Mislav An­delkovic looks ahead

Malta Independent - - SPORT - Domenic Aquilina

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

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