics, but they never really encourage you to look deeper and find peace and deal with what really matters in life, and that’s your soul,” he said.
“It’s not just Stu and I, a lot of our teammates have confided in us privately about the struggle. It’s a very real thing.
“I guess Stuey and I being open about it helps others to allow themselves to be vulnerable, because you’re not alone, even though at times you feel like you are alone going through that.
“The sooner you realise you can open up to people and they do care about you and want to see you happy, the sooner you can confront any demons you have inside. Because nothing is worth losing your life over.”