Streak: Mateo Poljak wants to play every minute of the Wanderers’ run. Photo: Brendan EspositoWhat does Mateo Poljak remember of the first half of Western Sydney’s win over Wellington Phoenix on Sunday? ”Not much,” he laughs. ”To be honest, the whole 45 minutes is deleted from my memory.”
It’s not too often that the ball itself is to blame for an injury but that what’s happened to the unlucky Croatian at Parramatta Stadium when Phoenix striker Corey Gameiro launched a powerful effort into Poljak’s head.
For a while, Poljak didn’t seem to know where he was or what day it was. Concussion, and a substitution, seemed inevitable.
”I just remember I got smashed in my head, and then the next thing I remember was lying on the ground, looking up at the physio, who was saying, ‘Are you all right?”’ Poljak recalled. ”I began trying to tell him I was 100 per cent all right but then when I put my head up, I fell back down again. Then he said to me, ‘No, you’re not all right.”’
Eventually, however, the 23-year-old managed to recompose himself, and jog back on to the field to take his place in central midfield, earning a roar of appreciation from fans.
”Then half-time came and I was still a bit dizzy when I came into the dressing room. It felt like the time passed so fast, like we were only in there for three minutes,” he said. ”That was a strange feeling, but the second half came and I was OK … In a few days I’m sure it will be fine – my jaw is just a little sore now.”
Remarkably, while three substitutions were made by coach Tony Popovic, Poljak played the full 90 minutes. He was grateful though, for he wants to soak up every minute of the Wanderers’ remarkable run, where they chase their 10th straight win against Melbourne Heart on Saturday night.
”It’s amazing, unbelievable. When everything is going like this, you must enjoy every single game, every single training, everything,” he said. ”It’s now a big thing, a massive thing, winning nine games in a row and to be top of the ladder. I think now everyone is happy with the performance and with the results. I’m definitely enjoying it.”
But Poljak is the first to admit that when he left Croatia after four seasons with NK Lokomotiva, his expectations weren’t high. ”I was a little bit worried, to be honest. Maybe even pessimistic. Everything was new, and I didn’t come to the start of pre-season so I was a little bit concerned,” he said.
”But when I saw the players [preparing], I knew it was a good decision. From day one we did well … but I really didn’t expect us to be as good as this. I expected to be competitive. Actually, that was just our original goal. Talking at the beginning, the coaches were saying we should fight hard and give it our best. But when you prepare like we do, results take care of themselves.”
Popovic has no shortage of admirers but Poljak is well equipped to make comparisons, having come through the same Dinamo Zagreb academy that produced stars such as Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar and Eduardo da Silva.
”He has a different style to them, and it’s a change from what I’m used to, but that’s helping me,” he said of Popovic. ”Tony is so disciplined and organised. His professionalism and structures are amazing. You can really learn a lot from him.”
While Dinamo might be world-renowned for the atmosphere inside the Maksimir Stadium, Poljak reckons the Wanderers’ fans aren’t far behind. ”They give us so much energy. They are are our 12th player. When it’s tough and things aren’t going right and you know you can do, they lift us,” he said. ”Their support has given us that energy.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.