He’s been teammates with a Brazilian FIFA World Cup star and played professionally in Europe for more than a decade.
The name Gediminas Krusa might be new to most football fans outside of Devonport but the Lithuanian midfielder looms as the ace in the pack for the Strikers in their FFA Cup Round of 16 clash against Avondale on Tuesday 21 August.
Krusa, a youth international with Lithuania, is in his first season with the Tasmanian club after playing professionally in his home country, Poland, and Estonia since 2006.
It was during those years he played alongside former Barcelona midfielder Paulinho – who played all five games for Brazil at the recent FIFA World Cup - while also coming up against the likes of Liverpool star Georginio Wijnaldum and Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
But Krusa is enjoying the new chapter in his career in Tassie, helping the Strikers make their mark on the national stage.
Playing with a Samba star
Krusa began his professional career at a club from the Lithuanian capital – FC Vilnius – who recruited a number of Brazilians at the time, including a teenage Paulinho.
“He was one of about 10 Brazilians we had there at the time. He was only about 18 and you wouldn’t have said he was going to be a big star or play for Brazil national team at that time but he worked very hard,” Krusa said of the ex-Barca and current Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder.
“We had a pretty good team, we were fighting for top spot in the league at that time but later our club had some financial problems.
“They went bankrupt and Paulinho went to play in Poland.
“It’s good to see what he has done in his career in Brazil, and then going to Tottenham and Barcelona...but starting in Lithuania.”
Like his former Brazilian teammate, Krusa also ventured across the border to play in Poland with Wigry Suwalki during his career, while having a short stint in Estonia with Sillamae Kalev.
“It was very physical football, very difficult and a completely different style, a lot of fight on the pitch,” he said of those experiences.
“It was a very good experience for me. I would say it’s pretty similar to here (Australia), the referees let a lot go.”
Making the move to Tassie
After the end of the 2017 season with Koralas Klaipeda in Lithuania, Krusa was eager to take on a new challenge abroad and decided on moving to Tasmania.
And thanks to a quick search on Google, was soon in touch with officials from Devonport Strikers.
“I was looking for opportunities on the internet. I contacted someone from the Football Federation of Tasmania and he gave me some contacts of the clubs, some coaches and presidents,” Krusa explained.
“I contacted Devonport and in maybe two hours we talked about everything and they invited me to come down.”
And the 27-year-old box-to-box midfielder has fallen in love with the city which is situated on the mouth of the Mersey River and has a population of just over 30,000 people.
“It’s an amazing city. All the people are very warm, they have helped me a lot to feel at home here, it’s like a family to us,” he said.
“Tasmania is a beautiful state with many national parks, with beautiful nature so I’m really enjoying it. It’s a quiet place, very peaceful so I’m really enjoying that.”
Playing in the Hyundai A-League?
While enjoying the new chapter in his career in Tassie, Krusa admits he hasn’t given up on playing professionally again and would love to play at the highest level in Australia.
He would be just the second Lithuanian to feature in the Hyundai A-League should he get that chance, following on from Darvydas Sernas at Perth Glory in 2014.
“It would be a great experience to play at a higher level here, nothing is impossible,” Krusa admitted.
“I’m looking forward to finishing the season, finishing it strong and then take a look for the future.”
Keeping FFA Cup dream alive against Avondale
For now, Krusa’s sole focus is on Devonport’s Round of 16 clash against Victorian NPL heavyweights Avondale at ABD Stadium on Tuesday night.
While the Strikers have already eliminated Victorian opposition with their 3-1 win at Northcote City in the Round of 32, Avondale – currently third in the NPL – will provide a sterner test.
“They are one of the best teams in NPL in the whole of Australia and a really strong team but I don’t think it’s impossible to beat them,” Krusa declared.
“We will have a good plan for the game and if we play our best game on that day I think we have a great chance to get a good result.
“It will be hard. We know they have some players who have played in the A-League but in football when you start the game it’s 0-0 so we have a chance.
“It’s great we’re in the Cup and we have this opportunity to show ourselves.”