Ninkovic: first-ever three-peat will be the icing on the cake

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After 20 years as a professional footballer, Sydney FC midfielder Milos Ninkovic has experienced plenty of sporting highs.

Nine years in Ukraine with Dynamo Kyiv saw Ninkovic play UEFA Champions League football against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He also played 28 times for his national side Serbia, including appearances at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Now he is focused on Sydney’s chase for a third consecutive A-League premiership, a feat never achieved in Australian football.

Why Ninkovic thinks Sydney FC can be champions again

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Ninkovic told The Football Sack Sydney’s quality across the park gave him confidence they could pull it off – and warned the rest of the league the team was back to playing the sort of football that made them champions the last two times.

“The goal is to be champions,” Ninkovic said.

“When you play for Sydney FC, the goals are the same every year. Especially this year because no one has done it before. To win three times in a row is good motivation for us.

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“We didn’t start the season how we wanted. After playing in the [Asian] Champions League, we had to sit in quarantine for two weeks, and we didn’t have a pre-season game to prepare for the A-League. It was tough. But now we look much better.”

Ninkovic has won seven major trophies since his arrival at Sydney in 2015, and won the Johnny Warren Medal in 2016/17.

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The bulk of Sydney’s squad remains the same as the one that took out last year’s double, and the midfield maestro said the champions were “full of confidence” as the A-League approaches the business end of the year.

“We know when it comes to the grand-final, semi-final, we are confident because we have been there before,” Ninkovic said.

“All players in Sydney FC have been here so many times in this situation. We know how to deal with it. For experienced players it is easy… we know how to deal with the pressure. And we are playing really good football.”

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Thirty-six-year-old Ninkovic starts almost every game for Sydney and earlier this year, head coach Steve Corica said he was still the best player in the league.

In the games that Ninkovic has been rested, the Sky Blues have lacked creativity and are a far better side with him on the pitch. Their title chances rely heavily on keeping him fit.

Happy at Sydney

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While at Dynamo Kyiv, Ninkovic played alongside Ukrainian legend Andrey Shevchenko, who he counts as a “close friend.”

Ninkovic said it was an honour to play with him and he learnt a lot in terms of professionalism from the 2004 Ballon d’Or winner, which has benefited his longevity today.

But despite the success and brushes with football royalty at Dynamo, Ninkovic said he was happiest at Sydney.

He family love Sydney and he said the Australian lifestyle had aided his performances, which have made him one of the all-time A-League greats.

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“In terms of lifestyle, Sydney is the best so far,” Ninkovic said.

“The most important thing for me is the weather, which is unbelievable. In Ukraine it was sometimes minus 32, and when it’s not sunny it’s depressing. When it’s good weather you feel much better.

“The kids are also happier with the weather. When you are happy off the pitch, you are happy on the pitch. When you are unhappy off the pitch, you can’t perform well in my opinion.

“That’s why I have played well here – because my family is happy. When I won the Johnny Warren Medal, I had overseas offers – but I never wanted to leave Sydney. It’s so hard to go somewhere after this.”

It’s little wonder Ninkovic always seems to play with a smile on his face.

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Ninkovic credits his close control and creativity to a futsal background. He also said it meant he never learnt to shoot properly from distance.

“When you play futsal you always try to play and come close to goal before shooting,” he said.

“That’s why I don’t shoot outside the box. I am trying to improve my shooting, but it’s hard at my age.”

Good news for Sydney FC fans

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The good news for Sydney is that Ninkovic has no plans to retire just yet. He said that, despite his age, he was “still feeling good.”

“I need a little bit more time for recovery  – I am limping after every game,” he said.

“But I don’t feel any different from last year or the year before. I am healthy, which is the most important thing.

“I feel great, really. But when you come to 36 you can’t plan anything – maybe you play three or four years, maybe one year.

“At the moment, I am just concentrating on winning two more trophies and I really think we can. After that, we will see.”

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However, once he does hang up his boots he said he was looking forward to staying put in  Sydney.

He received permanent residency in 2019 and hopes to soon receive full Australian citizenship.

“I am happy in Sydney. I want to stay in Sydney,” he said.

So, what are his plans?

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“I am thinking of opening an academy. I have so many good friends who are coaches,” he said.

“I don’t have ambitions to be a head coach. I have been playing professional football for 20 years, travelling everywhere. I am a bit tired of this.”

Another thing he says he will not miss once he retires, is the VAR. He said it was ruining football due to its long delays.

“I can’t wait to retire, so I don’t have to put up with VAR anymore,” he joked.

Looking to the games ahead, Ninkovic said a third consecutive premiership would be the icing on the cake.

“I have so many great memories from my time at Sydney FC,” he said.

“I can’t really pick one. But three in a row would be something different.”

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Feature image credit: Keith McInnes

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Adam Sheldon
Full time football addict. Passionate about any sport with balls. Covering Sydney FC A-League and W-League teams for the upcoming season.

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