Mislav Andelkovic looks ahead
In May of last year an overwhelming majority voted in favour of the player status reform which ultimately gave way to the amount of seven foreign players in the Premier League with the introduction of a minimum 11 home-grown players in the match-day squad. A debate over this still rages on both in favour and against with many debating the fact that many local talent has now become more restricted to flourish.
One interesting foreign player who immediately caught my eye on his arrival on the island in January of 2015 is none other than 28-year-old Mislav Andelkovic, a professional footballer from Croatia snapped up by Birkirkara FC.
The Malta Independent Sports team met Andelkovic over a nice coffee to talk about what he thinks in general of Maltese football, the introduction of the 7-foreigners rule and, of course, Birkirkara FC.
A shy, modest soft spoken person, Mislav immediately started off about his early days as a young kid playing football back in his native town of Dubrovnik, Croatia. “I started playing football when I was 5-6 years. My first club was that of my home town - Dubrovnik 1919, a very modest team. During those days if you wanted to do better you had to move to other big clubs. At 15 I moved to Istra 1961 because I wanted to do well in football and I wanted to do this professionally. For me this was a big step which ultimately made me a professional football player.”
After seven seasons with Istra, chalking up 155 appearances and six goals, Andelkovic was snapped up by Croatia’s renowned HNK Hajduk Split from Zagreb. He said: “Hajduk is a very big club in Croatia with a big tradition. Croatia is a footballmad country so you have these two big clubs, Hajduk Split and Dinamo Zagreb, both generating a big base of support. I was raised to follow Hajduk as a young kid so for me signing for this big club in my country was a dream come true. You have got to make part of this in order to understand what I am saying, many really like this club big way in my country and they have such a big following”
Unfortunately it did not work out completely with Hajduk for Andelkovic. “I had some problems with the club and after two seasons the time was up for me to move on” reflects Andelkovic looking down.
“I moved on to Koper in the Croatian First division just for a very short period in order to keep myself in good playing condition. After that I was contacted by the actual coach of Birkirkara, Drazen Besek, who played a big role in getting me to Birkirkara. He is Croatian and he knows the players very well.
“Bezek is a very experienced coach and, as everything in life, he needed time to settle in Maltese football and for the players to get to understand his philosophy of football. Now we are seeing the result of all this.”
When asked if he noticed any big difference from last season’s squad and that of this season at Birkirkara, he answered: “Not really. The base of the squad is still there. But there needed some changes to be done.”
The discussion soon changed about Birkirkara’s fine run in the UEFA Europa League at the start of this season. Birkirkara managed to get past the first two rounds of the competition, becoming the only football club in Malta to qualify for the third round of a UEFA competition.
“I am not at all surprised that Birkirkara did so well in this initial stage of such a competition in Europe. Unfortunately back home in Croatia the media still sees Maltese football clubs as “amateurs” which is definitely not the case anymore.
“I work and play with Birkirkara and I can tell you that the set up is absolutely professional here. It is difficult to compare both but personally I think that the league in Malta is completely different from the national team.
“Personally I can say that Maltese football at club level is at a very high level, which thus makes the league of a very high level. This is what I think. I have seen league matches played at the highest level in Malta.
“The big clubs like Birkirkara, Valletta, Balzan and others have all contributed to this in a big way, investing in good quality signings from abroad with a very professional objective in mind to succeed.”
Next topic discussed is the 7foreigners rule in Maltese football. He had this to say: “It is really difficult to align this situation and find a good balance between how many foreigners Maltese clubs need to have in order to see that local talent is not kept aside. Malta is a small country. The Maltese players who are playing regularly in each of the 10 teams which form part of the Premier League can surely benefit by playing with good foreign players.
“I have no doubt this will make them better players all round and thus do better even when playing for the national team. This is how I see the situation. “Both the Malta Football Association and the clubs need to strike a balance between these two things because of course the national team is of great importance as well.”
Asked about Malta’s last 5-1 defeat in their first FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier against Scotland on home soil, Andelkovic’s immediatete reply was that he really never expected Malta to lose 5-1 against Scotland.
He said: “They did not deserve to lose with that scoreline for various reasons. But in football you need to play for the result over the 90 minutes and for your pride as well. You have to accept the decisions of the match officials, no matter what and strive on.”
We spoke about Birkirkara’s fine start to the season. He added: “It is very early and too soon to speak about winning the title or the double but we will do our utmost to do so – rest assured! We work hard in training and we are on the right track so we hope we can continue this way.”
“My main objective and focus at the moment is doing well and winning the title and other honours with Birkirkara. But I feel that if I keep working and doing well as I am doing at the moment, yes why not, I think I can give something more to football and to myself by playing in a big club, in a bigger league in the very near future.”
When asked if he did read about what reporters had to say about his performances in the papers he laughed and answered: “No I do not read anything because of past experiences in Croatia. So I just concentrate on working hard and always try to do better.”
“This time you have to read this interview on the Malta Independent very soon," was our answer to which he answered back with a grin. “Well you got me cornered here. Sure I will!”
Mislav Andelkovic in action for his club Birkirkara FC in a BOV Premier League match against Tarxien Rainbows this season Photos: Domenic Aquilina