Mario Ilich makes Navy Blues return

Words: ACFC Media

Monday 23 September 2019

Picture: Phototek

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Mario Ilich has joined Auckland City FC for the third time as Jose Figueira gets closer to finalising his squad for the new season.

Ilich first played for Auckland City FC in the 2011-12 season making his first team debut in a 6-0 rout of YoungHeart Manawatu in February 2012 in Palmerston North.

But it was his most recent performances for Team Wellington that caught the eye with Ilich becoming a key figure in the capital club's recent resurgence.

He made 38 appearances and scored two goals as the Wellingtonians won the OFC Champions League two years ago and made their FIFA Club World Cup debut last December.

Most recently, he helped guide Bentleigh Greens to the NPL Victoria title in a penalty shoot-out win over Avondale after a 1-1 draw.

But after two years on the road, Ilich is happy to return to Kiwitea Street for a third spell.

AUDIO - "Kiwitea Street is my home" - Mario Ilich

"It's always been part of my plans to get back to Kiwitea Street. This is a place I've always called home for both Auckland City FC and Central United so it feels really good and I'm excited to get started," he told www.aucklandcityfc.com

Ilich's rise to prominence is no surprise with seven seasons of ISPS Handa Premiership experience under his belt but he admits finding the opportunity to break through at Kiwitea Street was difficult in his last two spells.

"My main reason leaving here was to get game time and as a younger player then I wasn't really going to get that if I stayed around.

"It was a good move for me to go to Team Wellington and play two full seasons and I've got a lot of experience under my belt now including a FIFA Club World Cup and an OFC Champions League campaign.

"I've definitely improved my game and now hopefully I can come here and win trophies with Auckland City FC," he said.

The 24-year-old midfielder says understanding what Jose Figueira wants from his players is critical to success but he believes the Navy Blues squad will love working with him.

"It's enjoyable working for Jose. Jose knows what's he wants. If you like to have the ball all the time, control games and score goals then it's enjoyable.

AUDIO - "Mario Ilich is a tactical thinker" - Jose Figueira

"The squad looks great, it looks young and fresh and I just want to get on the park as much as I can.

"Ultimately, we want to win as many games as we can and get Auckland City FC back to where it should be and has been for so many years," he said.

One advantage to coming home to Auckland City FC for Ilich will be his proximity to family at a club he adores. His family, he says, are his number one fans.

"I'm very comfortable at Kiwitea Street and it's home as soon as I walk through those doors and walking out onto that pitch will be the same.

"But all of my achievements and decisions in football are supported by my family. They are always there, always supporting me and messaging me, watching and keeping up to date with whats happening and they're a massive part of my success so far," he said.

Figueira believes Ilich fits hand-in-glove with not only Auckland City FC but with a midfield ensemble that is taking formidable shape even this early in the pre-season preparations.

"Mario is a player I've worked with for a number of years with both Central United and Team Wellington and he's someone who loves football.

"For his young age he plays with real maturity out on the pitch in a position that's really important for most teams and certainly in the way I see the game being played and he's someone that understands that very deeply.

"Mario is a tactical thinker and I look at putting him in the same mix as players like Albert Riera, Cam Howieson and Yousif Ali. We have a nice blend there and Mario will fit straight in and he's excited to be back at Kiwitea Street," he said.

FACTFILE
Name: Mario Ilich
Age: 24
Position: Midfield
Previous clubs: Team Wellington (NZL), Eastern Suburbs AFC (NZL), WaiBOP United (NZL), Wanderers SC (NZL), Auckland City FC (NZL), Central United (NZL).

 

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