Youth in focus: Vesna Milivojevic
The A-League Men's and Women's competitions are starting to intensify as both fast approach the season's pointy end. For most sides, every point matters and one result could mean either a finals birth or a forgettable season. However, for all shades of Australian football fandom down under, there are still some promising youngsters to watch week in and out, regardless of the team you support. This week we look again to the A-League Women and highlight the talents of Canberra United midfielder Vesna Milivojevic, who, at 21, is steadily building a terrific career.
Canberra United have enjoyed a mixed bag this season regarding results and sits firmly in mid-table on the ladder in sixth. Comfortable victories against the Newcastle Jets and Adelaide United earlier this season saw Canberra in good form, with Njegosh Popovich's team banging on the door of the top four. However, subsequent heavy losses to Melbourne City, league leaders Western United, and bottom side Wellington Phoenix have stalled an otherwise promising season for Canberra. Much of what has been good about Canberra this season has sprung out of a youthful midfield capable of holding possession and controlling the tempo of matches. They then want to quickly up the speed with switches into the wide areas, finding space for crosses into A-League Women legend and former Matilda Michelle Heyman. Grace Maher and Laura Hughes deserve special mention for playing their part in bringing this style of play to life. But the talent of 21-year-old Vesna Milivojević has caught the eye of many who take in weekly Canberra United games.
Milivojević was announced as a new signing for Canberra United ahead of this season. (Twitter: @CapitalFootball)
The Serbian-Australian starlet, who joined Canberra at the start of the season, has gone from strength to strength. Emerging from Bankstown City in the NPL NSW Women's, Milivojević first rose to prominence in 2019, taking out the competition's player of the year award. What followed was moves to the Western Sydney Wanderers and ZFK Spartak Subotica in Serbia and a brief spell with BV Borussia Bocholt. Milivojević took many by surprise in declaring her allegiance to Serbia and earning her first cap in 2022. Born in Sydney to Serbian parents, Milivojevic has thus far amassed nine caps for her national team in a short period, establishing herself as a star in Serbian football. Whether the Matildas regret not capping her as an Australian representative may not be an if but a when according to A-League Women commentator Taryn Heddo.
"How long until we start regretting letting Vesna Milivojevic play for Serbia? She’s been super impressive this season!" Heddo said in a tweet last month.
Her stocks are undoubtedly rising to a world-class level. Should her current form continue, it won't be long until Milivojević plays in one of the big emerging leagues in women's football.
Milivojević has undoubtedly become a focal point of Canberra United's attack since joining in the off-season. Canberra's matches often centre around transition moments, and they have only averaged 48% possession across the season. They have become reliant on Milivojević's turn of pace, expansive passing range, and confidence in taking on opposition defenders every week to create chances. Completing 42% of her dribbles and 65% of her attempted passes, Milivojević is trusted by her teammates to progress the ball when United has the opportunity to venture out of their half. It has led to tangible results for Canberra and Milivojević, as she has contributed three goals and three assists this season. However, there is room to grow for Milivojević, which may be the reason for the fanfare surrounding her 2022/23 season. Only winning 39% of her duels, Milivojević has some way to go before becoming a well-rounded midfielder. But by completing 2.5 tackles and 0.6 interceptions per game from an advanced midfield role, Milivojević has demonstrated her versatility, often being a key component in the team's successful pressing actions and defensive transitions.
Milivojević on the ball during the round eight A-League Women match between Melbourne Victory and Canberra United. (Kelly Defina/Getty Images)
Should Canberra get their act together by season's end, with Milivojević alongside key talents like Heyman, Maher, Nikoletta Flannery, and Ellie Brush, to name a few, they might have enough for a late top-four push.
"If Canberra can pick up six or seven points over the next couple of weeks, it makes the finals race a little more interesting," Cody Ojeda remarked on Front Page Dub's mid-season review.
Milivojević is as much a part of a potential run as anyone in the Canberra squad. Much like the permanency of Canberra's disappointing form over the last few weeks, Milivojević is poised to make good on her early promise at both domestic and international levels. That said, Front Page Football will watch her development with intent. Perhaps in the years to come, according to A-League Women expert Teo Pellizzeri, she may join the likes of Richard Porta and Max Vieri as players who slipped through the Australian football system.
All statistics sourced from SofaScore.
Click here to read last week's 'Youth In Focus' on Wellington Phoenix defender Callan Elliot.