"I feed off it" - The viral star ready to light up the A-League Women
Making a name for yourself as a young footballer can be challenging at the best of times. Doing it at a club full of star players and winning championships is even more difficult. But the rise of Maja Markovski has transcended that. She is becoming a fan-favourite in a Melbourne Victory side that hosts several Matildas, star internationals, and A-League Women stalwarts.
Carrying the name of her famous Socceroo uncle, John Markovski, Maja has already begun to make the surname her own in the early stages of her career. She made her A-League Women's debut during the 2020/21 season, scored her maiden goal in a Melbourne Derby, and went viral across social media for re-enacting the celebration made famous by legendary forward Cristiano Ronaldo. Markovski's two seasons in the competition are even more special because all her achievements have come while representing her girlhood club.
Front Page Football spoke exclusively with the young Melbourne Victory striker recently. Markovski discussed her fledgling career, her experience at the club, the excitement around an expanded A-League Women leading into a home World Cup, and her and the club’s goals for the upcoming season.
Markovski (left) in action for Melbourne Victory. (The West)
Playing for the club you supported growing up is the dream of any footballer, and it’s one that Markovski has already been fortunate enough to experience. Growing up a Melbourne Victory fan, she knows what pulling on the famous navy blue means.
“It’s surreal; it’s a childhood dream come true. Being a member of the men’s team since season one and then watching the women finally get a team, it’s a dream come true to be playing with the club you’ve supported your whole life,” Markovski said.
However, just getting to this point took a lot of work. She signed for the club in the early stages of the pandemic, which has had a well-documented impact on all levels of Australian football.
However, the day she was told she would be part of the Melbourne Victory team for that season made the journey all worth it.
“When he (Melbourne Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins) told me I’d got a contract, it was kind of a relief,” Markovski said.
Markovski was officially announced as a Melbourne Victory player on 4th December 2020. (Twitter: @mvfcwomen)
“It didn’t kick in until afterwards. When I got back to my car, I was phoning everyone in my family, and then it sunk in. I was extremely happy.”
That COVID-affected period in the lead-up did prove to be a confusing time. But it also allowed Markovski to put her head down and throw everything at the opportunity to sign for the club.
“That season was through COVID, and we got permission to train (with the Melbourne Victory squad) and trial, so there were a lot of new girls, and no one was sure what was happening,” Markovski said.
“But I remember I spent the whole lockdown with a ball at my feet and working extremely hard every day to get that contract.”
She made her debut in the 2020/21 season in what was ultimately a forgettable day for the club, coming on as a substitute in a 6-0 loss to Brisbane Roar.
But it was the season just gone when Markovski began to make a name for herself. After making five substitute appearances in her first season, last season saw her appear in 14 matches, including seven starts.
She also scored her maiden goal for the club, in a Melbourne Derby, no less. However, much like her debut match, this game was also one to forget for the club, as Markovski's was the lone goal in a 5-1 loss to their cross-town rivals.
“It’s bittersweet but quite funny, considering it’s a similar situation to my debut,” Markovski said.
“I obviously couldn’t celebrate it too much. But I did blow a kiss to the sky because I promised my Dedo (grandfather) that I would celebrate my first goal with him; that was a special moment for me.”
However, despite the result, the team still embraced Markovski and congratulated her on the milestone.
“Everyone was really supportive, even Jeff (Hopkins) mentioned it in the post-game chat, and he did have a chat with me and congratulated me,” Markovski said.
Luckily for her, that wasn’t where the goals ended. The next one allowed her to seal all three points for the Victory against the Western Sydney Wanderers.
But her celebration, a re-enactment of the pose made famous by Cristiano Ronaldo, grabbed the headlines that day. The footage of her best impression of the Portuguese forward rapidly spread across social media.
“I still get messages and edits made of me and sent to me. It’s crazy how it still comes around almost a year on,” Markovski said.
Markovski (right) celebrates her match-winning penalty against the Wanderers, an act which would soon go viral on social media. (Twitter: @aleaguewomen)
It was an excellent season for Markovski personally, but also one where the team tasted success. Last season saw them win their second consecutive Grand Final.
Both Grand Final victories came after finishing outside the top two in the regular season, meaning Victory faced uphill battles to win both finals. According to Markovski, the togetherness in the squad is one of the most significant factors in their success.
“It’s very special. Even the recruits that have come in this year have pointed it out,” Markovski said.
“Everyone speaks to everyone; there are no cliques. There’s no drama, just good vibes, and that’s important going into finals football because those strong teams will win you games. It’s not necessarily about who’s got the better team, but that team environment [that] shows itself on the pitch as well.”
It’s a team culture that allowed them to remain confident heading into finals, despite finishing fourth and only making the post-season on goal difference. The run-in to the end of the season was also less than ideal, with Victory failing to win any of their last three matches.
This run included a 3-0 loss in Adelaide, which coincidentally was the trip they made to begin their finals campaign.
But the culture in the dressing room meant form didn’t bear any weight on their confidence, and the team was still well prepared to step up when needed.
“It didn’t really matter to us where we finished, we still had that belief that we were going to go all the way, and I think that’s what won it for us,” Markovski said.
That self-belief paid dividends, and Melbourne Victory won three games on the road to seal a second consecutive championship.
Melbourne Victory celebrate their second consecutive A-League Women Grand Final triumph. (News.com)
It’s a belief also seen in the unwavering support from the club's supporters. Fan group Original Style Melbourne (OSM) turned out in large numbers for their away semi-final against neighbours Melbourne City. But the Victory Vikings, the group dedicated to Melbourne Victory’s women’s team, is a crucial driving force for the side, following the team to all their home and away games.
“They’re special (the Victory Vikings). They follow us everywhere, even away games. To know they’re in the crowd, you want to play for them, win games for them, and make them proud. They’re all nice people as well,” Markovski said.
“I especially do (have a good relationship with OSM) because I like to go in the terrace for the men’s games, so I know the guys there. Hopefully, we can get them to more women’s games too, because they’re intimidating for other teams coming to AAMI Park.”
Ahead of the 2022/23 season, ambitions are high once again as Victory look to improve their league standings compared to recent years. It’s been two seasons since they finished in the top two and three since they won the premiership, a statistic the club wants to amend this campaign.
“We want to be more consistent during the season. It would make things a lot easier for us if we can get in the top two or even finish first,” Markovski said.
“Speaking to the girls during pre-season, we all have our eyes set on that elusive premiership title. We have high expectations; we want to win everything.”
And Markovski is hoping to have an increased impact on the side. After her breakout campaign, she’s looking to build on the hype she generated last season.
The buzz around her has continued to generate since her match-winner against the Wanderers. But it’s something Markovski has taken in her stride. She wants to keep developing and hopes to excite fans whenever she is on the ball.
“I love it (the buzz around her since the Western Sydney goal). I find it funny, and I feed off it. It’s a good thing hearing cheers from the crowd when you do a specific skill or bring something to the game to entertain [the fans],” Markovski said.
However, what should be an exciting lead-in to the new season has been hampered by injury. Double hip surgery has meant Markovski spent most of the off-season in the hospital recovering and completing rehabilitation.
At this stage, the striker doesn’t expect to be involved in round one. But she's targeted the Big Blue in round two as a potential return, even if it’s off the bench to build match fitness.
But once fit again, the aim will be to nail down a spot in the starting XI.
“Building on last year, that’s what I want (to be a regular starter). I’m recovering from injury, but it’s made me even hungrier to come for the people in front of me, work hard, and get a more consistent starting position,” Markovski said.
It also cannot be a better time to make a name as a starting player in the A-League Women, as the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand rapidly approaches. It’s not a fact lost on the players, and it looks set to be a real motivation in the competition this season.
“We know that if anyone has an outstanding season, they’re going to get looked at,” Markovski said.
“It's amazing to see how supportive people are of the women’s game, even in England after the Euro’s and smashing all these crowd records. It’s something that we want to emulate here in Australia leading into the World Cup.”
England, the host nation and champions of the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 showed the potential impact that hosting a major tournament can have on the growth of women's football in a country. It’s an impact we hope to see in Australia over the coming months.
The APL has already expanded the A-League Women season from 14 games to 20 for the coming season, with further expansion earmarked for the season following the World Cup.
It’s an important step to professionalise the competition fully. Crucially, it's a change that hopefully reduces the need for players to move to NPL clubs to receive the appropriate match minutes for their development.
It’s a situation that most ALW players are faced with if they cannot secure professional contracts overseas.
Some state federations, such as Football Victoria, impose restrictions on how many contracted A-League Women players a club can sign. Thus, several players from the state instead head to New South Wales, where they don’t impose this regulation.
Markovski was faced with this situation, resulting in spending the last two seasons away from home in Sydney, where she lined up for Blacktown Spartans. For a young player experiencing football away from home for the first time, she spoke about how challenging the situation was.
“It was honestly hard at the start. You go through phases where you’re not enjoying your football, and you’ll miss home. I remember the first time I moved out to Sydney; I struggled a bit as I wasn’t used to the lifestyle,” Markovski said.
Markovski during her time at Blacktown Spartans. (NPLNSW)
But the restrictions in the NPLW Victoria have a positive impact, giving young players more opportunities to play and showcase their ability at a senior level. Considering Victoria has struggled to produce many Matildas in recent years, this trend is undoubtedly a positive.
Melbourne Victory is looking to maintain its stronghold on signing the best talent in the state, even with newcomers Western United proving to be a worthy challenger in that regard. The club has made some positive scholarship signings over the off-season, with Markovski touting Ava Briedis as a player set for a big season.
“She’s (Ava Briedis) technically really good, and I believe if she gets the opportunity to play, she’ll shock a lot of people,” Markovski said.
Markovski also paid homage to her Socceroo uncle John Markovski, who she said was a big inspiration growing up.
“My uncle (John) growing up, I watched heaps of him. He was a striker/attacking midfielder, which is similar to what I am now, and I think I [will] try to emulate my game to his. If I could be just half as good as he was back in the day, then I would have no worries,” Markovski said.
John Markovski during his time with Carlton Blues in the National Soccer League. (Optus Sport)
A player who is hungry for success and desires to provide a thrill to fans while she chases it, Maja Markovski is undoubtedly shaping up as one of the most exciting players to watch this A-League Women season.
There’s plenty to be excited about with the World Cup on the horizon. The new Liberty pass allows all registered footballers under 16 to attend matches for free, and all games are available on free-to-air TV through 10Play. Watching the competition is more accessible than ever.
The action begins with a triple header on Saturday, 19 November, at 3pm AEDT, which includes Melbourne Victory’s away trip to Western United. Viewers can catch all the action live on Paramount+ and 10 Play.
Click here to read more about the changes to the upcoming A-League Women season, including the season being extended from 14 rounds to 20.