After a difficult stint in Russia and a frustrating run of injuries in his debut season for Melbourne City, Ivan Franjic is enjoying being back playing football.
Franjic’s first goal for City - a stunning first-time volley against the Western Sydney Wanderers in Round 14 - was a deserved reward for a strong run of form after his season looked to have been derailed by a serious health condition.
A player who boasts a never-say-die attitude and burning desire to succeed, City are enjoying the fruits of a rejuvenated Franjic, who is fit, firing and on his way to regaining the form that saw him earn the mantle as the Socceroos first choice right-back.
But most of all, there is one word that springs to mind quickest when talking about Franjic; resilience.
His journey to the top level was a difficult one. A local boy, Franjic plied his trade for Melbourne clubs St Albans Saints, Melbourne Knights and Oakleigh Cannon’s in the National Premier League, hoping to earn a ticket to the big time. After being overlooked year after year, Franjic, who also worked part time as a carpenter to make ends meet, wondered whether his dream of playing at the top level would ever materialise.
His persistence paid off, as Franjic made the move up north to Queensland in 2008 to fulfil his A-League dream.
It turned out to be a move that would bring a truckload of success, with Franjic enjoying a trophy laden spell under current Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou at the Brisbane Roar. He was an integral part of a Roar side that won two Premiership and three Championship trophies, making his 115 appearances for the Queensland club, many of which came alongside current City teammate Luke Brattan.
Franjic was rewarded for his consistency with a first Socceroos call up in 2012, cementing his position as Australia’s first-choice right back for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, despite being one of only a handful of players plying their trade in the A-League.
It was a meteoric rise to the top, but after working so hard to get there, Franjic was determined to make his mark on the world stage. He started in the Socceroos’ brave opening 2-1 defeat to South American powerhouse Chile – whose side featured the star power of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Manchester City first-choice goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
His pinpoint delivery in that match allowed Tim Cahill to find the back of the net for a third consecutive FIFA World Cup, but a promising start ended in heartache for Franjic, who missed the remainder of the tournament with a hamstring injury.
That didn’t dent his confidence or his status as a player of international quality, however, as Franjic recovered to play every match in the Socceroos’ 2015 Asian Cup campaign, helping Australia claim its first major international trophy.
Only a wretched run of injuries and luck has prevented Franjic from adding to his 20 national caps for the Socceroos, but it was a move to Europe in 2014 which brought upon one of the most testing periods of his career. After securing a move to newly-promoted Russian Premier League side Torpedo Moscow, Franjic made only four appearances in a debut season plagued by injury.
Setting his sights on a return to familiar surroundings and first team football, Franjic joined Melbourne City on a three year deal in June 2015.
He played 18 matches in his first season at City – with his debut against former club Brisbane kick-starting a five match unbeaten run – but the right-back’s career was again put on hold in July last year.
Hospitalised for a week and diagnosed with myocarditis - a condition that affects the hearts muscle cells - Franjic was restricted from strenuous activity and not allowed to train. He genuinely feared that his career may be over.
“I had a virus, I was sick for a week and one night I woke up in the middle of the night and my chest and heart were hurting,” Franjic told the Herald Sun’s David Davutovic.
“It was frustrating because I came into pre-season in good condition and didn’t expect it. You can’t take anything in life for granted,” he said.
After working tirelessly with the Club’s medical staff to return to full fitness, Franjic overcame yet another obstacle in his career to return to first team duty against Newcastle Jets in Round 6.
His defining moment in City colours arrived on one of the biggest nights in the Club’s history. Again, it was another inch-perfect delivery onto the head of Cahill which sunk Sydney FC in the Westfield FFA Cup Final and secured City’s first piece of Men’s silverware.
For a Melbourne boy to play a profound role in a home Cup Final was a moment to savour. The fact it arrived only four weeks after his close brush with pre-emptive retirement made it even more special.
With one trophy now under the belt for City this season, Franjic will be looking to help his team claim the one that matters most - the A-League Championship.