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Ex-Hajduk Split, Rapid Vienna defender Jazic: How a vacation turned into an 18-year career

Former Canada international Ante Jazic recently spoke about his professional soccer career in Europe.

The now-38-year old ex-defender was 19 when he travelled to Croatia to visit some relatives in between college years.

Jazic had no idea that a trial with Croatian side NK Hrvatski Dragovoljac would lead to a pro career in world soccer's strongest landscape that lasted almost two decades.

The 36-time Canada international played with Dragovoljac from 1997 until 1999 when he joined Croatian powerhouse Hajduk Split. A move to Rapid Vienna in Austria followed before he ventured to Russian with Kuban Krasnodar in 2004.

Jazic, now the coach of the Canada U15 team, told Canada Soccer that his European career was certainly not intended to be as lengthy as it was, revealing he had plenty of luck in getting to the top.

"What happened was that I had completed my first year at Dalhousie University [taking Business and Administration]. I enjoyed my experience thoroughly, having had a successful season, winning nationals," said Jazic in the extended interview.

"And during the summer my mother asked if I was interested in going to Croatia for a month to visit relatives?

"As luck would have it, my uncle [in Croatia] knowing that I was involved in soccer, mentioned this to a neighbour who happened to be the daughter of a professional soccer coach. And, somehow, it worked out that I was allowed to try out for this pro-team [NK Hrvatski Dragovoljac], but the tryout was scheduled for the day I was supposed to fly back to Halifax.

"So I was at a crossroads. My dad was huge on me getting my degree, but I decided to try and live my dream of being a professional footballer. Initially I just thought I would give it a year and then come back and finish school, but things evolved and, somehow, that one-month vacation turned into an 18-year professional career."

Jazic, who completed his career in MLS with the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA, added: "One thing I'll say: while it's normal for kids to have this dream, making it a reality is difficult.

"So, yes, I was fortunate and lucky, but there were a lot of times when I wanted to quit and come home.

"Every player, I'm sure, struggles with this, but you have to take it in context. You're 19, you're with your family every day. In school you have your friends. You go to a new environment, you start from scratch, you have to learn a language, adapt to a new culture.

"Once you adapt and become accustomed to the nature of the game [in Europe], it becomes easier. But initially the first one or two years are critical for any player. But, gradually, the homesickness passed and I was able to overcome my deficiencies. You have to be mentally strong, to be able to withstand all of the initial issues."

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