Sport

Roko Strika backs calls for Canberra National Youth League team

Canberra product Roko Strika has backed calls for the capital to be granted a National Youth League licence, adamant talented youngsters are in danger of being out of sight, out of mind unless it happens. 

Strika, home for Christmas after recently making his debut for Croatian top flight team NK Zagreb, admitted he was frustrated there was no immediate avenue to showcase his talent after graduating from the ACT Academy of Sport. 

Roko Strika, who plays for NK Zagreb in Croatia, is back in Canberra to visit family over the holiday period.
Roko Strika, who plays for NK Zagreb in Croatia, is back in Canberra to visit family over the holiday period.  Photo: Matt Bedford

Things have worked out perfectly for the 20-year-old, having worked his way through Croatia's third and second divisions before signing a seven-year deal with NK Zagreb. 

But he's concerned other emerging Canberrans may not be so fortunate as himself and fellow ACTAS graduate Tom Rogic if the city doesn't have an NYL team. 

Roko Strika  with brother Ante and Mother Vesna Strika.
Roko Strika with brother Ante and Mother Vesna Strika. 

"I probably could have got in a youth league club but unfortunately for players in Canberra, there's not that step," Strika said. 

"After ACTAS I didn't have that step to go to, my only option was to go to Europe and do my best.  There's a lot of talent in Canberra, and it's hard for them as well. 

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"I'm sure there's players in the ACTAS system now who want to go to an A-League or Youth League club but they just can't, so they have to return to the Canberra league. 

"I don't think you can develop yourself as much there as a professional club."

Capital Football director Warren Grieve said in September they were lobbying with the Football Federation Australia for an NYL licence. 

The 20-year-old has still managed to fall on his feet, finally cracking the Croatian top league debut a few months ago off the bench after first moving there when he was 17.

"Before I signed the contract it wasn't easy, it was a roller-coaster," he said. "It was a sense of relief when they said I was good enough. My debut was a bit of a shock, but you get a sense of happiness."

NK Zagreb signed him after Capital Football agreed to waive a training compensation fee, applicable under FIFA rules for players under 23. 

Strika, who has moved from midfield to a defensive role with NK Zagreb, said he was in no hurry to decide whether to pledge his international allegiance to Australia or Croatia. It may be as simple as who comes knocking first. 

"To play for a national team is an honour. Whether it be Croatia or Australia, to me both are home," he said.  

"I guess we'll see what happens down the road. I've always said whoever decided to pick me first, that's who I'd go with."