My First Club - Josip Skoko (Hajduk Split)

If any of the current National Youth League players emulate half of Josip Skoko’s football journey, they will have fulfilled an outstanding career.

JOSIP SKOKO (Hajduk Split)

Former clubs: North Geelong, Hajduk (Croatia), Genk (Belgium), Genclerbirligi (Turkey), Stoke City (England), Wigan Athletic (England).

If any of the current National Youth League players emulate half of Josip Skoko-s football journey, they will have fulfilled an outstanding career.

Skoko won 51 Socceroos caps (scoring nine goals), played in the 1995 World Youth Cup, the 2000 Olympics, captained a club in the Champions League (Genk), spent three seasons in the Premiership and featured in the 2006 World Cup squad.

Got your breath back yet… ok, lets rewind to the embryonic stages of Skoko-s career.

The midfielder did not play in the NSL like so many of his contemporaries.

Exactly 15 years before the present version of the National Youth League commenced, it was the same competition that provided Skoko the stepping stone to senior football, with his junior club North Geelong Warriors.

“I came out of the Institute (AIS) and it filled an important gap, so it was perfect for me,-- recalled Skoko.

“The quality wasn-t too bad either, having senior players allowed to play (three per team, as per the existing rules) helped it a lot.

“It played a big role in my career and now that they-ve got it back up an running it-s great for young players.

“It seems ridiculous that there wasn-t a youth league for so many years - players, particularly young ones, need somewhere to play.

“Sometimes it-s better to be playing in the youth league rather than sitting on the bench for the seniors.--

Skoko is adamant Australia-s youth teams - from Joeys to Olyroos - have consequently suffered over the years.

“The benefit to young players and the young national teams is enormous,-- he said.

“Recently, a lot of young players have come into World Cups without games. You can-t have that.--

North Geelong have a long production line of talent, including former Socceroo Steve Horvat, Croatian keeper Joey Didulica and Beijing Olympics star Matthew Spiranovic.

And after less than a season with the youth side, the teenage Skoko found himself in the seniors.

His talent was such that he tied for the Victorian Premier League player of the year award.

“I played the 1994 season in seniors and again it was perfect,-- he said.

“I got plenty of games in and the Youth World Cup was coming up in -95, so I didn-t want to risk not playing in the NSL.

“I trained with two NSL clubs and none of them wanted to pay me and there was no guarantee of first team football,-- Skoko recalled.

“Nobody was prepared to take a risk on me so I decided to stay at home. It was ideal as I was at Deakin University studying architecture, which I continued for 18 months before I went overseas.

“And I had a dream of going overseas from the World Youth Cup, so I didn-t want to give myself away.

“North Geelong was ideal, it was the perfect springboard for Europe.--

So good in fact, Skoko broke into a squad that had qualified for the European Champions League a year earlier, in Hajduk Split, playing 10 games in his debut season.

Thereafter he became a regular and eventually captained the club, before continued a successful European career, which stands at 13 years and counting.