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.
GOING BACK IN TIME, YOU TORE YOUR GROIN IN INJURY TIME MARKING MESSI FOR THE OLYROOS AT THE 2008 OLYMPICS. IT CLOUDED YOUR MOVE TO DERBY. TALK ME THROUGH THAT TIME AS A 22-YEAR-OLD?
I’d already signed for Derby so I got to the club with this groin injury. It’s not something that’s been spoken about much or that I’ve dwelt on because it’s part and parcel of the game.
But you often read about failed experiences with young Australian players in Europe. For me it was disappointing.
I’d finally got to a league that I knew would suit me, the Championship. Very aggressive, hostile and you’ve got to be very fit, you’ve got to manage the game well.
I really liked that side of it.
TELL ME ABOUT THE INJURY?
I had three groin operations: a double hernia bi-lateral repair, a left-sided ductor release a left side groin reconstruction.
I spent 18 months straight not playing a competitive game without injury.
Still, against Wolves away. They were top, we were 18th and losing 3-0 but getting the man of the match from our side in a team well beat.
And then playing three days later against Charlton coming off after 55 mins with my groin no good again.
The games rolled around thick and fast and I was never fit to play them. I was there, part of a massive squad at a club with amazing facilities and a huge fanbase at Pride Park.
I came on at half time against Leeds marking Fabian Delph who’s now at Man City, Adam Lallana was at Southampton at the time, I was living my dream.
But unfortunately, that groin injury cost me 18 months.
HARRY KEWELL REACHED OUT?
When I came back for that last groin reconstruction it was Harry and his team of physios who helped me out.
Harry’s a fantastic guy. I was a young Socceroo who’d played once and he was on the field when I debuted so you get to know him in the two-week camp.
He reached out. And for me having watched him on TV on SBS, you’d want to be Harry Kewell.
He put me in touch with the groin surgeon who looked after him.
Yes, it is tough. I was lucky in that I had played in the national team and Harry Kewell was very kind. And Darren Burgess coming down to the training ground, helping me meet with some people to help with the groin.
Without that help, my career might have been done there and then. Without Harry Kewell’s kinda guidance.
As well as Darren Burgess and Les Gelis from the Socceroos medical staff, helping me too. Without their help, I may never have got that groin right.
I was living the dream of being able to call Harry Kewell a friend.
You realise how lucky you are.
FOOTBALL IN EUROPE CAN BE BRUTAL. AGREE?
I finally got my groin kinda right, and then while I was away Paul Jewell got sacked at Derby and a new manager came in.
By the time I came back to the club from the operation in Australia and ready to have a crack with about four and a half months left on my deal, I literally arrived to a new manager who said I’d hardly played, have been injured and I need to find a new club because new players were coming in.
It’s all part of football.
It’s funny because all you read about it is a so-called ‘failed stint’.
That word ‘failure’. I’m happy to face defeat and face failure when you gave your best and you weren’t good enough.
But not being fit enough to be able to even compete. And not being injury-free was just so hard to swallow.
I then had to come back to Australia and basically rebuild my career. And it took a good three years playing for Newcastle before I was anywhere near my best.
And then slowly got me back into the Socceroos set-up.
And became a captain of an A-League club so it slowly came back for me.
LOOKING BACK ON YOUR TIME WITH THE RAMS?
An amazing time to sign for Derby County, but it was also the toughest time of my career watching my career kinda slip away, and feeling powerless to do anything about it.
It wasn’t till I got that groin right that I could get back on the pitch and do what I do best. I ended up captaining Newcastle, meeting my beautiful wife in Newcastle and giving everything I could for this town.
I look back at that Derby stint and I still learned a whole heap and played against some phenomenal players.
I only had 12 appearances for Derby but it was horrific with injuries. I spent more time on a physio bed and in hospital than I did anything else.
I spent four weeks straight at the Lilleshall English Institute of Sport with a full-time physio. I tried everything to get it right.