Aussie who turned down 2 nations is on the verge of A-Leagues immortality: He reveals his secrets

Ante Juric has Sydney FC on the verge of an unprecedented A-Leagues feat. The former Socceroo speaks to about the secrets of his Sky Blues success and what could be next.

At the end of this wide-ranging 40-minute interview, one thing was abundantly clear; Ante Juric isn’t just a football coach, he lives and breathes the game.

Obsessed is the word used by the Sydney FC head coach.

“I love the game and love it to this day,” the Canberra-born coach told “When I was a kid, I was obsessed. I watched everything.

“We used to have videos and you’d watch the same video 10 times because we didn’t have other things. (I) watched Match of the Day, the English one. I’m obsessed with it.”

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That obsession has him on the cusp of A-Leagues history with the Sky Blues.

Defending champions Sydney can clinch a fourth consecutive Liberty A-League Premiership this weekend. No team, men’s or women’s, have achieved the feat in the history of the A-Leagues.

Juric has presided over the previous three Premier’s Plates and a pair of Championships.

But the definition of success – in the eyes of the four-time Socceroo – goes beyond silverware. Trophies are not how the 50-year-old quantifies his work.

“I love winning but that’s not why I coach,” Juris said. “I know people probably say that’s stupid. I’ve never been one to think like that.

“My rewards come from knowing your players have got better. Knowing you have put everything in, knowing they have put everything in.

“The most reward I get is maybe bringing in a 15-year-old when no one has seen her before. Maybe bringing in a (Cortnee) Vine when for three years no one really spoke about her and she wasn’t really on anyone’s radar then all of a sudden she is a superstar.

“There’s so many names who I could rattle off that this club’s done well with and guided. We haven’t made these players but we’ve taken them to another level with belief. Sometimes people don’t believe enough and we’ve done that at our club.

“That’s what I’m most happy about and the culture we’ve created. Yes, some players leave because they need more game time but it’s rare players would want to leave Sydney because the place is so happy and culturally supportive and the place they know they can grow.”

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Juric has transformed Sydney with a thrilling brand of football since taking charge in 2017. Before his arrival, the Sky Blues had not won a Championship since 2012-13. He ended their five-season drought in his second campaign at the helm.

The Sydney Olympic Hall of Famer has established the club as a Liberty A-League juggernaut. Sydney have featured in the past six Grand Finals, winning twice.

Sydney have continued to be the reference point in the competition, even while losing star players year after year; from Caitlin Foord and Remy Siemsen, to Sarah Hunter and Clare Wheeler. Yet, Juric and the Sky Blues have continued to unearth young guns and hidden gems while challenging on all fronts.

The pillar to all of it in Sydney has been one thing; Culture. It’s the key ingredient to his success in the Harbour City.

“I think this is one of my personal strengths – you need to be able to identify players,” he said. “Being at Sydney is probably a luxury because a lot of players want to come to us. You identify at 15,16, even 20 – we do have that luxury for them to come to us.

“Then, two, the ones we bring across and one of the keys… a lot of players want to come to Sydney, I’ve had Matildas who want to come here. Certain players I don’t take, regardless of how big they are or how good they think they are.

“We need the right players and people because, culturally, that will get us through. When you have culturally a good group who will work hard and not think about themselves – they’re selfless and their standards are high, they’re the people you want. That makes it easier to set standards because every training is high intensity and quality. That’s our expectation.

“But if you get people who aren’t into that, you’re in trouble. When you get people who might not have the same quality, even though a lot of our players do, they will work hard. Even Mackenzie Hawkesby, no one knew about her or wanted her. She is probably the best midfielder in our league now.

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“Those are the kind of people who I see something in them and just know I can take them to another place. I won’t accept sulking, negativity or people hamming each other at training. Then when you get the right people, everyone is on the same path. To get to there and the right people, early on I had to move people out because they weren’t the people for that and you need to identify that.

“Every session should be harder than the games. That’s why these kids or people that come in, it might take a month or two, they eventually get there.”

Also a teacher by trade, Juric has brought great pedigree to the role following a distinguished playing career.

He emerged through the ranks of boyhood club Canberra Deakin and was teammates with Australian legend Mark Viduka at Melbourne Knights: “We were good mates and hung around for a whole year,” Juric said.

Juric eventually landed at Sydney Olympic, where he enjoyed incredible success in a second spell between 1997 and 2004, and captained the team to the 2002 NSL Championship in front of more than 42,000 fans away to Perth Glory.

During his time with Olympic, he was teammates with the likes of Mehmet Durakovic, Jason Culina, Brett Emerton, Nick Carle, Milan Blagojevic and Adrian Cervinski.

He was also part of Les Scheinflug’s Young Socceroos side – also boasting Craig Moore, Kevin Muscat and Paul Agostino – that finished fourth at the 1993 World Youth Championship on home soil, falling to eventual champions Brazil in the semi-finals.

Reflecting on that period, which he remembers vividly, coaching was always the dream.

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“Playing was always going to happen. My nature helps me become a good coach, better coach or successful – whatever people want to call it,” the former Matildas assistant coach said.

“When I played, I was a leader by supporting and leading people. It was my nature to lead and always try to get the best out of me and the team. It was naturally in me. When I coached, I pretty much coached how I played. The same way I spoke, joked, the same way I tried to get the best out of people. You learn things obviously because you have to put things into practice. But my personality has stayed the same.

“I’m a teacher, I love it. I love helping people, I love making them reach the next level. That ultimately helps you anyway on the field. That’s my priority – whoever I’m teaching or coaching – I want to make them better and have them believe they can do what they probably believe.

He added: “Nothing beats playing. Not even close. Even what I’m doing now, it doesn’t beat it. It’s just different. But the closest thing to it is coaching.

“Coaching fulfils things. It fulfils it different. Playing because you can express yourself, but coaching you do it other ways. It’s super rewarding in different ways. It’s very selfless rewards you get.

“I love that football is about 20 people trying to achieve something that is tough. It’s about everyone who follows you and the fans.

“Coaching for me is definitely something I love and want to be part of because it makes me feel a little bit like a player. We will never be players again but it’s the closest you’ll get.

“To see your girls smiling and having a great time after we’ve won is great. But even when we lost to Canberra, seeing them in pain, you just want to hug them or get better so you can help them the next day. It’s a special place to coaching.”

Juric played under coaches such as Branko Culina, Gary Phillips, Mirko Bazic and Frank Farina throughout his career.

But he has shaped his own philosophy, which has been built on attack and a strong defence.

“I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant but in terms of football, I coach to what I believed in as a kid and a player,” Juric reflected. “I always believed in technical people. Even when I played under certain coaches, I still played how I played. Probably the technical side but still aggressive and defending.

“Everything I was is how I want my teams to play. That doesn’t come from a coach. Maybe you learn from coaches in how they did things – certain patterns within training and drills, yeah 100% – but just my personality and what I love in football and what I want to see, we attack relentlessly and we defend crazily.

“How I grew up is the way I want my teams to be. It never came from anyone.”

The proof of Juric’s vision is in the numbers.

Since his appointment, Sydney have a win rate of 65% from 113 matches (W74 D13 L26) – it’s the best of any team in that seven-year period.

On his watch, the Sky Blues have also scored 234 goals while conceding 109.

They rank first for most wins by three or more goals since his arrival (27) and clean sheets (50).

But for all of that and his success in the dugout, there is still a perception Juric may not receive the recognition he deserves.

As a player, Juric felt he should’ve earned more than four caps for the Socceroos. As a coach, while he could not care less about personal recognition, it is a different story when it comes to his team.

“I don’t care because it’s not why I do it,” he said. “But I definitely know the team hasn’t got the credit which probably goes hand in hand with myself. No team has done this.

“I don’t need any credit. We laugh about it, I don’t think I’ve won a coach of the month in the years we’ve won. We use it as a bit of a laugh and a joke.

“But what angers me is when my girls don’t get credit. When we’ve had the youngest team for the last three years as a squad and they don’t get the kudos. But as soon as we lose a game, they jump on us. That angers me, more than me getting credit.

“When the girls don’t get it, that’s not right for certain reasons.”

So what does the future look like for one of the A-Leagues’ most successful coaches?

Juric revealed he knocked back the chance to coach the Philippines Women’s national team, as well as Singapore.

There was also strong interest from a top-tier women’s club in Sweden, but that opportunity was scuppered due to the fact he has an AFC Pro License and not a UEFA Pro License. It is a problem Sydney FC Isuzu UTE A-League assistant David Zdrilic previously discussed with

Also throw in interest from the Women’s Super League.

He is, though, “definitely keen” to work abroad.

“There’s difficulties. Again, it’s probably similar to when I played, everything I do seems to be the hard way,” said Juric, who previously played abroad for Norwegian club Molde and Johor and Pahang in Malaysia.

“Only recently, I was speaking with a first-division Swedish team in the women’s game and they were very keen on me. Then they found out I have an AFC Pro license and not a UEFA Pro License. That prevented it. To get over there, I maybe can do something because I’ve had six years at a high level here.

“I got offered the Philippines job but decided not to take it. One, the finances, and I didn’t want to leave Sydney, and I didn’t want to do both.

“Singapore national women’s coach I got offered. It wasn’t for me right now.

“There’s jobs I’ve been offered. Either with the license making it hard or I just don’t think it’s the right time because I have such a good job here at school and the football is so great here.

“It needs something big to get me away from this. In saying that, I would love a national team job or a job in Europe. There’s also been some moments with a few other Women’s Super League (WSL) teams but the issue is the license.”