Jets defender Ivan Vujica set off for the club’s tour of Forster and Port Macquarie on Monday a little tired after Croatia’s World Cup campaign but also inspired to regain his starting position this A-League season.
The 21-year-old, who played in Croatia from 2011 to 2016 and represented the nation at under-19 level, stayed up to the early hours of Monday morning at teammate Steve Ugarkovic’s apartment to watch their country’s 4-2 loss to France in the World Cup final.
Ugarkovic also played in Croatia and for their under-19 team.
Vujica said he was “a bit hurt” after the defeat but also proud that “the small, small nation got that far”.
“They definitely won our hearts for sure,” he said.
He said the feeling in the Croatian community was “electric”, even after the loss in their first World Cup final.
“I get photos from back in Zagreb and everything is upside down,” he said. “Even though they lost, they are still partying like crazy.”
For Vujica, the Cup campaign carried extra significance given he had trained alongside some of Croatia’s squad while with Dinamo Zagreb from 2013 to 2016.
“A lot of them came through Dinamo,” he said.
“I trained with Marko Pjaca, he came on the last 10 minutes of the game. Jedvaj, Kovacic – they were in the same team. They were a bit older than me, but I would see them on a daily basis.
“The motivation to play in a World Cup is always high, especially when you watch and see, just maybe three, four years ago I was training with that guy and now he’s in the World Cup final.
“I want to get there too.”
Now fully fit again, Vujica’s first priority is to win back his starting place at the Jets. A bout of tonsillitis marred the end of his 2017-18 season. He featured 21 times, starting in 19 games, before missing a place in Newcastle’s semi-final and grand final teams.
He had his tonsils removed in January and now felt “100 per cent”.
“It was tough definitely, mainly because I was battling against myself,” he said.
“My system was very weak and as much as I tried, my body wasn’t the same, but in the off-season I’ve got them taken out, so now I feel great.
“I breathe and I feel like there’s so much more air coming in, so I’m happy about that.”
Vujica was pleased to start in most games last season at a young age, but said he had areas to improve on and he wanted to strengthen his claims for a position in next season’s back-line.
“[I need to] push, work hard, do whatever the coach wants me to do and that’s all there is to do,” he said.
“Convince the coach that I’m worthy of that [starting place], and I do that in training and in pre-season games.”
The Jets held a coaching clinic in Forster on Monday afternoon and have an open training session in Port Macquarie on Tuesday before a trial against a Mid North Coast Select team that night.