Perth-native, Tomislav Mrcela may not be known to many back home in the county of his birth, yet the 23-year old has been building quite the reputation in Croatia. A string of fine performances for the newly-promoted NK Hrvatski Dragovoljac has earnt the towering centre back some glowing reviews, and even prompted interest from abroad. Tomislav talked to Football Central about his rise up the Croatian football ranks, his team’s goal for the season, as well as, his club and national ambitions.
Can you tell us how you got in to football and the early days of your development?
My whole family moved to Croatia in 1996 when I was 6 years old. Being from a Croatian family, football was the only sport for me! Since I was born I went to watch my older brother play football in Australia and as I always looked up towards my brother I fell in love with the game and dreamt of one day being a professional football player.
What was it like early on in your career in Croatia both on and off the pitch?
When we arrived in Croatia I got my dad to sign me up for the local team RNK Split (1st division club). I spent my whole youth career at the club as the captain of my generation with the highlight moment being my final season as a youth player captaining my team in the top youth league and scoring 9 goals as a defender in that season. Life in Croatia is very different then in Australia but because I came at a very young age it wasn’t difficult for me to adapt.
Football is taken very seriously in Croatia even at the youth levels with training sessions pretty much everyday. After my youth season ended I was loaned out to a third division club near Split where I played for 2 seasons before moving to NK Imotski, a second division club. After a great half season at the club I was offered a professional 2 year contract from RNK Split but stayed on loan till the end of the season. Unfortunately I never got a real chance at RNK Split so I asked for my release from the club and signed for NK Mosor also in the 2nd division where I had a good season and gained valuable experience before being offered a contract with NK Hrvatski Dragovoljac in the 1st Division.
This is your first season in the top flight. You’ve personally started well with 10 starts from 11 games. How has the step up in quality been?
It took me a few rounds to adapt to the quicker pace and quality of football in the 1st division but I feel I am settled now, high in confidence and playing good football at the moment. Last week I was named in the Team of the Round and have started to get some interest from clubs abroad.
What approach to football does your club and coach Kresimir Ganjto take?
We are a very young team who play very offensive football with much possession. We have an ambitious coach with who us younger players can improve our game tactically and mentally. During this season in the media we are constantly getting compliments for our game but are missing a bit of luck to get more points on the board.
What do you put this breakthrough year down to?
I have put in a lot of hard work in the past two seasons in the 2nd division working on my game, especially on my fitness with many private coaching sessions with some great coaches. I would like to thank them and especially my family for their support.
What have been some highlights in your career so far?
While playing for NK Imotski in the 2nd division we finished with the best defence in the league and that season I was named man of the match in at least 6 games.
What type of player would you describe yourself as?
I’m actually 195cm in height. With my height of course I’m really strong in the air but also with good technique on the ground, and tactically I read the game well. I like to join the offence whenever I have the chance.
What are your immediate goals and long-term goals?
My main aim is to continue playing well and improving my game everyday through training and games. Long term goals are to hopefully sign for a bigger club in one of the top leagues in Europe and hopefully get called up for a national team.
Has the FFA, or Croatian FA been in touch?
I haven’t been in touch with the Croatian FA so far, or the Australian FA but it would be an honor to play for the Aussies!
As for your club, what are the ambitions for this season?
This is our first season back in the top division so the main goal is to avoid relegation and hopefully with a few new signings during the winter break we can achieve this goal.