Penalty practice with Kanu to brutal non-league football: Nizic reveals whirlwind English adventure

It was only by chance that Danijel Nizic picked up the goalkeeper’s gloves as an 11-year-old.

The new Western Sydney Wanderers custodian didn’t have much of a say in the matter either, as an injury emergency forced him between the sticks during a St. George junior representative match.

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Naturally, he would go on to save a last-minute, match-saving penalty. Little did he know that only years after that moment, Nizic would be practising his penalty saves with one of the Premier League’s greatest forwards.

A year spent with Premier League cult heroes

After short training opportunities with Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC, Nizic’s life was turned upside down when he accepted a one-year trial opportunity at Portsmouth in 2012.

The 16-year-old goalkeeper was then training with the likes of Kanu, Tal Ben-Haim and Dave Kitson in the Fratton Park first team.

“When I first saw Kanu, I was like oh my god… I remember seeing on TV,” Nizic told www.aleague.com.au.

“He always used to let me practice penalties with him.

“He was a really nice guy, not just to me but all the other players. Kanu was one of the players that just helped other or guided people.”

Kanu
Former Arsenal and Portsmouth striker Kanu.

'Serious work' in England's lower tiers

A scene that could easily have been yanked from a wild boyhood fantasy is just a glimpse of the extremes Nizic has lived through during seven years in England.

One minute he was part of a goalkeeper’s union with Tom Heaton and Sydney FC’s Alex Cisak at Sean Dyche’s Burnley, the next he was being battered in England’s brutal lower divisions.

“Football is fun, but it was serious work,” he said.

“You had to win, there’s people’s jobs on the line, you’re playing for the fans.

“It toughens you up because it’s winter, it can be minus three, it’s muddy and wet and people are flying into tackles.

“Refs in the lower leagues are more lenient so people get away with a lot more. You do have to be careful there, especially me going up for crosses that would often go straight through me – you had to learn to toughen up and accept it, and just get back up against which was really good for my career.”

An offer too good to refuse

It has been a roller-coaster path to professionalism for Nizic, who is now back in Australia older, wiser and sporting the faintest English accent.

He concluded his English adventure with regular minutes at League Two’s Morecambe, but Nizic knew his journey was coming to an end when the Wanderers approached.

“As soon as Wanderers called I told my parents straight away,” he said.

“I said I’m seriously thinking about coming home.

“It’s a club that I love to play for, with great fans and so far I’ve been loving it. It’s a great club, I love it here.”

Nizic has already experienced a taste of the Red and Black, having spent three months training with the club during their famous AFC Asian Champions League win in 2014.

But after settling back in Australia for the long term, he’s now set on delivering on the promise that saw him move overseas all those years ago.

 “I’ll always remember the people I’ve gotten to meet… I’ve been up to see Premier League games and be a part of a Premier League team.

 “It’s something that I’ll always look at and be able to tell my kids.”

Nizic