Wanderers' Poljak living unlikely dream
Born and raised in Croatia's capital Zagreb, Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder Mateo Poljak had one football ambition - to play for the country's most decorated club, Dynamo Zagreb.
Never in his wildest dreams could he imagine having his most successful season while playing in the A-League for the minor premiers who are preparing for Sunday's grand final.
Poljak and his Western Sydney Wanderers teammates take on the Central Coast Mariners in the decider at Allianz Stadium on Sunday, with both sides vying for a maiden championship.
Midfielder Poljak has been a key figure in the Wanderers' astonishing debut season, starting in all but four games, but he admits he's worlds away from where he thought he'd be.
A promising youngster, Poljak established himself in the Dynamo Zagreb youth system before being sent on loan to Lokomotiva with the promise of a call into Dynamo's senior ranks when the time was right.
Four years passed and the call never came.
"After four years I just felt like I really needed to change something," Poljak told AAP.
"Then suddenly out of nowhere came a call saying 'you have an offer from Australia'."
Poljak admitted he'd initially dismissed the deal, saying: "I don't know anything about Australia. How can I go there?".
Coach Tony Popovic travelled to Zagreb and explained to Poljak his plans and vision for the fledgling club.
He said enough to convince the 23-year-old, who had never lived away from his parents, to move to the other side of the globe and play for a club being hurriedly thrown together just three months before the season started.
It didn't take long for Poljak to realise that "it's definitely the best decision I've ever made.
"It's something really unbelievable what we've done here," he said.
"We made something from nothing and we wrote history.
"It's something that will be in the memories of the players and fans forever."
It wasn't all good times however.
Poljak conceded he struggled to adjust in his first month in Sydney.
"I lived in a hotel and didn't know anyone. I felt totally alone," he said.
"Language barrier was a problem, playing a different style was a problem. Everything was different."
But he soon got to know Western Sydney's other imports in the same Sydney Olympic Park hotel and became part of what he now calls "his new family" - the Wanderers.
He found a familiar face in fellow Croatian Dino Kresinger, who he'd played against back home, while German Jerome Polenz, Dutchman Youssouf Hersi, Italian Iacopo La Rocca were also in the same building and Japanese star Shinji Ono lived a stone's throw away in Rhodes.
"There are a lot of great players in Australia so, to come in as a foreign player, I think there's more expectation and I felt I really had to give more," he said.
"But we all just adjusted.
"When you have good players and a good coach around you it's not so hard."
Now they're just 90 minutes away from capping their already history-making season with a championship.
"I can't tell you how much I want to win on Sunday," said Poljak.
"We are happy to win the Premiers' Plate but we want more."