Nick Kalmar has enjoyed a wonderful transformation since arriving at the Western Sydney Wanderers.
And it’s happened quickly. Within two weeks of signing the midfielder had scored his first goal. On AFC Champions League debut he featured for 80 minutes in a 3-1 win in Japan.
It’s unsurprising the Melburnian is keen to make up time. Born to Croatian parents, Kalmar bypassed conventional pathways to professional football by joining Melbourne Heart at age 22. His first-up effort was impressive for a young state league signing – making 17 starts in 29 appearances.
What should have been the chance to truly establish himself at Hyundai A-League level was soon lost as his sophomore season was scuppered by a stress fracture in his back in 2011.
Opportunities were scant across the next two seasons and, after five years as an inaugural squad member, Kalmar was cut loose by the re-branded Melbourne City. Snapped up almost immediately by Western Sydney Wanderers, the 27-year-old’s incentives to impress remain unaffected despite tonight’s visit of City.
“I don’t think I have a point to prove to anyone except to myself,” Kalmar says.
“I still don’t think I’ve fulfilled what I think I can do in the league. For me it’s about working hard and proving to myself what I can achieve and what level I can get to. I’m very grateful Popa and the club have given me another opportunity to do that.”
Kalmar originally joined on a shortterm deal but the Wanderers’ full treatment room has allowed a former injury victim to prolong a move he was delighted to make.
“I’ve had my fair share of injuries so hopefully I can steer clear of that,” Kalmar says.
“I definitely wanted to come on board and obviously with what the club achieved I wanted to be part of it. Being part of some of the ACL games has been a real eye opener for me and a great experience. It was an easy decision and I’m happy to be here.”
Though a danger in advanced areas, the 190cm man hopes an improving fitness base will enable more minutes as a box-to-box schemer. His two goals already in Red & Black – the first a finish speared into the bottom corner, his second curled direct from a free-kick – underscore the weaponry of a well-spoken player.
His earlier injury troubles have already afforded Kalmar time to consider a future beyond football. Interviewing teammates in front of the camera proved painless in Melbourne, though tonight those same players will be little other than opposition. Whether it’s former colleagues, career options or just the top corner in his crosshairs, Kalmar won’t allow his focus on performing to be blurred.
“I’m just enjoying playing my football again,” he says.
“The boys have been really good and I have learned a lot from Popa so far. Staying fit and healthy is key. All that is going well at the moment so I’m really happy.”