1. MILOS NINKOVIC | Sydney FC
Position: Attacking midfielder
A-League apps: 53 (Sydney FC)
A-League goals: 13 (Sydney FC)
Other clubs: Cukaricki (Serbia), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Red Star Belgrade (Serbia), Evian (France)
Achievements: A-League championship (2016-17), A-League premiership (2016-17), Johnny Warren Medal (Sydney FC 2016-17)
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Milos Ninkovic was battered and bruised, but he was far from finished. The 32-year-old had been the A-League’s best player by that point and Melbourne Victory knew the danger he posed. Give him space and he could split your defence in half. So when Kevin Muscat’s men lined up against Sydney FC in the last season’s showpiece, they had one aim in mind, to mark the Serbian playmaker out of the game.
With the forced into a more reserved role, the Sky Blues looked uninspired and well below the pace. Their only goal of the game essentially epitomised the way their performance. It was scrappy, and probably a tad lucky too.
But in the end, although he had been limited to just a few cameos on the ball, it was Ninkovic – the side’s final penalty scorer – who stepped up when his side needed him most. Even if he almost couldn’t.
"I feel sore like after every game, but maybe this morning more than usually," Ninkovic said in the aftermath of the Championship victory.
His career, indeed, had led up to that point.
The midfielder made a name for himself as a youngster making his way through the ranks of FK Cukaricki’s youth academy, one of the more untraditional routes towards the top.
After two seasons with the first team, he then left for Dynanmo Kyiv, where he, despite his early struggles as a 19-year-old, would go on to spend nine seasons, making a total of 161 appearances in all competitions for the club.
During that time, the 32-year-old was considered one of Dynamo’s best, and was duly awarded with a spot in Radomir Antic’s World Cup squad, and played a central midfielder in their final group match against the Socceroos.
Little did the Serbian know that five years on from the clash, he would move to Australia five years later.
"If somebody told me after the World Cup that I would play in Australia I would never have believed them but this is life and this is football. You never know what is going to be tomorrow," he said.
The mercurial midfielder enjoyed a stellar output in his first season in the Harbour City, but it was his contributions last year, which he had six goals and seven assists after just 13 matches, and finished with 10 goals and 11 assists in 32 matches.
The signing of Ninkovic on a marquee deal is a statement of intent from champions Sydney FC, who are favourites to defend their crown.
Following a season in which he led the club’s charts in terms of chances created (47), dribbles completed (43), and ball recoveries (208), Sydney’s no.10 will be crucial in orchestrating the side’s attack and his link-up play with Brosque and Bobo could lead to another successful season in front of goal.
And with Graham Arnold’s men challenging for four trophies this season, Ninkovic tells Goal he’s focused on winning more silverware.
"I will be focusing on this season and we expect to win all four trophies we are competing for this season. Everything is possible if you work hard and have that belief so these are the achievements I am focusing on for this season."
Goal A-League 20:
No.2 - Diego Costa (Perth Glory)
No.3 - Besart Berisha (Melb Victory)
No.4 - Mark Milligan (Melb Victory)
No.5 - Alex Wilkinson (Sydney FC)
No.6 - James Troisi (Melb Victory)
No.7 - Bruno Fornaroli (Melb City)
No.8 - Rhyan Grant (Sydney FC)
No.9 - Eugene Galekovic (Melb City)
No.10 - Andy Keogh (Perth Glory)
No.11 - Alex Brosque (Sydney FC)
No.13 - Kosta Barbarouses (Melb Victory)
No.14 - Isaias Sanchez (Adelaide United)
No.15 - Luke DeVere (Brisbane Roar)
No.16 - Michael Jakobsen (Melb City)
No.17 - Brendon Santalab (WSW)
No.18 - Michael Zullo (Sydney FC)
No.19 - Brandon O'Neill (Sydney FC)
No.20 - Matt McKay (Brisbane Roar)