Dario Vidosic focusing on the future as Melbourne City offer life after football

It's a busy Saturday morning at Jubilee Park as the iconic ritual of youngsters -- coffee-wielding and bleary-eyed parents in tow -- head in for another round of junior sport.

Today, Ringwood City are hosting the academy sides of Melbourne City, who as part of their pathway from youth football to the A-League, field teams in their state's local National Premier League competitions. The Under-15 match between the two clubs is already underway: Ringwood's Zack Turner puts his side ahead in the sixth minute before teammate Phineus Harbinson doubles their advantage in the 15th, and they eventually run out 3-2 winners.

Walking along the chain-link fence separating one of the artificial pitches and clubhouse with a bag of balls, cones and other training aids hoisted over his shoulder, former Australia international Dario Vidosic pauses briefly to greet a few of the assembled parents in the stands before finding a quiet alcove to deposit his cargo and begin to watch proceedings -- he'll soon be out on the sidelines taking charge of City's U16 side.

"I haven't really thought about that," he tells ESPN, keeping one eye on the action in front of him, when asked if his newfound coaching role signifies an end to his professional career. "I just take it day by day. When I thought about coaching, I was thinking that I would put myself in here and give everything to my kids."

For many of the youngsters, the game represents one of the first times they've had a chance to play football in over a year as Melbourne's junior and community competitions were one of the many casualties of the state's COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020.

Being sidelined is something Vidosic can sympathise with. The last time the 33-year-old was in action for Melbourne City himself was in the 2018-19 A-League elimination finals, when he made a 15-minute cameo as they were bundled out of the playoffs in extra-time by Adelaide United. Though not intentionally, that was the last occasion he took part in a competitive footballing match.

His contract with City concluded, Vidosic had an agreement to join Indian club ATK Mohun Bagan in place for the subsequent Indian Super League season, only for medical tests to discover an issue in his back. Vidosic had never had the best run of things when it came to injuries, but the treatment plan produced in the wake of the screenings quickly led to disagreements between himself and his new club.

"They said I needed to have back surgery there otherwise I'd never play football again," he explains. "But I've been playing and training for a year since. I flew back to Australia to get a second opinion and we mutually terminated. They thought I couldn't play football anymore, but in Australia, they said it's not that bad. It's pretty much manage it and it's fine.

"[ATK was] under the impression I was finished, but luckily I could get that second opinion because if I didn't know any better I would have had a disc removed out of my back -- which was definitely not necessary at all."

With his move to the subcontinent stymied, Vidosic explored a switch to Chinese second-division side Sichuan Jiuniu -- who are partly owned by Melbourne City parent City Football Group -- as well as the possibility of heading to the Malaysian league. But the COVID-19 pandemic frustrated his attempts to get to Sichuan province, and a wave of lockdowns across South-East Asia did similar for Malaysia. With so much uncertainty surrounding international travel and a young family to consider, he ultimately decided to remain in Australia.

"With COVID it just wasn't possible," Vidosic said. "I couldn't get into that province, and the same thing with Malaysia -- they went into a lockdown. I was training for a while back at [City] with the NPL seniors but it was unfortunate that [China or Malaysia] never eventuated; COVID stopped that. But that's ok, things happen and you've got to continue."

Having secured his FFA 'B' Licence through a PFA program and soon to commence his 'A' Licence course, the attacker -- who considers himself a bit of a Pep Guardiola disciple -- formally began coaching with City's academy just over a month ago. He's also signed with local semi-professional side Moreland Zebras Juventus, who are coached by former National Soccer League standout and 13-time Socceroo Fausto De Amicis in the local NPL2 Victoria competition.

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"I had the chance to come and help coach here, which is something I've always had the ambition to do," Vidosic says. "I think it's the best starting point for a young coach to be at a great club like Melbourne City and their great junior setup.

"I guess... you never know, but I'm not thinking about [professional football]. If someone asks me then I'll reassess at that time, but for now I'm happy doing what I'm doing. I'm playing with my two good friends in Camma [Cameron Watson] and Jakey [Jake Barker-Daish].

"They were a big reason that I went [to Moreland], otherwise, I probably would have just coached. With those two there it made it easier to come and, after 10 years [since they were teammates at Adelaide], to play together has been great. I knew [De Amicis] back in the NSL when I was a young pup. I was watching the NSL and watching the Strikers and Brisbane and going with my dad to pretty much every single game that the Strikers were playing. I knew all the players, I was the kid on the fence asking for their signatures."

Despite recounting nearly 20 months of stops, starts and COVID-related roadblocks, there's little hint of frustration detectable from Vidosic as he describes his journey. Conversely, there's an unmistakable air of assuredness, perspective and contentment to his choice of words and tone as goes about recounting it all.

He may not know if he'll ever get the chance to lace up his boots as a professional footballer again, and he's certainly not discounting the possibility of resuming his career if the right offer came along, but if that proves the case he's not going to look back on his career with anything other than pride.

"I think there's always things with hindsight you look at and you think maybe here, maybe there... but that's the beauty of hindsight," he says. "But overall I'm pretty proud of what I've achieved. Due to football, I met my wife in Adelaide and we've got two beautiful kids. Without football, I wouldn't have met her and we wouldn't have the family we have. That's why I've always said I'd never change a thing because it led me to have my family that I have today.

"I'm happy with how it's at. It's my career and my career only; I can only be proud. [I] probably could have done more but it's about learning and that's something that I can maybe teach these kids -- some of the things that I perhaps got right, got wrong or whatever it may be.

"I've told them that I want to train them like they are in the A-League -- I'm not going to treat you like kids. Obviously, we need to look after them, because they are kids. But we demand that intensity, teach them tactically to show them and teach them what's required at the top.

"It's cut-throat out there, if you're not ready it's a quick tap on the shoulder and it's the next one up. They need to understand that and be prepared for that because you never know when PK [City A-League coach Patrick Kisnorbo] will make that phone call and say 'send me X, Y or Z' and it's up to them and they're almost on their own.

"If it all goes as I hope, we can play that nice brand of football that's enjoyable to watch. Hopefully, I can also one day sit at AAMI Park and see a couple of these kids still playing and get a bit of joy out of that, that's the goal."

If coaching is the next step in the career of Vidosic, it should probably come as no surprise. Arriving in Australia as an infant when his father (and current Melbourne City W-League coach) Rado accepted an offer to play for the Queensland Lions in the NSL, football has always been embedded in his DNA.

He cut his footballing teeth at the AIS, before turning a strong debut season with Queensland Roar into a move to Bundesliga side 1.FC Nuremberg. Back and forth stints between the A-League and a number of European clubs then followed, as did time spent in China and Korea. Along the way, he represented the Socceroos on 23 occasions -- including as a member of their squad at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups -- and scored one of the most famous goals in A-League history when he put Western Sydney Wanderers up 5-4 over the Roar in extra-time of the 2015-16 A-League semifinals.

"I think when Pim [Verbeek] called me for that first call up for the Socceroos, that's always a massive one," he smiles when asked about his career highlights. "Starting against Bayern Munich, [playing] Croatia before the [2014] World Cup... there's just so many. Scoring in Germany was another.

"My first game at Suncorp [a 3-0 Brisbane Roar win over Perth Glory in round one of the 2006-07 A-League season], not even knowing if I'd play that day, coming in, scoring and we win... the atmosphere. That was a dream come true. As a kid and going to pretty much every game of the [Brisbane] Stickers at old Lang Park and Ballymore, I was there the whole time and dreamed to be on that pitch.

"I've got a career full of good memories and that's what I'll take away. If I can play again then I'll be lucky and if not I'll be proud of everything I've achieved and I'll dive fully into coaching and play a bit part-time in Moreland. The future, it's unpredictable. We'll just wait and see what happens. COVID stopped two separate moves, so it's very unpredictable what can happen. But I'm happy with where I am right now."