Young Gun – Mate Dugandzic


Melbourne Heart welcome a reborn Perth Glory to AAMI Park on Sunday, but forward Mate Dugandzic could be forgiven for letting his eye wander a week further on the calendar.

Melbourne Heart welcome a reborn Perth Glory to AAMI Park on Sunday, but forward Mate Dugandzic could be forgiven for letting his eye wander a week further on the calendar.

Because while the Glory may pose the immediate threat for the Heart in their search for the first points of their season, Round 3’s derby with Melbourne Victory on October 22 has long been marked in the diary for both clubs and their sets of supporters.

It is also marked in the diary of Dugandzic, and not just because it is his 22nd birthday.

A lengthy off-season left the two rivals vying for column space and frustratingly pawing at the dirt for action.

The off-season move of Dugandzic to Heart after two seasons with Victory has done little to ease the tension, making him the highest-profile player to move directly between the two clubs.

But if the prospect of facing the jeers of the fans who once cheered him is worrying the 21-year-old, it does not show.

“I suppose I’ve got a feeling that I will receive a very similar reception to what (Heart team-mate and former Victory player) Aziz Behich received in last year’s clashes,” Dugandzic said, picking his words carefully over what could be a mine-field of controversy.

“I don-t think I’m going to be getting any sort of applause from the Victory faithful, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“I know I have to prepare myself a little bit mentally for that game, because it will be a bit different in that sort of sense.”

“But hopefully this week we can get a positive result and we can carry that on to the 22nd.”

Dugandzic’s response shows a measure of maturity perhaps unsurprising given his meandering career before arriving at the Heart this campaign.

From St Albans in Melbourne’s west, Dugandzic marked himself as a player to watch when he debuted for the Melbourne Knights in the Victorian Premier League aged just 16.

A move to Croatian giant Dinamo Zagreb failed to work out, but he had to wait patiently for an A-League opportunity when he returned to Melbourne early in 2007.

Having auditioned in front of then-Victory coach Ernie Merrick for a Victorian Premier League select to play the A-League club in May 2009, he finally earned a youth contract that was quickly upgraded when Danny Allsopp departed for Qatari club Al-Rayyan.

Announcing himself against Adelaide United in the 2009-10 season with a brace on his first Hyundai A-League start, he was largely used as an attacking substitution for Victory as they finished runner up to Sydney FC.

But Merrick never seemed entirely convinced that Dugandzic could fit into his system while at Victory, and it was little surprise when the rumours out of Swan Street linked the player with a move away from the club.

A transfer to Belgium was mooted before Dugandzic dropped the bombshell: he had signed for Melbourne Heart.

One of several attacking signings for the A-League’s newest club, Dugandzic is hardly the only player at Heart to have spent time at the Victory, following Kristian Sarkies, Aziz Behich, Kliment Taseski and new captain Fred over the great divide.

But having transferred directly between the rivals, Dugandzic is the best placed to comment on the differences between the clubs.

“There’s not too many. The boys from both teams are really professional,” he said.

“Training, I have to admit, I enjoy a bit more here. Obviously it’s changed a bit over at the Victory so I don-t know what it’s like. But training was a bit of a difference and obviously the game plan as well, which I find the Heart game plan to suit me much better.”

Two goals on debut against Newcastle on Saturday seem to support his statement, even if he managed that in Round 1 of last campaign with Victory.

But the brace mattered little to Dugandzic after the ‘disappointing’ 3-2 loss to the Jets.

“All the boys were a little bit down, but we know we’ve got to bounce back because Perth by no means will be an easy task,” Dugandzic said.

His second goal on Saturday came from a well-weighted cross from the boot of Fred, and it has clearly taken little time for Dugandzic to appreciate the new captain’s talents.

“He’s taken the captaincy and he’s stepped as well and is trying to be more of a leader,” he said.

“For me, on the park, he’s a fantastic player. To see the way that he thinks and the way that he moves and the runs that he makes – it’s really impressive.”

Avoiding a start similar to the club’s debut season – when Heart went their first four games without a win – has not been touched upon, and it is clear that Dugandzic has already subscribed to coach John Van ‘t Schip’s brief of attractive, attacking football.

“Everyone just wants to play the best football when they can,” he said.