Lochlan Czapla: The Adelaide boy chasing his football dreams in Scotland
An unknown to many Australian football fans, 18-year-old South Australian Lochlan Czapla is rising to prominence in Scotland.
Czapla's move to the youth system of Scottish Premiership side St Mirren from local South Australian club Para Hills Knights flew under the radar.
St Mirren and Para Hills share an affiliation that the Scottish club announced back in September 2020.
The two clubs aim to share players and coaches, organise academy tours and tournaments, and negotiate commercial opportunities to develop both on and off the pitch.
So far, Czapla has been the crown jewel of the partnership, spending most of his teenage years with the Knights before St Mirren acquired him under the new affiliation.
“The partnership has helped myself get over here to the UK, get recognised," Czapla said in an exclusive interview with Front Page Football.
"I think a lot of local clubs, especially the ones in the NPL who have a bit more of a name, should definitely [look at affiliations].
“Even if you don’t have a name, it just gets you on the map, and I think there are young kids everywhere that are very good footballers.
“It attracts players as well. It’s better for the local clubs to go ‘[we’ve] got a partnership with a club in the UK’, you’re going to attract more and better players.”
Historically Para Hills is not one of South Australia's most successful clubs and are currently playing in the second tier of the state's football pyramid.
However, they gain an advantage by providing a clear pathway for young Australian talents such as Czapla.
Although he only joined the club at the beginning of his teenage years, the youngster thoroughly enjoyed his time with the Knights.
“I loved it; I was there since under 14s. I think it’s just a generally nice family club, so it gets the most out of everyone,” Czapla said.
“The coaching staff were brilliant. They knew how to get the most out of their players, along with the committee.”
The community feel of playing for a local club in his hometown state was a rewarding experience for Czapla.
However, a move overseas was appropriate to progress his fledgling career further.
Czapla captained the South Australia School Boys in the National Championships in 2019. (Group 154)
The completely different attitude towards football in Scotland pushes him to his limits.
“Everyone lives and breathes football, where, certainly in Adelaide, it’s not as big because obviously, you’ve got the AFL and whatnot,” he said.
“It’s a way of life here, football. Everyone tries their best every day.
"I’ve found that here in Scotland, the intensity is a lot higher.
"Every time you get the ball, there’s someone on you, and if you don’t have it, you’re trying to win it back straight away.
"You need to be a lot better and quickly think on your feet.”
Czapla has already come off the bench once for St Mirren's reserve side. (Group 154)
Several Australians, particularly youngsters in the early stages of their careers, have struggled to settle into overseas club environments in recent years.
Many Australian football critics often accuse these young players of not making the most of their chances and failing to have the appropriate mindset to bounce back from setbacks.
Czapla agreed that you need to have an enthusiastic desire to put yourself on notice but suggested that it isn't so straightforward to settle into an overseas club.
“I’ve spoken to mates who have tried to go overseas or have gone to international tournaments, and it was hard for them," he added.
"[It’s a] different country, different weather, different environment, different people.
“I think without the fire in your belly, it’s very hard to succeed.
“You’re coming into a team from the other side of the world, and even the coaching staff, the whole club, they already know their players.
“You almost have to beat them into a spot and keep pushing yourself at the same time.”
Given Czapla's long-term ambitions in the game, motivating himself to keep up with the day-to-day demands in Scotland should not be a problem.
He is aiming to reach the pinnacle of the sport for both club and country.
"The end goal for where I want to be at the end of my career is playing for my country and hopefully the English Premier League,” Czapla said.
“To go to England and play in the Premier League would be massive; that’s the long-term [goal].
“The short-term would be pretty much day-by-day. End of the season, halfway through the season, you have to recap what you’ve achieved.”
Czapla is raising the bar quite high on his career goals, and a support network that can be there for him during highs and lows is crucial.
Luckily for him, Scotland is a hotbed for Australians at the moment, with several on the books of clubs at both senior and youth levels.
Czapla admitted that Aussies Tom Rogic and Matt Millar - who is playing for St Mirren's senior side - are role models he is following to stay grounded.
"The way they go about themselves (Rogic and Millar), you can learn off with or without speaking to them,” he said.
“I think on and off the pitch they hold their standards. Whether you have a conversation with them or not, you still learn because you look up to them as a young Australian.”
Czapla will want to follow in the footsteps of someone like Rogic or even eclipse what the Socceroo has achieved.
If he does, Australia will soon have a top midfielder in their ranks.