Name: David Allen Zdrilic
DOB: 13 April 1974 (age 39)
POB: Sydney, Australia
Clubs: St George Saints, Sydney United, FC Aarau, SSV Ulm, SpVgg Unterhaching, Walsall, Aberdeen, Eintracht Trier, Sydney FC, Sydney United
International caps: 30 (20 goals)
Sometimes there is a move in a player’s career that not only halts their career momentum, it actually begins putting it into reverse. That’s the easiest way to describe the career arc of David Zdrilic who enjoyed almost exclusively positive moves up in the world of football until he arrived at Pittodrie in 2003. At the time Aberdeen was football’s graveyard as the team unsuccessfully tried to recover from the Ebbe Skovdahl era with the equally disastrous Steve Paterson age. After one poor season at Pittodrie, Zdrilic retraced his steps in a desperate attempt to get his failing career back on track, never to succeed.
Zdrilic made his name in his native land, playing for four years at Sydney United in the National Soccer League, which at the time was the highest level of football in Australia. In his final season with the team he finished top scorer in Australian football and earned a call-up to the national team under head coach Terry Venables. The extra attention convinced him to leave behind his law studies and try to make a name for himself as a professional footballer. His final game in Australian football before his departure was the NSL Grand Final where United squared off against Brisbane. Instead of a fairy-tale ending, the conclusion reached a sour note with Zdrilic’s side losing the match.
He moved directly to Europe, landing in Switzerland with FC Aurau where he continued his goalscoring before gaining a move to Germany for a spell with Ulm. In his first season he helped the club gain promotion to the Bundesliga with 12 goals before a knee injury sustained on international duty put paid to most of the following season. Without their striker, Ulm were relegated back down to the Bundesliga 2. Wishing to remain in the top flight, Zdrilic moved on to newly promoted Unterhaching. His stay with the newcomers was miserable, barely featuring over two seasons as the club suffered successive demotions. It was at this time, however, that he featured in a news story which brought his name to worldwide audiences. Playing in a ridiculously easy World Cup qualification group, Australia bettered Tonga, American Samoa and Samoa by scores of 22-0, 31-0 and 11-0 respectively. Zdrilic netted eight in the record setting victory over American Samoa and was on televisions across the globe as news networks aired (selected) highlights of the game. This, along with an appearance in 2-0 win at Hampden against Scotland, alerted British scouts to his talent.
It would be Colin Lee and First Division Walsall who brought him to these shores. Overall it would be a happy experience for the player, even if he did find himself sidelined for significant periods through a calf injury and often playing the back-up role to Brazilian Jose Junior, who was signed shortly after Zdrilic arrived. The most memorable occasion came in a League Cup tie away at Premier League Blackburn Rovers. The striker scored a stunning second in his side’s 2-2 draw at Ewood Park, though they would eventually exit the competition on penalties. Playing the squad player role, Zdrilic impressed when given a chance as the team safely confirmed their second tier status weeks before the season’s end. With interest surrounding Junior the club would have preferred to keep the reserve for the following year. The fact that he had been on the bench so often caused problems with his work permit and the club were not allowed to re-sign him. That’s when Aberdeen swooped in.
Steve Paterson had arrived at Aberdeen with a reputation for uncovering diamonds in the rough as he scoured the lower leagues; kind of like a noughties version of Terry Butcher, which is a particularly apt comparison since both built their reputations up at Inverness. Despite this, Aberdeen fans should have been cautious when Zdrilic arrived, considering how poor another of Paterson’s acquisitions had been – Leigh Hinds.
If optimism was shaky then it was quickly restored when Zdrilic scored 90 seconds into his debut in a pre-season friendly against Liverpool. The striker was lurking on the edge of the area and fired into a first time shot from 18 yards after the Liverpool defence had only half-cleared a Steve Tosh set-piece. It was a dream start for both player and club, but they should have recognised the ominousness from the rest of that afternoon as Liverpool soon put five past the overrun hosts.
The league season started with a defeat to Hearts with Zdrilic passing up two chances to bring his side back into the match after Mark de Vries had opened the scoring. He made up for it in the next game, however, by out-racing Henning Berg and scoring at the second attempt to give Aberdeen a 1-0 lead against Rangers at Pittodrie. Unfortunately, the hosts couldn’t even hold their lead until half-time and would ultimately lose the match 3-2, but Zdrilic had endeared himself to the support already just by netting against their most hated rivals. Even though they’d lost two straight, they had been tricky encounters and Aberdeen had not disgraced themselves in either. Then came the next home match against Dunfermline. Surely it was time to at least get a point on the board? Zdrilic scored again to open the scoring, but once again Aberdeen couldn’t even hold the lead until half-time and were beaten 2-1. Three games, three defeats and joint bottom of the table.
Poor defending had cost them so it was only right that it was a defensive player responsible for the first point and win of the campaign. In back-to-back games against Hibs and Partick Thistle, Russell Anderson scored headed goals that secured four points and moved the team from the bottom of the table. They were then dreadful in consecutive losses to Dundee and Livingston in the league, though Zdrilic did get back on the scoresheet with a double in midweek League Cup victory over Dumbarton. The Australian turned in two crosses to give the hosts a comfortable half-time lead in front of a paltry 4,000 spectators. Considering the heavy 3-0 loss to the Lions four days later, it was understandable that the fans chose to stay away.
Then came arguably their best performance in the first half of the season. Once more Zdrilic opened the scoring, already taking his tally to five scored in his first nine games, as Aberdeen ran over Kilmarnock in a 3-1 victory at Rugby Park. It would prove to be a brief sparkle in an otherwise dark and depressing run. Five consecutive league games were lost without scoring a goal. Were it not for the fact that Partick Thistle were making a brave attempt to redefine the word “crap”, having picked up two points from a possible 39, then they would have been bottom of the table. As it were, the Dons had a five point lead and, with no playoff, were still assured of their Premier League safety. Even if they had been concerned the next six games dismissed those worries since they went undefeated within that time.
Things were looking up for the side, even if they weren’t for the player. He played his part in each of the games, but after starting in a 2-2 draw at Dunfermline, the game which began the streak, he was used from the bench in the other five. It was Hinds who took his starting place (the shame!) and the reserve managed to get on the scoresheet twice in that run. It had been harsh to drop Zdrilic, seeing as the initial reason was that he was knackered after playing 120 minutes in the League Cup semi-final defeat to Livingston, though the fans weren’t particularly concerned. His goal drought would ultimately stretch to 12 matches and it wasn’t good enough for a player who didn’t bring much else to the table. He just looked too cumbersome as a footballer. Think of Scott Vernon but with less quickness and without the happy memories of having looked good at any point prior to the goals drying up.
Three consecutive defeats to Dundee United, Celtic and Hearts soon followed and pushed Aberdeen back down the table into the familiar spot of 11th place. The problem was that they didn’t even have the excitement of a relegation battle. The seven point gap between themselves and Thistle, in the aftermath of the Hearts defeat, was the lowest it would get. Instead of rallying around the much maligned players in an attempt to keep the club in the top division, the fans were just allowed to become apathetic and start moaning about the utter dross they were forced to watch. Zdrilic was a target but there were numerous players who received the wrath of the fans. They were finally provided with some excitement when Zander Diamond gave them a first minute lead in the second home game against Rangers. Aberdeen then proceeded to batter their rivals for the remainder of the half. By failing to add to their lead while on top they allowed Rangers to come back into the game in the second half and no-one was surprised when, finally, Frank de Boer headed a 88th minute equaliser. The performance did galvanise the team somewhat and began another decent six game run where they lost only once, though they remained in 11th position following its culmination.
During January, in the space of a couple of weeks, Zdrilic netted what proved to be the winner in a cup replay against Dundee and scored once more in a 2-0 win over Falkirk in the next round. However, he still hadn’t scored in the league since that victory over Kilmarnock all the way back in October. Strangely, it would be Celtic Park that provided the setting for Zdrilic to end that horrible run and secure one of his best moments in football. The score was tied at 1-1 with the hosts battering at the door of their weary visitors who were desperate to hang onto a moral boosting point. Slinging corner after corner into the penalty area, Celtic let their concentration slip and committed too many men forward. When the ball broke away, Zdrilic took possession of it before charging down on the Celtic goal and coolly finishing past David Marshall for a sensational 91st minute winner. The player, presumably knackered, dropped to his knees with his arms outstretched to the Aberdeen fans with a look on his face that said “can you believe that?!”. It put to an end Celtic 77 unbeaten home run in the league under Martin O’Neill.
Just in case any Aberdeen supporter who made that tripped believed there was a brighter future out there, the team then lost five consecutive games to finish the season, scoring only goal goal – needless to say, Zdrilic wasn’t the scorer. Steve Paterson was soon out the door (or in the boot of the car, as it were) and Jimmy Calderwood was his replacement. The new manager began his cull of the previous squad almost immediately with Zdrilic one of the first to go.
Following the disastrous stint in Scotland he decided to return to a level where his stock was still high and that was the lower levels of German football. However, a short spell with Eintract Trier – which sounds like a fictional team name from a movie about an underachieving German boys club – produced no goals and he was soon on the move again, this time back to the comforts of Australia. He had been a hero with Sydney United, but now that the A League had been formed he was left with little choice but to play for the newly founded Sydney FC.
Things would not go as well as he had hoped. Over three seasons he would score only 14 times and was so bad that even his own support made up a song laughing at his expense. Imagine that? The Scottish football version would have been if the Hearts fans started chanting “Ten Men Couldnae Carry Nade”. To the tune of ‘I saw a UFO’ by Sneaky Sound System it went “I saw Zdrilic score and nobody believes me; he was 16 yards out with nobody around; I saw Zdrilic score and nobody believes me; what’s it gonna take for him to score tonight?”
In 2009 he back to Sydney United as a returning hero and ended his career on a more positive note with one strong season before becoming player-manager for another year.
Where is he now? Like most ex-players that feature on Where Are They Now? Zdrilic is a pundit back in Australia and actually helped the cover the game last time his country and Scotland met. He is also a strong advocate of beach soccer and plays for the Australian national team.
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