It’s an unfortunate fact of life for many footballers that, at some point in their careers, the injury bug will sink its teeth into them.
Training sessions, away trips and the chance to run out for ninety minutes in front of the fans and play the game they love are replaced with visits to the training room, countless hours in the gym and appointments at doctor’s offices as they seek to return to full fitness and address the weaknesses in their bodies that led to their spell on the sidelines.
Such an experience can be disheartening at the best of times, but for players scratching and clawing for an elusive opportunity in the academies of professional clubs, it can be doubly so.
Already presented with the daunting prospect of attempting to make the leap to senior professional football, academy players – who don’t have the income that comes with that senior professional contract – are faced with a race against time to return from their injury in good-enough condition to continue their push for senior football.
At Melbourne City, supremely talented youngsters such as Ali Eyigun, Leo Athanasiou and Yusuf Ahmed have all been tipped for big things by the academy staff; only for injuries at pivotal moments of their footballing journeys to derail their push for senior football.
Thankfully for City’s Stefan Colakovski, a serious injury suffered as a 17-year-old in late 2017 hasn’t served to snuff out his burgeoning professional football career before it even began; the teenager completing a long and arduous rehabilitation process from a ligament injury to return to City for the 2018/19 Y-League and 2019 NPL Victoria season.
The now 19-year-old will be one of a number of prospects from Head Coach Petr Kratky’s NPL side that will take part in the first pre-season of new A-League Head Coach Erik Mombaerts.
“I completely tore my ACL in the last game of the 2017 NPL season,” Colakovski recalled to Dailyfootballshow.com
“It was my first major injury. Before that I don’t think I was out for longer than three weeks, I was very fortunate. And then I tore it and I was out for 14 months.
“The day that I did it I remember I got told that it was just maybe some bone bruising or knee bruising; nothing too major. Probably the worst was they thought a possible meniscus, which was max six months or something.
“Then I got a phone call after some scans a week later and it was the club doctor telling me that I’ve torn my ACL. For probably for a week I didn’t believe it but then it started sinking in when I had to get ready for surgery – my first ever surgery.
“Nervous, scared… that’s how I was feeling.”
A pacey winger that takes pride in his ability to play entertaining, as well as effective, football, Colakovski admits that there were periods in the immediate aftermath of the ACL tear where he thought his dreams of a professional football career were over.
“Especially in the first two or three months, I thought… I definitely thought it might be over,” Colakovski recalled
“That’s why I wanted to concentrate on school because I thought that an injury like this can happen any time with just some bad luck so it’s better I concentrate on my schooling because, in the end, I’ve got to have a backup.
“I was doing year 12 at the time, during the 2018 season, so I guess that… I couldn’t dwell on my injury too much because I had to look at every positive I could. The positive was ‘look, I’m not playing every week, so I don’t have the stress of being selected or starting or training so at least I can concentrate on finishing my schooling as best I could.’
“I actually had a break from everything [football] for a couple of months, which was good to get my mindset right. To just to enjoy life as it is through a bad period.
“I didn’t know; at age 17 I’ve just torn my ACL I didn’t know where I was heading in my career but slowly, slowly I started just looking at the positives and getting excited to return.
“Then I did maybe four months of weightlifting at a weightlifting gym. And then, after that, I came to the club and then I started training slowly and got back into it.
“I think because of my game style; I lacked some strength. Especially in my first year in 2017, my first year of playing senior football, I was still small. So, the rehab was focused on getting my knee right and building as much strength and power as I could.
“Snatches and cleans and jerks at a local Olympic lifting gym. That was fantastic. I felt so much more powerful after that.
“My first game back was against Brisbane in round one [of the 2018/19 Y-League season].
“We were losing at the time and I thought ‘S**t, I’ve been out for more than a year and now I’ve got to try and do what I can for the team.’
“There was excitement, nerves – a whole range of emotions – but mostly I was just raring to go and show the coaches what I could do.”
Now healthy and a starter in City’s NPL side, Colakovski has his eyes firmly set on a career in professional football.
Nevertheless, thanks to his brush with injury, the teen isn’t allowing himself to be distracted from developing himself away from the pitches of the City Football Academy.
“I’m studying primary education at La Trobe this year to become a primary school teacher,” he explained.
“I chop and change every couple of months, I think of something new, but I think primary teaching is my way to go.
“Short term for football my goal is to keep a place in the starting XI in the NPL seniors and hopefully getting a chance to show the new A-League coach what I can do and what I can bring to the team.
“And long term, I guess getting a contract and at least cementing my place at the club.
“I’ve been here since the end of 2015, so I’ve known people for such a long time, and I feel like they trust me and I tryst them and I just want to pay them back, I want to give them.. show them what I can do.”
HEADER IMAGE CREDIT: Melbourne City | Aleksandar Jason