In the formative season of the Western Sydney Wanderers there were a lot of intriguing personalities, players who had come to the newly formed squad either with great reputations, unfulfilled promise or a solid career which was taking them in a new direction. There was the Japanese Tensai, Shinji Ono, a true legend of Japanese football who signed with the Wanderers in the wake of the failure of Michael Ballack to come to Wanderland. Then there were two worthy stalwarts of the Socceroos second-line during the golden years of 2006-2010, in Michael Beauchamp and Ante Covic. From Europe came Jerome Polenz, a former German youth team representative who had started at the substantial Bundesliga club Werder Bremen, then went from their down a division to Alemannia Aachen and Union Berlin before flying to Australia. Mark Bridge and Nikolai Topor-Stanley were looking for fresh fields after running aground on the shoals of stagnation at Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets respectively.
And then there was Dino.
The tall, bald Croatian had played for eleven seasons in the HNL, turning out for five clubs in that league including Lokomotiva Zagreb and Cibalia. Part of the (symbolic) Croat minority at the Wanderers (alongside the younger Mateo Poljak and Aussie Croatians Ante Covic and the coaches Tony Popovic and Ante Milicic), Dino’s reputation was that of an honest tradesman of the game who could use his beaming hairless cranium to good effect in front of the goal mouth. His height and physique promised much value from his participation in the Wanderers games if and when long balls were played towards him. Therefore hopes were high as the 2012/13 season began.
Unfortunately for many of the spectators and members who had only just signed onto the brave new world of the Western Sydney Wanderers, the first few rounds through October and November revealed some serious questions over the big Croat. His vaunted heading skills were slightly off-cue at best, woefully wayward at worst. His problems in using the ball at his feet were significant, and moments like those in the first round game against the Mariners where he had an elegant pass to Jerome Polenz almost lead to a goal were almost as rare as a Sydney FC fan in the RBB. Lumbering around the front third of the pitch he would run like a man trying to look like he wasn’t standing still, and yet showing all the signs of being immobile. His turning circle was as wide as a pantechnicon trying to do a three point turn in a one way alley, and his overall performance made him the first squad member to be booed by certain sections of the Wanderers supporters.
Yet whilst all this fumbling and ponderous work was underway from Dino, there was that certain something within him that had the faintest spark of hope. It wasn’t a God-given footballing talent, a thunderous right boot that intimidated goalkeepers, a genius for tactical positioning that put him in the right place at the right time. No, it was probably the greatest attribute any football fan on board with the Wanderers mission in this, the formative season. It was stubbornness. Dino was never willing to surrender, never willing to say ‘Fuck it, I’m done’. In a community that respects the battler, the always trying, the person trying to go beyond their external or internal limitations, Dino Kresinger still demanded attention and some applause.
Gradually through the rounds leading up to Christmas he began to motor like an old World War II heavy tank. Cumbersome but inexorable, stolid and stoic he lumbered around grounds with steely resolve. Whilst he had missed playing in the Wanderers first ever win in the A-League (the Round Four defeat of Brisbane Roar 1-0 away from home), and was used more often than not as a substitute in the next few weeks, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Injected as a replacement for the then in-form Joey Gibbs during the second game against 2011/12 champions the Brisbane Roar, Dino rumbled onto the pitch at Parramatta Stadium to derisive cat-calls. These soon turned to cheers and hollers of approval as the towering Croatian was brought down in the Brisbane box mere minutes before the end, giving the Wanderers a shot at scoring a goal from the penalty spot. Ending his own period of frustration with a well-slotted goal, Shinji Ono completed the good work begun by Kresinger, thus giving Dino that fillip he needed within the fans and I firmly believe in himself and the squad as well.
The following fortnight’s game was however when the true apotheosis of Dino began. Kresinger had been used as a sub in the preceding week’s game (the legendary Derby II victory over Sydney FC), and came into the Round 12 match versus Adelaide United finally back in the starting line-up. This promised to be a challenging game for the Wanderers as the Reds were solidly locked in the top of the table battles at this point of the A-League’s season, whilst the Red and Black boys were banging on the door of the top six with new found confidence. However in what turned into the first truly joyous explosion of Wanderers passion and power at Parramatta in their fledgling season, the visitors were rocked to the amazing scoreline of 6-1. And Dino with that thick, balding bullet-like bonce of his made damn sure of slotting in the third of those six goals for the Wanderers dead on the cusp of half-time, sending the faithful into paroxysms of joy. The lumbering striker who mere weeks ago was being written of as a dud, a joke, a hopeless Croat clown, had become the new favourite son of Wanderland.
Dino with the faithful of the RBB, celebrating the win over Adelaide Round 12 2012/13
From thereon the previous whistles and boos coming from the Wanderers’ supporters at the game died off. There were still plenty of moments to laugh at Dino, whether it was due to a sprayed shot that had a better chance of hitting the nearest Westfield shopping centre than the targeted goal, or because he still ran around the park like an agitated Frankenstein. However this wasn’t cruel or vindictive hilarity, but more the joyous celebration of a man who was more ‘one of us’ than any other Western Sydney Wanderer. His fist pumps became the stuff of forum chat legend, and alongside ‘Who Do We Sing For?” the next most important chant around any ground featuring the Wanderers was ‘Dino, Dino, Dino, Dino!’. Then as 2012 became 2013 and the Wanderers began their climb to the summit of premiership success, Dino kept tracking along the path onwards and upwards, never quite sealing the win with his goal scoring (of which he went back into hibernation). Instead he became the point man for the second ball on the offensive, looming like a towering target for a clearance from Covic or Beauchamp or Topor-Stanley to aim for. Then, when the ball plummeted down towards him he would use that boulder-like head to cannon the ball forward, or perhaps shield its receipt from the ferreting feet of the nearest defender.
Then, after Dino had worked his magic as the tall man up front on attack, freeing up the midfielders like Bridge, Hersi and Ono to score when needed, the popular Croat would then form a significant part of the imposing defence of Popa’s team. The ball may have been firmly at the feet of a Heart, Jet or Phoenix defender as the opposition was looking to play it out the back, however before you could say ‘Look at that big lumbering bastard go!’ Dino was steaming towards the enemy, on a rampage like the bulls of Pamplona. With a full head of steam up Dino must’ve been like the equivalent of a good old fashioned Rugby League forward barreling straight at some vulnerable back, ready to cream his victim through sheer momentum. It was noticeable again and again that Dino’s pressing in both defence and attack may have been ugly, but by Jesus it worked a charm for the Wanderers.
With win after win, victory after victory the Western Sydney Wanderers emerged as the feel good story of Australian sport, bringing football to a new level of support and excitement not seen down under since that night in November 2005 when the Socceroos finally laid to rest the World Cup hoodoo, qualifying for Germany the next year. And there in the epicentre was Dino Kresinger. Again and again his name would be chanted like the words of a Tibetan prayer, again and again he would throw his burly bulk into the air to pass the ball onto one of his more adept team mates. In the third match of the season against Brisbane, played at the Roar’s home ground it was Dino’s header that set up the important goal for Youssouf Hersi. Then, in the final match of the regular season up in Newcastle, Dino showed everyone at the ground and watching on television that he still had the targeting skills of a drunk blindman aiming a blunderbuss at an ICBM, his header at Jets goal in the 33rd minute ending up being the most spectacular of dummy shots, allowing Mark Bridge to score yet again.
By the end of the regular season Dino Kresinger had become a folk hero for the Wanderers’ faithful, a talisman who may not get the job done himself but would facilitate the efforts of all those around him. However in what could be described as poetic justice, as a symbol of all he achieved in tandem with the club and the fans, there was one last moment of pure ineffable magic left from Dino.
It was the semi-final held at Parramatta Stadium and for the fourth time of the 2012/13 season the Western Sydney Wanderers were facing the previous season’s champions. The Roar had come into the finals with a solid run of results, however it only took sixteen minutes for the popular Croat to secure a vital goal for the Wanderers.
The Famous Dino Back-Heel…Versus Brisbane Roar at Wanderland, Semi-Final 1 13/4/2013
In any other game and in any other context there would have been every possibility that Dino would not have scored. However for whatever reason the football Gods and his own inner talent contrived to give him possibly the most delightful goal scored by any Wanderer that entire first season. With the main beneficiary of his work in the earlier part of the season (Mark Bridge) now becoming Kresinger’s supplier, the man from Hratskva received his cut-back pass and with the deftness and aim of a Brazilian genius Dino deftly slanted the ball off the back heel of his left foot, sending the Roar goalie into confused depression with a goal for the ages.
Thankfully I was there that heady April night, standing in my sideline bay at Wanderland, my passion for all things Wanderers fueled by a season beyond belief and the courage and drive shown by the likes of big Dino. During most of the home games when I had seen Kresinger play I like so many of my colleagues joked about his lack of goals, his slow running gait, his inability to turn around without putting on his rear hazard lights. However in that fleeting moment when Dino leaped above the normal and scored a goal with his left back heel, well jokes and criticism was thrown away like a week old tray of used cat litter. Jumping around as if my arse was on fire, grabbing and hugging strangers in the same madcap spirit celebrated on VE Day back in May 1945, Kresinger’s goal was simply a magic moment that required unmitigated and totally free happiness; a football festival that only he could provide.
The remainder of the season was too anti-climactic for Dino, the rest of the squad and the fans. The grand final was lost a week later and Dino’s magic failed to return, so the saga ground to a slightly maudlin halt. Yes, everyone was remarkably upbeat about the past season, the achievements, the stunning rejection of nay-sayers and critics in a time when the Western Sydney Wanderers went from being noobs to masters of almost all they encountered. Yet at the post-season celebration in Parramatta we all knew the coming news. Dino had been a folk hero, a stalwart, a true part of the heart and soul of the Wanderers’ first ever squad. However the big Croat was probably not coming back for another season. He knew it, we guessed it, and a few days after this farewell to the class of 2012/13 he was gone.
So within nine months of his arrival Dino was heading back to Europe, where he now plies his craft for Slovenian Prvaliga team Zavrč. Some of us, the tragic and the passionate still need to hear news of Kresinger’s achievements back in the Balkans and so far he has given us some moments of smiling satisfaction. However when all is said and done his departure from the Western Sydney Wanderers has taken us away from those first few rounds of frustration, through the balance of a season which was simply amazing, into a slightly empty feeling of waiting for the new season to begin without him.
Thanks Dino…loved your work!