STEVE Ugarkovic still aspires to play overseas in a big league. That will never change.
And the industrious midfielder believes the best place for that to happen is the Newcastle Jets.
Plus there is a little matter of unfinished business.
Ugarkovic signed a two-year extension on Monday that will tie him to the club until the end of the 2020-21 season.
“It’s good to have secured my future,” Ugarkovic said after training on Monday. “There was contact early post season from the Jets, and straight away I knew I was happy here. Playing overseas is still a dream of mine but I’m not in a rush. Aaron Mooy didn’t go until he was 27. Football is like that. You play well, you sell yourself. We saw that with Andrew Nabbout. He was performing week-in, week-out and he got sold to Japan. That is football.”
Since arriving in Newcastle halfway through the 2015-16 campaign, Ugarkovic has improved every season. He and central defender, Nikoloai Topor-Stanley, were the only Jets players to start all 29 games last season and were crucial in the club’s push to the grand final.
“The season we had last year was special and I want to replicate it this year,” Ugarkovic said. “I set myself the goal of starting every game last year and I managed to do that. That was a big stepping stone I wanted to achieve. That will obviously be the target again. With the depth we have, it will be a little harder. That will be the challenge for the whole squad, not just me. Personally I think I am taking my game to the next level under Ernie Merrick and the coaching staff here.”
Ugarkovic led the Jets in completed passes last season and covered more ground than any player, averaging more than 12 kilometres per game and a high of 13.4 km.
While remaining focused on the “little things that people don’t see” he also wants to be more of a goal-scoring threat. With that in mind he participated in a “finishing school” during the off-season.
“Before I went overseas [on holiday] I did a bit of extra work on my shooting,” he said. “There is a clinic in Sydney, the First Phase Factory, that works with a few boys in the A-League. That is the next step for me, getting myself into more advanced areas and goal-scoring. I have been working on that this preseason and I think it is paying off.”
With less than two weeks before the A-League opener away to Wellington, Ugarkovic is adamant the Jets are more advanced than this time last season.
“With not as many boys coming in as last year, we have gelled a lot earlier,” he said. “We have also played a lot more games. That is what you want. You want to play a game every week, which is what we have done, and good quality games.”
Ugarkovic was 17 when he moved from Sydney to Croatia, where he spent four years before linking with the Jets.
“The youth system wasn’t as strong when I went overseas,” he said. “Now we have a lot of good young boys coming through the system which is credit to the clubs. It is definitely a place that I can still develop.”