Ruben Zadkovich is becoming one of the most sought-after coaches outside the A-League. But to understand the 33-year-old’s NPL success, he tells FTBL how his rollercoaster career and academic family background shaped his philosophy.
Zadkovich was a tyro on the pitch. And he loved his surfing – but there was and is a lot more to him than just that.
And it’s this philosophy of management that is powering his new career as an NPL head coach with high-flying Broadmeadow Magic.
For instance, instead of Bali or Vegas, he was a regular visitor to the Northern Territory during his A-League off-seasons while playing for Newcastle Jets, visiting brother Simon, a remote-area nurse for Marthakal Homelands Health Service, who was dedicating his time to Indigenous communities in East Arnhem Land.
It gave him a fresh perspective on life as a professional footballer.
His mother was a school principal, dad was the deputy president of the NSW Teacher’s Federation. His other brother was a top university student who is now a successful lawyer in New York.
A caring, kind, equality focused, educated working class family with values. It’s held their footballing son/brother in good stead.
Now though Zadko-coached Magic are currently top of the NNSW NPL ladder.
They won the Grand Final in 2018. And a Macedonian Cup. Zadkovich's men also scored the most goals, had the highest number of clean sheets and made the last 16 of the FFA Cup.
Not bad for a first-time head coach who took over the club in 2017.
In fact, the 33-year-old truly embodies what it means to be a head coach in the modern era.
Gone are the days of a remote, aloof figure, feared and disconnected, barking orders while his assistants put an arm around the players.
Now, it’s a more nuanced approach. A more thoughtful, smarter and people focused role.
A leader and shaper of the culture, a smarter man manager, a physical and mental wellness-focussed head of the group who draws on the skills of the team around him to build a winning, honest and open atmosphere.
That’s how Zadkovich is approaching his role in the NPL.
And he’s understandably ambitious.
Here, he tells FTBL why life as a head coach is exactly where he wants to be, why Graham Arnold is a mentor and how Harry Kewell was so kind to him during his darkest days.
RUBEN ZADKOVICH: HEAD COACH. WHO IS HE?
People skills, management, inspiration, evoking emotion, tactical analysis, understanding people and their story and why they are where they are, and how can you help them build confidence - finding that balance between all of that and being ruthless to do what’s best for the team. That's how I see it.
I feel these things come a lot more naturally to me.
I’m not under any illusions and I’m not in a hurry, I just want to continuously develop myself and work super, super hard.
But managing a professional football team is definitely my goal and my aim.
My personality is very much, I focus on something till I get it. That’s my mindset.
But it will happen at some point because of the time and effort I’m putting in, the mistakes I’m making, what I’m learning, I know when I get there, I’ll be there to stay.
HOW DID YOU TRANSITION FROM BEING THAT PLAYER TO THE COACH YOU ARE?
It’s a weird thing even for me to think. Trying to change the mindset that goes with it. It’s so different but I’m absolutely loving it.
Staying in the game and the game’s given me everything in life. To be still part of it and giving back to the new generation.
100% I want to continue. Two years I’ve been coaching at NPL level here and we had an amazing season last year. And we’re top of the league.
I then finished my playing career in Perth with Kenny Lowe, who’s an amazing person. And someone I’m now really close to as a coach.
I look up to the Kenny Lowes and Graham Arnold’s who coached me in the Olyroos, and they are the ones I aspire to be.
Arnie’s ability is amazing. He’s shown us the way. I've learned so much from how he does things.
I was by no means a talented footballer but I worked really hard and had to grind and slog to get everything I got with my limited ability.