Not many 16-year-olds would be brave enough to travel across the world and away from their family in pursuit of their dreams.
But that’s exactly what a young Phillip Cancar did.
After spending time with the Sydney FC academy, Wollongong-born Cancar packed his bags for Croatian top-flight club Lokomotiva Zagreb.
He spent a year there, before moving on to second-tier side Hrvatski Dragovoljac, where he managed to get some senior football under his belt.
It was a first-class football education, the now 20-year-old tells Kick360.
“It was a top experience,” Cancar says.
“You go from being at home to the other side of the world, another country, another language – you learn a lot both on and off the field. It’s a big experience.
“Hopefully, one day I can make it back to Europe.”
When Western Sydney Wanderers’ then-manager Carl Robinson came looking for the centre-back’s signature in late 2020, it proved to be an offer that was difficult to turn down.
Cancar has managed a steady run of game time in the heart of the red and black’s defence this campaign, firstly under Robinson, and now under recently extended head coach Mark Rudan.
“It’s been hard to get a rhythm going with the stop-start season, but now we’re playing a few matches, and once you get into that rhythm of getting a few wins, it’s good,” Cancar says.
“But we’ve got to keep going now and get some more wins behind us.”
It’s always disruptive to a team’s season when the manager is sacked mid-season.
Mark Rudan, initially appointed as a caretaker manager at CommBank Stadium, was recently extended as head coach for a further two seasons.
The move was met with a fair amount of scepticism around Australian football, but Cancar says the new boss has been great for himself personally and the whole team.
“‘Rudes’ has come in and reminded us of the expectations at this club. We’re such a big club with a lot of history.
“Rudes has come in and made sure we know we need to be putting in that extra 10 per cent, doing the little things, and going out there and playing for the fans and the club,” Cancar says.
Rudan’s experience playing as a centre-back over the course of a 17-year career in Australian and Asian football has also been hugely beneficial for the young defender.
“The boss used to play as a defender, so he brings good defensive structure and knowledge.
“Especially for me. He talks to me 24/7 about the little things when it comes to defending.
“And for the team, the team’s trying to defend as a whole unit. We’ve got attackers that score goals for fun who have been tracking back and doing the dirty work.
“It’s a team game and we’ve got to win as a team. Those are some of the things Rudes has brought since coming in.”
The Wanderers’ big off-season recruit was former Manchester City, Everton and Sunderland midfielder Jack Rodwell.
You might have thought after the way Rodwell was portrayed in the Netflix documentary Sunderland ‘Till I Die that he wouldcome to Australia with a point to prove and a big ego, but Cancar says those notions couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Jack is a top professional, and a top person,” Cancar says.
“He works hard, comes in every single day to training and puts in the work.
“He helps us young boys as well – not just in football terms, but asking ‘How’s life?’.
“He’s played in the Premier League and he’s a great player, so I’m just taking any advice I can from him.”
For Cancar, who turns 21 in May, there is plenty to look forward to.
He’s made a starting centre-back spot at one of the A-League’s biggest clubs his own this season, and whether it’s a trip back to Europe or another move on the horizon, you get the feeling we haven’t seen his best football yet.