Australian striker Marianna Tabain is considering a return to play in Croatia next year and switching her allegiance to the European country.
A former W-League striker, Tabain grew up in Perth and spent last year playing for ZNK Split in the Croatian Women’s First Football League. She was set to return to the Balkan nation this year, with chance to represent Croatia internationally, but the move was thwarted by COVID-19.
Tabain, who spent a decade in the W-League with Perth Glory and Melbourne City, says she loved her time in Europe.
“It was amazing, something that I always wanted to do was to play in Europe after playing in the W-League for so long,” she told The World Game.
“It was eye-opening in many ways, but I really enjoyed the experience. It can’t be that bad doing what you love and being surrounded by picturesque islands.
“Both of my parents are from Croatia, so I have a lot of family over there. I wanted to fulfil a childhood dream of mine, so I contacted the coach and sent through a video. Not long after that I was on a plane heading to Split.
“I’ve always appreciated the passion Europeans have for football and the way the sport is viewed over there. Football is everything, so it was easy for me to be drawn to the experience.”
Founded in 2009, ZNK Split have won the past two league titles in Croatia in a row. The powerhouse club also competed in the UEFA Women’s Champions League in 2019-2020, finishing third in its group.
“The club was really good to me,” the forward said.
“Croatia is a small country, so the number of girls exposed to football isn’t as high as in Australia or other places around the world. The coach had high expectations of us as we were the most successful club in Croatia that season and were heading to play in Ukraine for Champions League.
“The team was technically quite strong and had a strong desire to win. They are passionate about their football and it reflects in the way they play the game and train.
“I loved the vibe around the UEFA Champions League. Although it was challenging having to verse teams from other countries that we didn’t know much about, it was amazing to be involved in a competition I’ve always seen on a TV screen from Australia.”
“I came back to Australia last year because we had finished Champions League and I had planned to go back to work. The plan was to go back to Croatia this year to play for Split and to represent the Croatian national team but that all changed due to COVID.
“Although I can still go, the move doesn’t feel right for me this year.”
Named in the PFA’s W-League team of the decade from 2010 to 2020, Tabain won three championships in a row with Melbourne City as well as a premiership with Glory in 2014.
The forward, who took out the Golden Boot award in 2009, is open to possibly going back to Croatia next year and playing for the Lavice.
“I can go tomorrow if I want to but I’m happy with my decision to stay in Perth this year and the club is understanding of my decision,” the 27-year-old admitted.
“I’m in touch with the players and staff at the club so I will weigh it all up again next year. I’m a dual-citizen so if things work out later on I would love to wear the Croatian colours and play international football at senior level.
“It’s a shame it couldn’t happen last year before I came home but maybe it will all fall into place if I decide to go back next year.”
Tabain represented Australia at both Under-17 and Under-20 levels, but has never been capped by the Matildas.
She admits wearing the green and gold is no longer a target of hers.
“I see the players they have and are investing in,” the forward said.
“Australian football is moving in a specific direction and they have the best players for the style they are wanting to play.
"In a way it is [a regret to have never played for the Matildas] but I’m also a strong believer in things happening for a reason.
“I enjoyed my experience at youth level and the opportunity I had to go into camp with the Matildas, but it wasn’t meant to be for me and I’m okay with that.
"I’m grateful for the wonderful memories at U-17 and U-20 level but now I’ve been able to grow in my teaching career.”
Currently enjoying a break from club football and working in education, Tabain is excited about the growth in the women’s game in Australia and the hosting of the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2023.
“Being hosts of a World Cup is rare and will be something the girls will cherish for the rest of their lives,” she said.
“I think the Matildas deserve it. They’ve had to fight for a lot of things in the past few years and are continuously being put under more pressure to perform.
“The World Cup will provide them with a great opportunity to showcase their talent and present their football to the world.
"It doesn’t get any better than playing on home soil in front of your fellow countrymen.”