Australian teenager Brandon Slunjski has signed with Croatian first division club HNK Sibenik as he looks to follow in the footsteps of countryman Deni Juric.
Slunsjki left Sydney in 2017 with his two footballing brothers as the trio set out to chase their dreams in Europe.
After spending time with lower league NK Adriatic, the midfielder has now signed a one-year deal with the Under-19s at Sibenik.
The Narančasti is where Juric first made his name and earned his transfer this season to powerhouse Dinamo Zagreb.
Sixteen-year-old Slunjski is looking to do the same and work his way up the professional football ladder in the land of his heritage.
“Sibenik is a very big club,” he told FTBL.
“The first team play in the Croatian first division, so they play against Dinamo, Hadjuk, Osijek and Rijeka. The Under-19s team, which I’m currently playing in, got promoted last season to the Croatian first division for Under19s.
“They also play against those big clubs. The club is growing, it’s signing very big players from international clubs so it’s a step in the right direction.
“I’m delighted to be at this club. If I prove myself this season I could stay one more year, two more years, that’s all dependent on me. I’ve got my foot in the door now, but that’s the end goal.
“I’ve got to keep pushing – keep working hard, training hard, playing hard – so hopefully I can get my next contract. But that all depends on this season.
“It seems to be a big breeding ground for Aussies as well. Deni Juric and Doni Grdic are here. Deni last season played in the Croatian first division, he had an amazing season and scored 11 goals and got four assists.
“It goes to show you do your job, you put in the hard work and he got a transfer to Dinamo. Doni just signed his contract and he’s here for three years.”
A former Sydney United and APIA Leichhardt junior, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for the teen in the Balkans.
“I’ve been in Croatia for four years, I must say it’s been a bumpy road,” Slunjski admitted.
“I first arrived four years ago and the first year and a half to two years my FIFA clearance got declined so I wasn’t able to play football for the first two seasons. I could train, but I wasn’t able to play for two seasons. That for me was the hardest bit.
“So when I came from Australia, I came to Croatia thinking I was going to play, it was my dream come true, all the sacrifices I had made, I could come to Croatia and get a gig.
"So it was hard for me, training all week, the preparation, the running and then you come to games on the weekend and you’re left out of the teamsheet because I can’t play.
“I went to bed crying, praying that I got my paperwork. I was 15, 16. Luckily my dad decided to try a different club in the local league and my paperwork got approved. Now all of a sudden because I had a really good season at NK Adriatic I got a trial at Sibenik.
“But it was a bumpy road. Coming to Croatia wasn’t easy, leaving all my family, my grandparents, my cousins. But coming to Croatia was a big experience – I’ve learnt a lot. Hopefully it’s a start to new things.”
Slunjski might live in Croatia but he is a proud Australian and representing the green and gold one day is one of his goals.
The midfielder feels his game has developed greatly in the land of Suker, Modric and Boban.
“It’s changed a lot, I’ve learned a lot in those first two seasons,” he said.
“It’s a mental stage – coming to Europe, training in a different language, a different league, it takes a toll on you. It’s all about mental, mental, mental. You have to be able to adapt to the quality, the conditions, the playing style.
“I feel I’ve developed a lot training with quality kids in a professional environment with professional coaches. In Croatia everything’s professional, where as in Australia you might get that one coach, or an assistant coach maybe if he’s there.
“It’s such a professional environment here.”
Slunjski’s dream is to eventually play in the English top flight.
“I want to play for Arsenal, that would be a dream come true for me,” he said.
“I’m sure everyone’s dream is to play in the English Premier League – it is for me. I’ve supported Arsenal my whole life. I would love to represent Australia, where I’ve come from.
“Where my family’s from, all that I’ve left behind and all the sacrifices I’ve done today.
"That would be a huge honour.”