Twelve months ago, Caltex Socceroos defender Milos Degenek was playing in Japan — now, he’s tearing up Serbia’s SuperLiga, having been named in the league’s best eleven for the first half of the season.
It’s a credit to Degenek, 24, who signed with Red Star Belgrade in July and had to find his feet in a league completely different in style to the J1 League.
By his own admission, Degenek believes making the SuperLiga’s best eleven has been a vindication for all his hard work in recent times.
“Obviously it’s something that makes me feel really good, makes me feel proud,” said Degenek.
“I came here five months ago with a dream to make this club into something a bit better and more known — [to] put it back on the European stage and the world stage of football.
“We’ve achieved that, we’ve played in the Champions League.
“I was fortunate enough to play well enough to make it into the Team of the Round of the Champions League two times, and to top that all off just before the season goes into the break is unbelievable.
“It means a lot because I’ve played 33 games so far, so it’s been quite painful but exciting and challenging, obviously I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Degenek’s emergence as a household name flew under the radar for many fans and pundits alike.
At 16 years old, Croatian-born defender took a brave step for his football career, signing with VfB Stuttgart’s U19 team in 2012.
That signing would begin his European sojourn, where he would play 37 games for 1860 Munich before eventually sealing his move to Yokohama F. Marinos in 2017.
In what is almost a full circle, Degenek is back in Europe and ready to take things to the next level.
“Coming back from Asia, it was a step in the direction of going back to Europe and hopefully going into bigger leagues in Europe,” said Degenek.
“In terms of that, it was a challenge to come back here and perform and break into the squad.
“I was fortunate enough to do that straight from the start and I haven’t put my foot off the gas so far and I’m looking forward to working hard and obviously taking that into hopefully the Socceroos in the Asian Cup.”
Degenek is well aware of the Caltex Socceroos’ high standards.
The defender was pivotal in Australia’s qualification to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and wants to keep pushing on ahead of Australia's AFC Asian Cup title defence in January.
“My goals are to head into the Asian Cup squad and do well and get to play,” said Degenek.
“I went to the World Cup as a member of the squad and didn’t play so it’s always fun to be around the boys and I’m always going to back the boss’s decisions.
“But I’m hoping to get some time in the Asian Cup and play and be part of the squad. It’d be unbelievable if we could win the Asian Cup and continue then with my club football with domestic success.”