Fringe Socceroo Stefan Mauk says his future is in limbo after being frozen out at relegation battling Dutch club NEC Nijmegen.
The 21-year-old, who left champions Adelaide United for NEC in July, has been left on the sidelines after being hauled off at half-time in the Dutch club’s opening Eredivisie game of the season.
NEC boss Peter Hyballa told Mauk, an attacking midfielder, he needed to work on his defensive game and speed, and hasn’t given him a look-in since. The situation has stalled Mauk's promising career and led to him exploring his options in January.
However, Hyballa was sacked by NEC last week after seven straight defeats with the club slumping into the relegation play-offs positions with two rounds to play.
That's left Mauk in an uncertain position, with the club still yet to appoint a new boss, with assistant Ron de Groot stepping up as caretaker.
“I’ve been in limbo the last few months,” Mauk told FourFourTwo.
“For myself it’s more of an opportunity now with a new coach coming in now, hopefully I can impress him.
“There’s certain things which could happen. A lot depends on when the new coach comes in and if we stay in the first division or get relegated.
“I’ve got a few options for next season but I don’t think anything will be certain until the season is over.”
Mauk revealed he had come close to joining an English Championship club during the January transfer window but the deal fell through at the last minute.
He acknowledged the Championship, where several Australians ply their trade nowadays, was an enticing option as he weighs up his future.
“There was a loan move and a permanent move in the UK in January,” Mauk said. “It just didn’t get through in the last few days.
“It was another challenge to get through, when I was excited for a new thing and to find out on the last day it wasn’t going through, it’s disappointing but it’s part of football.”
Mauk said his decision to seek a move away from NEC in January had also harmed his first-team chances having worked hard in training to get back in the fold.
“We spoke in January when the transfer window was open,” Mauk said.
“I said ‘hopefully if there’s a chance for me to leave, I’d prefer to leave as I don’t think I’m going to get a game’.
“He said ‘okay, if you get a move then you get a move. You’re a good footballer, technically you’re one of the better players here but at the moment we’re just not looking for that’.
“It was a situation where I wasn’t ever really going to win and when I didn’t get the move away in January that set me back even more with the coach.
“Obviously he thought I wasn’t interested in being here. I was never going to win that fight. When he made his mind up, he was pretty strong to stick with that.”
Mauk’s story is remarkably similar to Sydney FC’s premiership-winning midfielder Josh Brillante who returned to the A-League after two seasons in Italy after joining Fiorentina.
Brillante’s career has turned a corner since his return to the A-League, but Mauk’s story is one plenty of Australian footballers trying their luck in Europe know well, for better or worse.
“When I first came in I played the first two friendly games as soon as I got here,” Mauk recalled.
“I was starting in the first game against Zwolle, we were losing and the coach decided to make a couple of changes. Myself and another player got taken off.
“I didn’t play again for a few weeks. His words to me were you need to spread quicker and defensively be a bit stronger.
“Hearing those words weren’t that encouraging as it’s not my strengths. The make-up of me as a player, I’m not a really fast player.
“I felt like what he was asking me to do was going to be a bit of a challenge. That’s where it’s all stemmed from.”
Since those promising early days, Mauk has been frozen out, giving him a harsh lesson on European football.
He added: “I felt as if there were weeks where I’d trained quite well and I thought I’d be in with a shot this week but it’s disappointment after disappointment.
“You just have to be ready, mentally and physically. The hardest thing is you don’t know when that chance is going to come.
“Trying to make sure I stay as positive as possible and as soon as I have a bad day I need to try and forget about it.
“These are some of the challenges that a lot of Australians face over here, you come over and start from scratch.
“In Australia you’ve got a reputation for what you can do. Over here you start from the ground up and it’s something I’ve learnt the hard way.
“In the future I’ll definitely have some coping mechanisms and different ways to handle different situations.”