By Stefan Colakovski

The story of me going from boyhood fan of Melbourne Heart to winning the A-League with Melbourne City has been told about 50 billion times.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a good story. To be part of City’s first Grand Final win, in front of our fans and our families in Melbourne, was so surreal that it’s hard to find words to describe the feeling.

I know I’m part of the first generation of A-League fans to start playing for their clubs, and I’m proud of the fact that I’ve gone from being a City fan to an academy player to winning titles with the senior team. All I want is for Australian football to succeed, so I will tell that story over and over again if it helps to grow the game. 

At the same time, just because I’ve come through the City academy doesn’t mean there haven’t been ups and downs along the way.

Every talented 15-year-old player in an A-League youth system thinks they’re going to make it – and that’s not a bad thing, because you need to have that belief and that drive. 

But let’s be real: once you’re 17 or 18, reality can punch you in the face real quick.

That’s what happened to me at City. I joined the club’s academy when I was 15, and things were going well for the first couple of years. When I was 17, Warren Joyce joined Melbourne City as head coach. In the last game of the 2017 NPL season, he saw me score a hat-trick in the space of ten minutes. 

I can remember thinking, what could be better? But then in that same game I did my ACL, which put me out for 15 months.

Just the other day I was talking about this to City’s Assistant Coach Ralph Napoli, who was Head of Sports Science when I got injured. He believes that injury was a blessing in disguise, and I have to agree with him.

There were so many talented attackers coming through City’s youth system at the time – guys like Daniel Arzani, Rami Najjarine and Gerrie Sylaidos – which would have made it hard for me to break into the first team.

But also, those 15 months I was out of the game ended up being such an important time for me. It helped me find a balance between football and life. 

I was in Year 12, so I took my schoolwork seriously and passed with good marks. I went to parties with my friends. A month or so after surgery I was in a mosh pit at a Lil Uzi show at the Forum. That was the best. I was underage, so I used my brother’s ID and got in with a couple of schoolmates. 

Basically, for the first six months of rehab I got a chance to be a normal teenager, which made me realise that I’m allowed to enjoy time with friends and that I can still live a life outside of football.

In saying that, I also missed the game like crazy. That injury layoff only made me hungrier to succeed. When I came back, I was 18 turning 19 and I knew I had a short window of opportunity to make it.

Warren Joyce had left City and Erick Mombaerts had taken over as coach. Erick gave me the chance to train with the first team along with quite a few other young players. I knew then that if I didn’t get a contract under Erick, I was destined to play NPL, get another job and live a normal life. So it was sink or swim.

I made my senior debut for City in November 2019, signed my first senior contract in February 2020 and scored my first goal – against Melbourne Victory – in March. 

Around that time, the Macedonian Federation got in touch with me about representing their U21 side. They officially called me up in June, when the A-League finals were about to start. 

There were rumours that Jamie Maclaren and Andy Nabbout would be going on Socceroos duty and they would miss the finals. Again, I sensed an opportunity. I’d been second striker to “Macca” all season, so if he wasn’t going to be there I wanted to step in and do the job.

So I said no to Macedonia, purely because there was a possibility that I might start for my club in a Grand Final. That’s what ended up happening – and I scored a goal and created another in the Semi Final to help us get there.

In the end, Macedonia came calling again in September, and this time I decided to take the opportunity. I’m a proud Aussie, but I’m also the grandson of Macedonian migrants who came to Melbourne for the opportunity of a better life. 

My experiences so far have taught me that professional football is all about taking your chances – whether it be to impress a new coach, to stake your claim for a spot in the senior team, or to play international football.

In the biggest and most important games of last season, where it was sink or swim, I knew I had to deliver. But now I want more. I want to score more goals. I want to win Golden Boots. And I want to win more trophies.