For Stefan Marinovic, the road to success as a football player has taken him around the world and pitted him against some of the best players on the planet.
Now back in New Zealand after ten years playing overseas, the 28-year-old Marinovic is thriving as both arguably the best goalkeeper in the Hyundai A-League, as well as being the no.1 keeper for the All Whites.
His recent man-of-the-match effort against the Newcastle Jets - in which Marinovic made a pair of game-winning saves in the final minutes - added to a string of highlight-reel stops this season and further solidified his premier keeper status.
His performances have earned praise from Coach Ufuk Talay, who never doubted the quality of Marinovic since making him his first signing of the club.
“Stef has been good all season; he has a presence in goal, makes some very good, clinical saves for us and has been influential at the right times in games – that’s what you want as a goalkeeper.”
Growing up in Auckland, Marinovic attended Kings College. He credits his father as being a major influence in him taking up football at age seven – in part because his dad didn’t like the concussion risk in rugby, so he was encouraged to play football instead.
We would go on to win the New Zealand Nike Cup in 2005, and then in 2008 was selected for the Under 19 schoolboys national team which toured Austria.
Following a stint at Waitakere United, Marinovic left New Zealand to pursue overseas opportunities in 2010 – signing a professional contract with German football club SV When Wiesbaden in the 3. Liga. In 2014 he signed with German Regionalliga club SpTgg Unterhaching, playing a key role in their promotion to the 3. Liga. All in all, he would make 100 league appearances in Germany.
It was during this time that Marinovic caught the attention of then All Whites Coach, Anthony Hudson – who called him up for a friendly against South Korea in 2015.
Marinovic shone in this match, making a vital penalty save in the 0-1 loss. He would go on to make a record 24 consecutive appearances between 2015-2018 as their first choice goalkeeper, including World Cup Qualifiers, International Friendlies and the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup – the latter seeing him facing the likes of Portugal’s Ronaldo.
After an impressive display with the All Whites, Marinovic joined Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS. After years grinding away in Germany's lower tiers, Marinovic had finally reached a level he aspired to play when he left Auckland at 17 with a dream of making it as a professional footballer; getting regular minutes and going up against household names like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and David Villa.
Marinovic says that he’s grateful that his All Whites opportunity gave him a pathway to the Whitecaps, and subsequently, the Wellington Phoenix.
"No one really notices when you're playing third, fourth league, that's where you do your work week in, week out.
“But to get considered by those higher clubs and for them to say 'yeah we'll take a punt on him because he's got international pedigree' is a huge advantage, so the All Whites were a springboard for me to be able to move to the Whitecaps."
After making 32 appearances in the season, both the player and club parted ways and the goalkeeper was signed by Bristol City in the EFL Championship for the 2018/19 season.
Having cemented his position as the All Whites number one stopper, Marinovic returned to his home country to sign for Wellington Phoenix in June 2019 – replacing Hyundai A-League goalkeeper of the year Filip Kurto.
Wellington Phoenix Goalkeeping Coach, Paul Gothard, who had previously worked with Marinovic in the All Whites, says that he’s bought different qualities to the position than Kurto did.
"With Stefan's overall game, he's a better goalkeeper than Filip - but ultimately their job is to stop the ball going into the back of the net and if you get the goalkeepers to play to their strengths then you get the best of them – and that’s what Stefan is doing.
Outside of football, Marinovic is also a trained pilot who often spends his days off flying around the country, either by himself or with other players and coaching staff. He also enjoys playing the guitar, scuba diving and going on overseas holidays, and has been pursuing a Bachelor of Finance.