Ruben Zadkovich is a name that may have disappeared off the radar for some Australian football fans. But after falling in love with coaching, he’s doing everything he can to put Broadmeadow Magic – and himself – back on the map in Tuesday’s FFA Cup Round of 16 meeting with Bentleigh Greens.
Had Zadkovich not succumbed to a career-debilitating injury against Central Coast Mariners in March 2015, there’s every chance the 32-year-old of over 150 Hyundai A-League games would be among the competition's leading appearance makers.
Instead, he’s now preparing Northern NSW NPL outfit Broadmeadow Magic for the biggest match in their 52-year history from the sidelines.
Not even in the heartbreaking aftermath of his retirement in May 2016, after a fruitless 12 months of rehabilitation, did Zadkovich consider stepping into coaching.
He was instead gently nudged toward the dugout by former mentor and ex-Glory boss Kenny Lowe, who suggested he keep then-youth team boss John Gibson company.
“(Coaching) wasn’t something I really thought about when I was playing to be honest.”
“It started off as something to just keep myself busy and give myself something to focus on other than doing pointless rehab. I knew my knee wasn’t going to get any better,” he told the FFA Cup official website.
“Gibbo (John Gibson) was a fantastic guy and really big on looking after the younger ones and giving them a process and a pathway on and off the field. And it was obvious pretty quick to me that it was what I was naturally good at.”
Although Zadkovich entered the coaching game primarily to soften the blow of his injury nightmare, it would soon become his career ambition.
For a such a natural leader on the pitch, and one who played under a diverse range of coaches, the transition into management came as second nature for midfielder.
He says he’s taken little pieces from the best in forging his own coaching style: whether that be the formidable leadership of Graham Arnold, the meticulous training detail of Gary van Egmond or the affable charisma of Ian Holloway.
However, staying authentic while putting these traits into practice remains the most important lesson of his fledgling coaching tenure so far.
“You try and take the best of what you’ve seen – but you’ve got to be believable and you’ve got to be real if you want people to believe in what you’re doing.
“The biggest thing is to get all those players and everyone that works with you at that football club pulling in the same direction, so the only way that’s going to happen is if you be yourself.”
Zadkovich's shot at redemption
The last time the FFA Cup spotlight shone this brightly on Zadkovich, he was part of the Perth Glory side who lost the inaugural FFA Cup Final to Adelaide in 2014.
In hindsight, that 1-0 defeat in the city of churches proved to be the epilogue of the Fairfield-born midfielder’s career.
Zadkovich would play just nine more games after the Final in December 2014, and picked up his career-ending knee injury against the Mariners in March 2015.
For the three-times capped Caltex Socceroo, inaugural Hyundai A-League Championship winner with Sydney FC and fan favourite at Newcastle Jets – this was a cruel way to go.
But Tuesday’s FFA Cup encounter with NPL Victoria outfit Bentleigh Greens offers Zadkovich a fantastic shot at redemption in what is the biggest test of his young career in the dugout.
It’s the first time Broadmeadow have progressed to the Round of 16 in four attempts, and it doesn’t get much bigger than this for the hard-working club members and volunteers that have bolstered Zadkovich’s burgeoning career at the Magic.
If there's one man who epitomises how much the Round of 16 clash means for those around Magic Park ahead of kick off, it's veteran Broadmeadow skipper Josh Piddington.
A new father and tattooed figure from head to toe, Piddington is the heartbeat of the Broadmeadow outfit. He made his first senior appearance in 2004 and has played over 300 matches for the Magic, but none so bigger than the clash with Bentleigh on Tuesday.
It's loyalty like this that Zadkovich will look toward to inspire what would be a big FFA Cup upset, and he says his side are putting 'absolutely everything' into making it a reality.
“It means so much to so many people," he said.
“That’s what’s so nice about this competition, how many people it can affect even at a smaller club like Broadmeadow Magic.
“If you’ve got people who love the game and want to put into the game, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at. It’s a beautiful thing that brings everyone together and I’m sure at Magic Park on Tuesday you’ll see all the volunteers trying to put on a good show.
“There’s so many things I could talk about, and a night like that puts it all on the map. What a brilliant thing the FFA Cup can be.”