SOME said footballer Steven Ugarkovic was crazy for moving to Croatia two years ago to pursue his dream.
But the former Baulkham Hills resident, 19, has made a successful transition from the Pvra HNL under-19s to first team and is "enjoying it very much".
The defensive midfielder has been in the first team of club NK Osijek for half a season and said he was surprised at how well the older players accepted him.
"I showed I was there to help the team with my hard work and they respected that," the former Sydney United and Marconi junior said.
"Playing football was always a dream and I thought of it [the move to Croatia] as a massive opportunity which I took with both hands.
"I also wanted to test myself mentally."
Ugarkovic, a former Oakhill College student, said a career highlight had been getting two international caps while playing for NK Osijek, which finished seventh in the league last season.
"And scoring a goal in the cup to help us through was great too," he said.
"We are currently fighting the relegation battle and into the last 16 in the cup so we will try do our best in both competitions."
The player, who was recently in Australia for a much needed break, said living away from his family has been his biggest challenge.
"I was a very involved with football growing up and I enjoyed watching it every chance I got with my dad," he said.
His father John Ugarkovic, a former NSL footballer who is originally from Croatia, said he is proud his son's hard work was noticed.
"He is like a soldier: does anything he is supposed to and is not scared of hard work," he said.
"He definitely made the right career choice for himself.
"And for anyone to be doing what the love and getting paid for it . . . It's the ultimate job isn't it?"
Steven Ugarkovic has returned to Osijek for pre-season training.