Teenage centre back Anton Mlinaric has represented his country at a FIFA World Cup and has now set his sights on making his A-League debut.
Mlinaric is just 18 and last year starred for the Joeys at the Under-17 World Cup in Brazil. The defender played in every game for the green and gold at the tournament as the Joeys made it to the round of 16.
Regarded as one of the best prospects at Sydney FC, the 18-year-old is out to break into the A-League in the upcoming season. Mlinaric has been with the Sky Blues for several years and come through the club’s academy, and has continued to learn from the likes of Socceroos Alex Wilkinson and Ryan McGowan.
“I’ll work as hard as I can, that’s obviously the next goal of mine,” he told The World Game.
“That’s everyone’s goal as a young footballer, to make their A-League debut. But, hopefully, it does come. But there’s a lot of hard work to come, that’s for sure.
“I’ve gone through the academy and I’m now training with the first-team, which is a credit to the academy and Sydney FC as a whole. Alex Wilkinson, Ryan McGowan, even the other boys too they’re always helping out and leading by example.
“Whatever I need, if I have any questions they’re always there to help me. I’m in a fortunate position to be in.”
Mlinaric hails from Minchinbury, in Sydney’s west, and spent time with clubs such as Blacktown Spartans, Blacktown City, St George and Marconi as a junior. The centre back was plucked from the grasp of the Wanderers as a youngster and has not looked back.
“It’s good, I’ve always wanted to play for Sydney FC, even before I joined them,” he said.
“I was offered Wanderers at the start, when both of the academies started, but it just didn’t feel right at the time. Then Sydney FC offered me a spot and I took it with both hands.
“It’s probably one of the best choices I’ve made as a footballer.”
Mlinaric comes from a Croatian background and started playing football at the age of four. He grew up looking up to defenders like Lucas Neill and Spanish Great Carlos Puyol.
“It was destined. Being Croatian and having that football background… that was the only path to go to,” he said.
“Probably growing up I remember watching the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, and Lucas Neill I always remember as a young kid. When Spain won the World Cup it was Puyol.
“As I’ve grown up watching the Australian centre backs like Trent Sainsbury.”
Mlinaric caught the eye for the Joeys in 2019 at the World Cup and has been involved with Young Socceroos training camps this year under coach Gary van Egmond.
“I was lucky enough to be selected [for Brazil],” he said.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life. To work hard for that long period and then my family got to come to Brazil and watch it as well, it was an amazing experience with them. I was lucky enough to start every match that I could.
“We were playing against France, Ecuador, Hungary and Nigeria, and Nigeria are five-time world champions. And we beat them to get out of the group stages, games like that you only dream of.”
Milnaric has made five appearances for the Sky Blues in the NPL NSW this year. Getting an opportunity at the defending champions in the 2020-2021 A-League season is his next goal, and one day playing in Europe, but the teenager knows he has plenty to do to realise his dreams.
“The coaches are always looking through the clips again and on the training field, just giving me advice,” he said.
“Little things that young players need, to get bad habits out of my game. Every footballer’s ambition, that’s just the given [to play in Europe and for your country].
“The goal at the moment is to work hard and make my A-League debut for Sydney FC, and go from there. I’m still young but I’m very driven and determined to make that happen.”