Australian striker Milislav Popovic has recovered from an ACL injury and is determined to take his career to the next level in Austria.
Popovic tore his ACL in early 2019 after joining 2. Liga club SV Lafnitz from German side Eintracht Braunschweig.
The forward spent many months recovering before finally making his return to competitive football at the end of November before the season’s winter break.
Currently in Austria waiting out the coronavirus pandemic, Popovic says he has completely healed and his knee is now stronger than ever.
The 23-year-old, from Sydney’s south-west, is keen to get back on the park and continue his rise.
“I moved from Germany to Austria and about 10 days into training I got a knee injury,” Popovic told The World Game.
“I was out for pretty much the whole of last season. I rehabbed, worked really hard and now I can say that I’m 100% stronger than ever.
“I was about to start playing and now with this whole thing with the coronavirus I haven’t played that much. That’s unfortunate.
“It’s [an ACL injury] everyone’s worst fear, I was devastated when it happened to me. But I took the positives out of it, it gave me a lot of time to work on my body.
“I went to the best surgeon in Europe. I did my rehab in Antwerp in this club clinic, one of the best in Europe.
“Lukaku was doing his rehab there, Sime Vrsaljko from Atletico Madrid. So it was another experience for me and it’s really made me stronger than ever, even stronger than I was before the injury.
“I’m 100% now and back to playing soon, hopefully. It wasn’t ideal but that’s the life of a footballer.
"Injuries happen, it’s how you bounce back from them, that’s what counts.”
Popovic, from Liverpool, came through at Marconi and Blacktown City as a youngster before leaving Australia in 2013.
The striker impressed while on trial in Italy and joined the academy of Serie A outfit Lazio.
“I left when I was 16 and it’s coming up on seven years in Europe,” he explained.
“I was at an AC Milan academy in Australia. The coach there Andrea Icardi, he’s a former Lazio and Milan player.
“He had a contact in Italy and made a tournament for the academy to play there and set up a few trials for me at Lazio and Torino. Both clubs wanted me and I chose to go to Lazio.
“I was there for two years. It was a great experience, I’ll never forget it. I learned so much, it was really my first time coming to Europe, seeing how the structure is. It really helped me improve as a footballer. It was a great time.”
In 2015, Popovic moved to German club TSV Havelse for the opportunity to play senior football.
He then a spent season with FC Cologne, making 21 appearances for the Bundesliga side’s reserve team, and another with Eintracht Braunschweig before his arrival in Austria.
The striker is off-contract at SV Lafnitz at the end of this campaign but has yet to make a decision on his future while football has been shut down.
“It’s a good club, good facilities,” he said.
“I can’t complain. They’re very professional. It’s a solid league, in terms of young players getting game time. Things are going well.
“My contract is until the end of this season so let’s see what’s going to happen. Everything is on hold at the moment.
"I spoke to the coach a few months back and the club’s happy with me.
“They want to extend my contract but I’m looking at other options also in Europe, possibly Australia, who knows. I’ve been in lockdown for the past five or six weeks.
“The season is still up in the air, I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I’m just waiting and trying to stay fit.”
Popovic made four appearances for the Olyroos between 2017 and 2018.
The forward, who stands 193cm tall, missed out on selection in the qualifying tournament in Thailand in January, but is hoping to win a place in the Tokyo squad next year for the Olympics.
“It’s always a dream and an honour to represent your country,” he said.
“Every young player wants to. I’ve been fortunate to represent my country on a few occasions and with the postponement of the Olympics next year as well, it would be great to represent Australia there.
“The main goal hopefully is for the Socceroos one day as well. It would be an honour – that’s the goal I’m working towards. Hopefully I can prove myself in Europe and get the call-up one day.”