'Hated because I was a foreigner' - Aussie striker's Euro rollercoaster

Australian teenager Mate Barisic is looking to resurrect his career in the NPL Victoria after a difficult initiation to the perils of professional football in Europe.

Barisic hails from the ACT and played in the Y-League with Canberra United. Three years ago he was awarded NPL20 Player of the year by Capital Football.

In 2018, at the age of 18, the striker left Australia and Tuggeranong United to join Croatian second division club NK Sesvete.

He says it started well in the Under-19s of NK Sesvete but he eventually fell out with the head coach there and was ostracised because of his nationality.

“It was a bit crazy,” the forward told The World Game.

“I scored nine goals in 11 games in pre-season in Croatia. We started off really well.

"We were coming second at one point, I was scoring goals. But the next game we lost and the coach gave it to me.

“I fell out with the coach, I didn’t play another minute. He didn’t give me another shot. That was tough. Because I’m Australian I was getting picked on a lot.

“Even though I’ve got a Croatian passport and I speak the language.”

Last year Barisic decided to leave Croatia and join Slovenian side NK Krsko. But that move proved short-lived as well as he again battled off-field issues and club politics.

“I didn’t want to stay in Croatia to sit on the bench and cop s**t,” the 19-year-old admitted.

“So I went to Slovenia – but their team was financially struggling. We got relegated that season. There was a lot of corruption there, the players were running the club more than the coach.

“It was very interesting environment. But there was some real talent [as well]. I felt confident there, I felt good. But I didn’t get much game-time.

"We had three different coaches in a season and a half, I couldn’t get my feet on the ground.”

NK Krsko wanted to send the centre-forward out on loan in the lower divisions for the 2019-2020 season, but a disillusioned Barisic decided to return home and considering giving the game away completely.

“They wanted to send me out on loan to the third division,” the former Canberra FC junior said.

“I came back home and thought about giving up my football. But my dad convinced me to keep going.

"My dad’s always been in my ear and says everything is going to be OK. I owe my Dad everything.”

The 19-year-old joined St Albans for the 2020 NPL Victoria season. He says he has rediscovered his passion for the sport and is now looking to the future.

“Even before I came to St Albans I had this fire in me,” the striker said. “I couldn’t wait to get back.

"I see now how much I loved the game. It made me see who I was and what I’m capable of. I’m really enjoying it.

“My goal is just to focus on this season, I’m really trying to knuckle down, get my body right and potentially go to the A-League. Against Melbourne Knights I came and scored after a few minutes.

“Then the coronavirus happened and it all stopped. Now that we’re back I’m even more motivated. I’m just keeping that positive mindset.

Barisic admits his time in Europe was an eye-opener, but one that has made him stronger.

“It really opened my eyes to a lot of things,” he said.

“It was such a good experience in that I played with so many great players. I learnt so much.

"But I was there alone. There was a lot of stuff behind the scenes, bull**** you can say [going on].

“What can I say, there it’s a dog-eat-dog world, no one’s there to help you. I would go back to Europe [one day] but it would have to be 100 percent certain what I’m doing.

“When I went overseas nothing was guaranteed. I’d go back with a different mindset. Before I was too nice.

“Even in Slovenia, the captain hated me because I was a foreigner. In Australia I realised how lucky we were, how we’re so multicultural and accepting.”

Barisic returned to training this week with St Albans. The centre-forward believes the NPL Victoria is the best place for him to thrive and earn another shot at full-time football.

“It felt really good to be back,” he said. “That’s why Melbourne is a great place for me now.

"In Canberra it’s too small, it’s too easy to be distracted. In Melbourne I’m focusing on myself and getting my body ready.

“I’m working – I’ve got a part-time job packing boxes, and then apart from that I’m training and going to the gym. This year I’m committed.”