“My family are pretty much the only ones that know this; it was really hard for me, my mental health was not good.”
As a second wave of COVID-19 forced much of Europe into lockdown in the early months of 2021, Nikola Jadric found his mental health deteriorating.
Whilst his family and friends back in Canberra were living almost normal lives, he was isolated and locked down halfway across the world in Croatia.
He’d been living out there since 2019, after joining the youth team of HNK Rijeka, but was unable to return home to Australia whilst the pandemic continued to wreak havoc.
As Jadric speaks to Kick360, he’s in the final day of his quarantine after returning to Australia for the first time in more than 18 months.
“Things were shut down, our team was having to isolate every two or three weeks because someone would get Corona[virus].
“I couldn’t leave my house but everything I could see from my friends in Australia, they were able to continuing doing stuff and go around.
“For me it was really hard, I was always calling my parents and they knew how upset I was.”
Fortunately for Jadric, the support of his parents enabled him to get through those challenging times, and looking back, he appreciates their efforts greatly.
“The thing they always told me was to always enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re going to regret it.
“I’m so thankful for the support my parents gave me because I’ve come out of the back of it and realised that spending the last 18 months there has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
“I really couldn’t be more grateful for my parents and everyone else that’s pushed me and helped me along the way.”
Indeed, the rest of 2021 has provided Jadric with incredible opportunities, starting with a move to second-tier HNK Orijent. After initially having to settle for proving himself in the U19 squad, it wasn’t long before the 19-year-old became part of the first team set-up.
“It was a really big step for me because I’m one of the youngest boys in the side so it’s really key that I put my all in and never slack.
“Most of our players in the side are 24, 25 years old, we’ve got a few young kids like myself, but for me to earn a start, I always had to give 100% in training because I didn’t have that leverage like others who had been at the club longer.”
The midfielder finished the first half of the season in good form, starting three of the last five matches as Orijent rose to the top of the 2. HNL ahead of the winter break.
Even with the prospect of a promotion fight ahead, Jadric is keeping himself grounded, and with the top four teams all separated by just four points he knows there’s a long way to go.
“Everyone knows how far away promotion still is, there’s been about seven teams that have been in that first position so far this season.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, first can be last, it’s a very competitive league and every match is a fight.
“I’m looking at things game by game, if we end up on top that’s great but we can’t start getting ahead of ourselves, there’s a lot of teams who are more favoured to go up than us.”
Jadric believes the reason for the club’s recent success is the structure and tactics employed by head coach Edo Flego, who was the one who persuaded Jadric to join him at Orijent after serving as Rijeka’s academy director.
“His word goes a long way, he’s also the assistant coach to the Croatian under-19s, so he’s got a lot of credibility.
“The way he approaches games and the way we look at the tactics is very good, so each game we go in to we know exactly how we’re going to utilise our strengths.
“We’re very lucky to have a coach like that to put us in good stead for the rest of the season.”
Whatever happens, 2022 looks incredibly exciting for Jadric, but first he’s earned some deserved rest and the opportunity to link up with friends and family back in Australia, before embarking on the next leg of his European dream.