Sasa Ognenovski is one of Australia’s best football stories.
A tenacious centre-back from a Macedonian family in Melbourne’s north worked his way to the top, representing both club and country in the world’s biggest tournaments.
The defender’s big break came in 2009 after a move to South Korean giants Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, where captained his side to the 2010 AFC Champions League and was awarded that season’s Asian Footballer of the year.
Like a myriad of Socceroos before him, his story begins at Preston Makedonia where his work ethic and fearless style immediately caught the eye of Socceroo Goran Lozanovski.
The nine-time Socceroo briefly returned to the club in 1997, after a successful stint at Adelaide City, where he was drawn to a teenager willing to run through anyone in his way.
”Even though he was a youngster he wasn’t small, he was a unit even back then,” Lozanovski said.
”I was a bit scared at training he was always near me for some reason. He just wanted to test himself and I was happy to oblige and the first time he knocked me down I said ‘Sasa I’m happy to do that, as long as my legs are intact and as long as you keep picking me up.’
”His tenacity was outrageous I’ve never seen a young man like that even now and I’ve been coaching for 15 years.
”He wasn’t a coach’s dream as a footballer, technically, but his tenacity was extraordinary and his determination was so great that you knew he’d eventually get there. I was scared at that time to be an older footballer seeing a young guy going through players like that. He was a scary man but good to see he went on to do some great things.”
The two former teammates have since been reunited but this time as opposition coaches with Ognenovski at Dandenong City and Lozanovski managing Altona Magic in Victoria’s NPL.
Since his retirement, Lozanovski has become one of Victoria’s top coaches. In addition to winning the Victorian Premier League double with Northcote City in 2013, he took Preston to the title in 2007 despite the club starting the season with a three point deduction due to financial reasons.
”I took a job with Williamstown and a week before the season starts I got approached by Preston,” Lozanovski said.
”My father told me not to be crazy, because I wasn’t experienced enough to take on a role of that stature, but I saw it as sink or swim.
”We started the season with a three-point deduction and had an average first month and there was noise about me getting sacked. Obviously, the players thought otherwise and knew we were still quite early in the season and had time to make up ground.
”The players went through a period where they didn’t see a dollar for half a season that was hard to deal with but everyone saw the unity of the football and that we were doing well. I think it was the power of the football club, those guys who had played and been with the club knew money had nothing to do with it, it was all about survival and that the club survives no matter what. The club should be grateful to that playing group.”
Featuring Image: The Socceroos