Djulbic flying under the radar

Dino Djulbic's ascension to the pinnacle of Chinese football will be complete on Wednesday when he runs out for the Chinese Super League All-Stars.

On Wednesday night, Dino Djulbic's ascension to the pinnacle of Chinese football will be complete when he runs out for the Chinese Super League All-Stars against newly-crowned champions Guangzhou Evergrande.

In Australia, though, the former Gold Coast United and Perth Glory centre-back may as well be anonymous.

Not even when he formed part of one of the A-League's most disciplined defensive units on the tourist strip did the Bosnian-born defender ever receive the recognition he deserved.

His move at the end of the 2010/11 season to Shaanxi Renhe Commercial Chanba - the club now known as Guizhou Renhe FC - has paid off in spades, however.

After two seasons, 55 appearances and eight goals, the 28-year-old is now widely accepted as one of the best and most consistent defenders in China. And he can pinch-hit as a striker, too.

The next step beckons for Djulbic, with Japanese clubs understood to be considering a bid for the strapping, 194cm outpost.

But has Socceroos coach Holger Osieck taken notice of Djulbic's exploits in a booming league where he is tasked with stopping the likes of Didier Drogba, Nicholas Anelka and prolific Australian Joel Griffiths?

Djulbic's former mentor on the Gold Coast and the man credited with kick-starting his career, Miron Bleiberg, is not about to tell the national team boss who to pick.

"It's become a bit of a habit between coaches, a bit of hypocrisy - no coach likes to be told what to do, but they like to tell the national team coach what to do. It's a cheap way to praise the players," he said.

But what he can see is Djulbic following in the footsteps of one of his other greatest discoveries, Sasa Ognenovski.

Then-Queensland Roar coach Bleiberg plucked Ognenovski from the obscurity of the Victorian Premier League back in 2006.

Everyone knows what happened next. 'Ogre' went to Adelaide, starred in the AFC Champions League, then moved to Korean side Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, scooped the 2010 Asian Footballer of the Year award and became a fixture of the Socceroos defence.

"I got Dino at the age of 25. I got Sasa at the age of 28," Bleiberg said.

"When Sasa started to play for me at the Roar he hadn't played A-League and he didn't play in Europe. Dino, already, has done that and as someone who worked with both of them I can tell you there was nothing between them.

"If Sasa made it all the way, Dino can do exactly the same. Maybe he will find his way to the national team."

Djulbic's success can be traced back to the moment he joined Gold Coast United.

After an injury-plagued spell at German club Rot Weiss Ahlen in 2009, Djulbic was ready to come home - and Bleiberg had no hesitation in pouncing for his signature.

He slotted in two thirds of the way through United's inaugural season at right back. The next, he was at the heart of defence next to Michael Thwaite and just behind versatile Dutchman Bas van den Brink.

Those three pillars were the foundation upon which Bleiberg built Gold Coast's early success.

"In his first season we were one game away from being premiers. In the second we were 10 minutes away from the Grand Final, that speaks for itself," he said.

But why is Djulbic not mentioned in the same breath as Ognenovski, or even Thwaite or Mark Milligan, the other stoppers in the A-League who have flirted with green and gold?

"Sometimes the average supporter just sees the guys who scores the goals. You have to look a bit deeper to see his contribution to the teams he has played for," Bleiberg said.

"It happens like this all over the world, it's the same as the youngster who plays his first game for Sydney FC and gets much more recognition than any youngster that plays first time for Brisbane Roar or whatever. That's the name of the game.

"I spotted him when he was already playing for Perth. I think everybody concentrated at that time on the controversial parts of his behaviour. He was young and because he made some mistakes - red card, yellow cards."

Djulbic was also banned for five games back in his 2008 Glory days for spitting in the direction of a referee.

"People were happy to notice that stuff and not the other stuff," Bleiberg said.

"When he came to the Gold Coast he was more mature. He spent a year in Europe which made him mature even more.

"And I saw his leadership qualities and let him express himself, too. He was the cornerstone, calling the shots in defence and he was very good."

So good, in fact, that it was only a matter of time until Djulbic was lured overseas.

"The guy was going to get offers, including from us at that time, but he got bigger offers in China which was double what we could afford to pay him," Bleiberg said.

"And from what I understand even in the last year or two he has doubled this amount. There was no doubt in my mind he was going to be successful over there."

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