National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s star Nikola Ujdur has signed for Scottish Championship side Inverness Caledonian Thistle this week as the state’s top tier competition continues to churn out gems.
The NPL NSW Men’s competition has seen a steady stream of talent make the step up to the domestic A-Leagues competitions, but it’s now attracting the attention of international suitors.
After being cast away by Macarthur FC in his youth, Ujdur has rebuilt his career in the NPL NSW Men’s competition, earning a move to Scotland with a full-time professional contract.
The resolute defender played most of his youth football with Canberra Croatia, before moving to Sydney FC at 17 and playing in the National Youth League. After struggling for game time, he set off abroad, but a few unsuccessful trials in the United Kingdom sent him back home and into A-Leagues team Macarthur FC’s academy set-up.
He only played the first half of the season at the Bulls, with injuries keeping him out of what remained. Turning 22 meant he couldn’t play in the academy team the following year, and he wasn’t offered a contract with the first team, so he was thrust into the NPL NSW with Sydney Olympic.
Ujdur’s first year of senior football went well, getting a fair run of matches in Olympic’s premiership-winning campaign. After jumping around positions as a defensive midfielder and at right back, he settled as a centre back in 2023 at Rockdale Ilinden, where he excelled as one of the best defenders in New South Wales.
Ujdur explained that he sees many players like himself who have been kicked out of A-Leagues Academies, even though they may be good enough to play professionally. He said the NPL NSW has played a vital role in him finally achieving a professional contract. He pinpointed the last three years of his career, which includes his time at Olympic and Rockdale, as helping him climb to his professional dream.
Ilinden coach Paul Dee and assistant Nick Stavroulakis took the opportunity as they put their utmost faith in the promising defender this season showcasing the motto ‘if your good enough, your old enough’, as he played a pivotal role in the club finishing runners-up in NSW’s top tier competition. Both coaches knew that Ujdur would work perfectly in the project they had set out at the start of the season.
“It is hard because you come up in those youth ranks in the A-League teams, and your end goal is always going to be to get promoted to the A-League side and establish yourself in the league,” Ujdur explained.
“I think there are so many players that sneak through or slip through the gap, whether it be injury or just bad timing, bad luck, whatever it might be.
“The best thing you can do is go to a team where you think you can get the most out of yourself.
“Playing in a men’s team where there are players with more experience, and you’re fighting for spots against players who have been there and done it in the NPL, in the A-League and even from overseas.
“Having that kind of competition and training alongside those players every week and then playing against them on the weekends.”
Ujdur said he hopes this move will put the NPL NSW Men’s competition on the map and see it start to receive the recognition it deserves. There are already signs of that, as this season, competition big-names Jason Romero and Adrian Vlastelica have earned injury-replacement contracts in the A-League Men’s. While Sydney United 58 goalkeeper Danijel Nizic has signed on permanently with Macarthur for the upcoming 2023/24 season.
“I think the league doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves. It is really hard to get from NPL into another professional league. It’s not really considered as highly as it should be,” Ujdur said.
“I think there’s a lot of young players and even older players that mature later and haven’t been given that opportunity. I think they are good enough to take the step and go into a fully professional environment.
“I hope people see the move and think ‘I’ve played against him this year, and if he can do it, then it’s possible for me too’.
“Hopefully, this move and others in the future will inspire younger boys who are straight out of youth systems coming into NPL to keep fighting and pushing for their dreams.”
Feature by Timothy Gibson, on Twitter @Timg123_