DESPITE success with French powerhouse LOSC Lille, Swiss giants FC Basel, a season in the Turkish Süper Lig, a stint with Derby County, a golden boot with Perth Glory and a brief detour to China’s Dalian Aerbin, experienced former Qantas Socceroo Mile Sterjovski is still pumped for Central Coast’s upcoming AFC Champions League campaign.
“The one thing I love about the Mariners is that they have been one of the most consistent clubs in the eight seasons of the Hyundai A-League,” Sterjovski said. “We have a strong desire to win the league and to test ourselves against Asia’s best.”
Sterjovski’s European career spanned almost a decade in some of the continent’s most decorated leagues. He won two Swiss Super League titles and played a League Cup semi-final with Derby County. But his professional football journey began at the Wollongong Wolves on New South Wales South Coast.
Wollongong provided the Hyundai A-League’s predecessor, the National Soccer League, with some of Australia’s greatest talents but it’s true that since then the domestic set-up has come a long way.
“The standard of the A-League in general has improved a lot and I think that top quality is the difference between the A-League and the NSL,” he said.
Following his time with the Wolves, Sydney United was Sterjovski’s next stop before he moved on to Parramatta Power. At both United and Power, Sterjovski found the back of the net frequently. His form ultimately sparked international interest.
Now settled with the league leading Central Coast Mariners, 33-year-old Sterjovski is playing an instrumental role in what could be another trophy-winning season for the yellow and navy.
However beyond his on-field performances, Sterjovski is a crucial piece to the Mariners’ off-field puzzle. Coach Graham Arnold loves to combine youth with experience, and Sterjovski takes pride in being one of a number of senior players helping mould the club’s junior stars.
“I’d like to see myself as a mentor,” he said. “I enjoy keeping in touch with all the young boys on a regular basis and seeing how they are all doing. I try and offer my advice and talk through my experiences that I have had in the past and see how I can help them.”
Sterjovski has been a perfect fit for the club and he has also embraced the culture that the Mariners have to offer. Indeed, Sterjovski relishes the tight-knit relationships between the players, coaches, staff and most importantly the fans.
“It’s different to anything that I have experienced in the past,” he said. “Not only with the squad but even with the fans there is a real community feel to the club and I really enjoy it.”
When asked about the futures of the Mariners’ young boys Sterjovski gave them raving reviews, and even compared them to some of the best he had seen develop throughout his established career.
“I think they have the potential to play at the top levels of Europe, which is a credit to them for all the hard work they have put in, and a credit to Arnie.”
“I have no doubt that if they keep going the way they are and keep a level head they can go all the way,” he said.
The Mariners’ army of young stars can take pride in the fact a player of Sterjovski’s repute speaks to highly of them. After all, the man from the ‘Gong has pit wits with some of the world’s best footballers on many occasions.
For instance, during his time in France’s Ligue 1 Sterjovski played against former FC Barcelona superstar and 2002 FIFA World Cup winner Ronaldinho. He recalls his clashes with the tricky South American fondly.
“When I was playing in France, Ronaldinho came from Brazil to play with Paris Saint Germain when he was climbing to his best. It was just before he moved to Barcelona … he was so strong, so quick and the skill he had was unbelievable. He was frightening and he was one of the best I have ever seen.”