Wanderers product explains why he’s flourishing back at his boyhood club: ‘I’ve never had that before’

Nicolas Milanovic is back home in Western Sydney and starring for the Wanderers. He tells aleagues.com.au why he is enjoying his football again, growing up as a fan of the club and his aspirations.

Ask any footballer and they will tell you; they’re at their best when they’re happy mentally.

That is certainly the case for Nicolas Milanovic.

After a couple of years away from home, the local product is back at boyhood club Western Sydney Wanderers and flourishing.

“Every footballer plays best when they’re happy mentally, that’s for sure,” the 22-year-old told aleagues.com.au ahead of Saturday’s showdown with Central Coast Mariners.

“Without stress and that stress I had of when will I see my family or when am I going to go home? That’s the first step. Then again, it’s the confidence the club and especially the boss has instilled in me to take that position.

“When you have people behind you backing you in, it makes it easy and you feel confident.”

Milanovic swapped Western United for Western Sydney Wanderers in January last year, having spent three years in Victoria.

He was part of Western United’s 2021-22 Championship-winning side but having made just four starts across his time with the expansion club, something had to change.

“I think the first six months to a year was pretty tough,” Milanovic reflected on his time at Western United, where he arrived in 2020. “It was tougher than I thought because I moved away pretty young. It is only an hour flight but again, you can’t just say hey boss can I go home for a bit?

“It was tough at the start. Obviously I enjoyed it. I made life-long friends there and I still have best mates at Western United. But from that first six months to a year, that was tough then after that it got a bit easier. I got a bit older and mature. Lived on my own and knew what I was doing. Thought I’d teach myself to cook and clean.”

Before leaving midway through 2022-23, Milanovic he scored four goals in 15 appearances, but only three of those were starts under John Aloisi.

“Then the last six months before I left, I found it a bit tough,” he added. “As any young player, you want to play and I’m obviously not going to discredit Western United – I love the club. I think that last six months I wanted to play and I was putting my best foot forward and I couldn’t get a go.

“The best thing for me was to move away. It didn’t have to be the Wanderers but that’s my club, that’s where I’m from. I was here from 11 years old. It was a no-brainer to come back. Ever since I came back, I’ve felt mentally happy and it’s showing on the pitch.”

Being back at Wanderland means a reunion with Marko Rudan.

Rudan is the man who lured Milanovic to Western United four years ago and is the man who brought him back to Western Sydney.

“For me, it’s just the confidence he gives me,” Milanovic said. “He brought me as a youngster. As a youngster when you’re on a scholarship, you’re there more to develop and see how others do things. It was more about learning back then.

“Now I’m playing under him again, I know I can make an impact. He gives me so much confidence. He trusts me. To know that someone trusts you is good because I’ve never had that before. Now it’s my turn to repay that.”

Milanovic – whose brother is also playing for the Wanderers academy – is repaying that faith at the club he loves. He has scored three goals and supplied a pair of assists in 10 starts this season.

He scored four goals in five appearances last term.

The Penrith-born attacker watched Western Sydney games as a fan – he was at that memorable 5-4 win over Brisbane Roar and he went to all the Grand Final fixtures.

Then he was part of the Wanderers academy in their inaugural 2015 season.

“We’d go play the games at the academy and then it would be compulsory to go to the games but even if it wasn’t, everyone would be going anyway because the atmosphere at Parramatta was electric,” said Milanovic, who played with the likes of Cristian Volpato, Phillip Cancar and Mark Natta in Western Sydney’s various youth teams.

“That’s what all the young kids put in their head – I want to be them.”

Milanovic is back at Wanderland for a second stint and having gone from a fan in the stands to a player on the field in Parramatta, it is something not lost on the Western Sydney native.

“You can’t really explain it,” he reflected.

“You put it in your mind as a kid, it’s going to be me but there’s always going to be doubt in there. Is it? Is it really going to be you? Then it is. It is an euphoric feeling. Wow, it is me so I have to do myself proud, my family proud, the fans.

“There’s so many people and parts of groups you want to make proud because I was with them. Some of those RBB fans I was with as a kid are probably still there.

“The honour to put the jersey on is different level. I don’t take it lightly.”

Being a fan at heart, Milanovic knows what the Wanderers represent. He also knows how much the fans are craving silverware.

The Wanderers sensationally won the 2014 AFC Champions League, while they have reached the Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final on three occasions without prevailing.

Last season, Western Sydney qualified advanced to the Finals Series for the first time since 2016-17 before falling in the Elimination Final.

“It drives us because we know, especially for me and all the boys can see it from the fans, it’s so important for the fans,” he said.

“They want something. They want anything. Whether it’s a plate, a Grand Final, another Champions League or AFC Cup. They want something and we do too.

“You win games to win something. for the fans, that’s all they want. For players, the players want that too.”

There are various motivating factors for Milanovic in 2023-24.

One is his aspirations to play abroad, having watched Wanderers teammates Kusini Yengi (Portsmouth) and Calem Nieuwenhof (Hearts) earn European moves at the end of last season.

“That’s always been my aspiration to go overseas and try. At least try,” said Milanovic, who has been studying Real Madrid duo Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo as well as Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah to help improve his game.

“Playing with them last season, knowing how good they were and the impact they made, I’m not going to lie, it definitely crossed my mind a lot of times saying why can’t that be me? I can do that. I want to be that. That’s a big motivator for this season too. I want to keep it going until we finish. See where I’m at.

“Any young kid in Australia that doesn’t have aspirations to go overseas, you shouldn’t be playing.”