Canberra's Roko Strika makes mark in Croatia with NK Zagreb

Canberra's Roko Strika makes mark in Croatia with NK Zagreb

Like fellow Canberra product Josip Simunic before him, promising youngster Roko Strika is making his mark in Croatia.

After being overlooked by the Australian Institute of Sport and A-League clubs, the 20-year-old attacking midfielder is showcasing his skills in the Croatian top flight, having recently made his debut for NK Zagreb.

Strika hasn't made a decision on which country he would potentially represent but has been invited to a Croatian national team camp.

It's a similar scenario that confronted Simunic, who came through the ranks with Canberra FC before playing in the National Soccer League with the Melbourne Knights.

Simunic made his debut for Croatia in 2001 and has made more than 100 appearances at international level.


Strika was born and raised in Australia to Croatian parents before joining the Dinamo Zagreb academy when he was 17.

"Any international team is an honour to play for, whether it is Australia or Croatia," Strika said.

"Apparently when I was in Dinamo Zagreb juniors, I heard that one of the scouts from the Australian team was coming to watch me but I don't know if that was true or not.

"My birthplace is Australia, one of the best country's in the world, but you've got your background of Croatia, been here for three years.

"If Croatia calls me up obviously I'd go to Croatia but if Australia calls me up I'd go to Australia."

Strika played for Bel North United and Monaro Panthers before moving into the talent ID programs of Capital Football and ACTAS.

He joined the youth academy of Dinamo Zagreb, the biggest club in Croatia, when he was 17 and spent 18 months there.

"I got a chance to go to one of the Dinamo academy trials, it was like a camp, and they asked me to come on trial for a month," Strika said.

"Mum and dad's side are both Croatian, but it's a big step going where you don't know many people."

Stints with third-league club NK Maksimir and second-league club NK Gorica followed before he signed a seven-year contract with NK Zagreb in the first division.

Strika made his debut for the club off the bench against Dinamo Zagreb, with Simunic on the opposing bench as a substitute player.

"I'm good friends with Joe," Strika said. "From time to time I ask for advice from Joe, which is really good, him being a professional footballer as well.

Strika has grown up playing as an attacking midfielder but is being used at NK Zagreb in a central defensive role.

"I've never played central defensive in my life but that's how the coaches see me at the club," Strika said.

"They think I can become a very good defender, so they're playing me there.

"You want to make a good impression for the coaches and get as many minutes as you can, so you do your best and try to adapt."

Lee Gaskin is a sports reporter at The Canberra Times.

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