Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Milan Ivanovic

Milan Ivanovic during the national anthem before Australia's World Cup qualifying play-off second leg against Canada at the SFS Source: Getty Images

The World Game kicks off a new regular series that pays tribute to Australia's heroes of yesteryear. In a monthly feature we will publish an interview with a personality that left an indelible mark on the sport Down Under. First cab off the rank is 59-time Socceroos defender Milan Ivanovic.

Milan Ivanovic was one of the most accomplished defenders to play in Australia and his exploits for Adelaide City and the Socceroos became legendary.

Ivanovic came to Australia from Yugoslavia in 1989 and became an instant hit in the National Soccer League.

He retired from professional football in 2000 and is still widely regarded as one of the finest and most influential imports to grace our football fields. They called him 'The Doctor'.

Ivanovic, who is now 55, lives in Adelaide and is still involved in the game.

He is happy to share his views on his playing days and the modern game.

What are you doing these days?

"Soccer-wise, I am involved as technical director with the West Torrens Birkalla club in the National Premier Leagues here in South Australia. It is something I love to do and it keeps me busy. I am also associated with the Scotch College in Adelaide where I also am technical director which I enjoy a lot too. It is my way of giving something back to the game."

Do you meet up with your old team-mates from Adelaide City?

"Yes, I frequently see many of the guys I used to play with at club or national level. Some of them are involved in coaching. I often see Damian Mori, Carl Veart, Aurelio Vidmar and Serge Melta."

Do you still follow the game so many years after your retirement?

"Yes, I watch most of the games on television and I am very supportive of what's going on with the A-League. This is a fantastic period for Australian soccer."

Who are the players you admire most abroad and in Australia?

"It is very difficult to go past Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. They are both extraordinary players. On the Australian scene as often as I can I like watching Tom Rogic, who is a beautifully gifted footballer."

What difference do you see between the football you were used to as a player and the one you follow as a spectator?

"Today all teams try to play possession football and play out from the back. In my days we probably were more direct in our approach. I also think that today's standard is better from a technical point of view. But I have a feeling that we are not producing enough good young players.

"We have plenty of coaching courses, academies and so on but not too many promising players are coming through. The A-League is fantastic and I love it and the NPL is good but for some reason we are not producing young talent anymore."

So how do you regard the playing standard of the A-League and the Socceroos?

"The national team have done a fantastic job to win the 2015 Asian Cup and played pretty well at the 2014 World Cup and the fact that we have qualified for three straight World Cups is a wonderful achievement.

"At club level the acquisition of so many foreign players has raised the profile and the standard of the A-League competition even though young players are not getting opportunities to play at the highest domestic level."

TWG last spoke to Ivanovic in August 2012

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Is this because clubs are not prepared to or do not have the patience to groom young players because they want instant success?

"That is a great observation. I would not want to be rude but young players are often forced to change clubs every year to get a run in the first team. Too many young players are floating around somewhat aimlessly.

"The way things are going at the moment it is unlikely that Australia will produce as many promising players as we did in the 1990s, for example. Clubs should be able to produce one good young player every year."

You were an accomplished sweeper in your days but the libero role has disappeared. Where would you play if you were still around today?

"Good question. Most probably I would have slotted into the back four or in the holding midfielder's role, which is where I used to play when I was with Red Star Belgrade. I have also played stopper at Adelaide City so it would not have been too hard for me to adjust."

Who are the best players you have played with in your days?

"Three Red Star heroes Dejan Savicevic, Dragan Stojkovic and Robert Prosinecki were by far the most talented players I have had the pleasure to play with. From an Australian perspective Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka stand out for obvious reasons."

And the best you played against?

"No doubt it was the AC Milan side Red Star faced in the European Cup in 1989. They had many great players like Franco Baresi, Carlo Ancelotti, Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten. We gave them a good run for their money, too.

"While playing for Australia I will never forget the World Cup tussles we had with Diego Maradona and Fernando Redondo of Argentina in 1993.

"I also fondly remember a Kirin Cup match against France in Japan in 1994. The French had a top side including Jean-Pierre Papin and Eric Cantona, who scored the game's only goal."

Is there any aspect of the game in Australia that you would like changed?

"As I said before, we need to put an emphasis on producing more players. Perhaps we need a second division which would provide a buffer between the NPL and the A-League. The gap between the two competitions is huge and it is hard for a player to adjust to the training, intensity and quality of an A-League environment.

"Greater opportunities in a B-League or something like that would help us produce not only better players but also better young coaches."

So you obviously are in favour of relegation and promotion.

"I believe it is a must, especially since the national youth league is not that beneficial for young players because clubs are not using that many players from that league."

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Which was the highlight of your playing career in Australia?

"Winning championships with Adelaide City over a period of 10 years was very satisfying but playing for the Socceroos in World Cup qualifiers is something I will never forget.

"I took part in big derbies overseas but to come here and be involved in some memorable matches for Australia is something else. The two World Cup qualifying matches against Argentina in 1993 were amazing, for example."

And your darkest memory?

"The Iran game in Melbourne 1997 was hard to take, even though I did not play. I was in the squad and obviously disappointed not to be picked in either of the two legs but the greatest disappointment was the fact that we missed out on the World Cup after coming so close.

"Playing in a World Cup would have been a fairytale finish to my career but it was not to be."

MILAN IVANOVIC FACTFILE

Club career:
1978-1982: Red Star Belgrade
1982-1985: OFK Belgrade
1985-1989: Red Star Belgrade
1987-1988: Radnicki (on loan)
1989-2000: Adelaide City

International career:
1991-1998: Australia 59 matches

Honours:
Red Star Belgrade: Yugoslav championship 1979-1980, 1980-1981, Yugoslav Cup 1982
Adelaide City: National Soccer League 1991-1992, 1993-1994, NSL Cup 1989, 1991-1992
Australia: OFC Nations Cup 1996 

Source: SBS