Newly-named Football Fern Jana Radosavljevic received the perfect birthday present earlier this month when she was called up for the first time to take part in the upcoming two-match tour of Thailand.
In what has been a whirlwind turn of events for the Europe-based attacking midfielder recently, she spent a few weeks in New Zealand training with the FFDP group, became a professional with German outfit BV Cloppenburg and then blew out the candles on her 21st birthday cake. To top it all off, she was then selected by stand-in Football Ferns coaches Andreas Heraf and Gareth Turnbull in the first squad named since the resignation of Tony Readings and is in line to make her senior international debut later this month in Bangkok.
That it is the silver fern she will be wearing and not the red of her native Serbia is largely down to the promptings of her aunt, who was also indirectly responsible for her introduction to football.
“My aunt has been living here for 25 years now and she was the one who wanted us to come, so we came down after the war in Serbia,” she says.
Despite hailing from football-mad Europe, a fresh-faced Radosavljevic had never kicked a ball before her arrival in New Zealand but ironically fell in love with the beautiful game soon after settling into a country more famous for its exploits with the oval ball.
“I don’t come from a football family and my dad didn’t play, he used to play basketball,” Radosavljevic explains.
“But I went to a training one day with my cousin, which was just for fun really because he’s not into football either. I really liked it and my aunt asked if I wanted to play so we came home and said I was going to start playing on Saturday – my parents couldn’t believe it, they were really surprised.”
After the tribulations of living in a war-torn country, the Radosavljevic family must have relished the peace and quiet of Lower Hutt and it was there that their daughter’s burgeoning football skills began to blossom. She took her first steps in the game for the Petone Pioneers and former coach Max Shierlaw says her talent was evident, even at the tender age of seven.
“She had a fierce competitive streak and outshone everybody on the pitch, boys included,” he says.
After attending Waterloo School for five years, Radosavljevic returned to Serbia with her parents in 2006 but her time in New Zealand retained a fond place in her heart. So much so that, despite featuring for the country of her birth at age-group level, it was the Football Ferns who she hoped to one day star for.
“I would say I’m half-Kiwi and half-Serbian, even though my parents are both Serbian. I grew up here and I love New Zealand – I had a good childhood here so that’s why I made the decision. It wasn’t really a hard choice, I always wanted to come back here and represent New Zealand. I talked with my parents and aunt about it and my whole family is really excited.”
While Radosavljevic had dreamed of wearing the fern for some time, Football Ferns captain Ali Riley had a role to play in turning that dream into a reality.
“I was in Sweden trialling for Rosengard, which is where Ali plays. She was actually the one who recommended me because she emailed Tony and said we have a player here who you should have a look at. I then spent some time on tour with them and got the chance to come back here and trial for three weeks. I was a bit nervous at the beginning but then it went really well.”
Before turning professional with Cloppenburg, Radosavljevic starred in the first team of Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade since the age of 15 and is aiming to bring some quality in the final third to the Ferns.
“I’m a technical player and don’t give the ball away easily. I dribble a lot and try to make good passes, as well as taking a lot of shots on goal,” she says. “My dream is to play for the Football Ferns at the World Cup and the Olympics and win a medal.”
Football Ferns squad for Thailand tour (Club – NZ unless noted, caps and goals)
Victoria Esson (North Shore United) 0, 0
Anna Leat (Glenfield Rovers) 2, 0
Erin Nayler (Girondins Bordeaux, France) 50, 0
CJ Bott (USV Jena, Germany) 6, 0
Anna Green (Reading, England) 64, 7
Meikayla Moore (Norwest United) 22, 0
Ria Percival (FC Basel, Switzerland) 126, 11
Ali Riley (FC Rosengard, Sweden) 111, 1
Rebekah Stott (Melbourne City, Australia) 59, 4
Katie Bowen (FC Kansas City, USA) 47, 1
Olivia Chance (Everton, England) 6, 0
Betsy Hassett (KR Reykjavik, Iceland) 101, 8
Grace Jale (Eastern Suburbs) 0, 0
Maggie Jenkins (Wellington United) 0, 0
Annalie Longo (Cashmere Technical) 101, 9
Elise Mamanu-Gray (Dunedin Technical) 0, 0
Jana Radosavljevic (BV Cloppenburg) 0, 0
Hannah Blake (Three Kings United) 0, 0
Amber Hearn (FC Koln, Germany) 120, 53
Aimee Phillips (Eastern Suburbs) 6, 1
Katie Rood (Juventus, Italy) 1, 0
Stephanie Skilton (Glenfield Rovers) 2, 0
Hannah Wilkinson (Vittsjo GIK, Sweden) 83, 25
Coaches: Andreas Heraf and Gareth Turnbull
Thailand vs New Zealand
Saturday 25 November, 5pm (11pm NZT)
PAT Stadium, Bangkok
Thailand vs New Zealand
Tuesday 28 November, 5pm (11pm NZT)
SCG Stadium, Bangkok