Ljubo's sights set on national selection

Outspoken and controversial he may be but Ljubo Milicevic is a darn good footballer with national team honours and a career in Europe firmly fixed on his radar.

Outspoken and controversial he may be but Ljubo Milicevic is a darn good footballer with national team honours and a career in Europe firmly fixed on his radar.

The career of Ljubo Milicevic is one most Australian footballers would be envious of.

He was a prodigy, captaining all the national youth teams before going on to become the youngest player to score a goal in a National Soccer League Grand Final when he netted for Perth Glory in the 2000 season decider at the tender age of 19.

He led Australia to the World Youth Cup in Argentina in 2001 but suffered a knee injury in the opening match.

However, he showed enough talent to be offered contracts in Europe and he went on to play for BSC Young Boys and FC Thun, playing in the UEFA Champions League against heavyweights such as Arsenal and Ajax.

Work permits hampered his chances of playing in England during this period and he returned to Australia to play with Melbourne Victory, which ended bitterly.

But now he has resurrected his career with the Newcastle Jets, starring for the former Hyundai A-League Champions in their Asian Champions League campaign and has his sights set on winning back a spot in the Qantas Socceroos and hopefully another contract in Europe.

"Looking ahead when I started my trek back into this world my aim was always to play and do well and as a team I think we in Newcastle are doing that and individually I am pretty happy," he said.

"The next move would to be playing for the national team again and hopefully that will lead on to going back to Europe."

"I am loving my time in Newcastle and I love the city and especially the fans but more than anything I'd love to be playing in Europe again."

It is pleasing to see Ljubo has his career back on track as some feared he would be lost to the football wilderness after a series of injuries and the well-publicised split with Melbourne.

"After I left Victory I took some time off as my knee wasn't quite right and I had to get that right, and I wasn't sure where I really wanted to play," he says.

"So although I was receiving offers I wasn't prepared to go to a place I wasn't fully committed to and so I took some time off."

"I needed to refresh, relax and recuperate. I had been on the road for 10 years and lived by myself so I took some time off and stayed with my mum and dad in Melbourne."

"On the trek back I had a few offers from Asia and Europe and Newcastle were interested and I just thought it seemed like the logical choice to play back in Australia where the pressure on and off the field (isn't as intense) like living in a different city on your own in a different country, and pretty soon after getting up here I realised that my dream of playing in Europe for a good club in a good league was well and truly alive."

"I'd love to be back in Europe and obviously that has a lot to do with the green and gold as well."

And while some doubted we would ever see the talented defender in action again, Ljubo never doubted he would overcome the struggle back to top-level football.

"I think when things don't go well for you, especially with a lot of injuries and when your rehab doesn't go so well that there is a fear," he admits.

"But I never doubted my ability to get back. It is just about focus and really wanting it. I think everything happens for a reason and I feel I have learned a lot about things as well over the last 10 years and I am continually learning."

"I think I am yet to hit my peak but I feel like I am still playing better than I ever have."

While Europe is Ljubo's ultimate goal, for the meantime he is happy with his lot in Newcastle.

"I have always loved small towns and I enjoy the serenity and living near the beach and being left on my own devices," he says. "I'll read a book, go for a walk on the beach or learn to surf. It all adds to me to being a more balanced person. I am learning to surf ... I wouldn't say I could surf yet but I am learning. If I had more time I would do it more often and more than anything I respect the ocean and I am not to be playing games out there."

And he is keen for the Jets to do well in the ACL. The Jets need only a draw from their last group match against Ulsan Hyundai to progress to round of 16 and from there it will be a game-by-game proposition on the road to the final.

"I think anything's possible," he says. "We haven't had much time together. We didn't play many pre-season friendlies but no-one expected Newcastle to come this far in the ACL."

"I think other than the first half in the first match against Beijing in China, we have had control of every match. We should have won every match if we finished our chances, so we are getting better as a team every match and as I said, anything is possible."