THERE’S Socceroos bolters.
Then there’s bolts from the blue.
But Aleksandar Susjnar’s Socceroos selection might just be on another level of surprise.
The Olyroos centre-back is the surprise name in Bert van Marwijk’s first Socceroos squad.
At 22, Susjnar will be one of the youngest players named ahead of this month’s friendlies — a golden opportunity for the young defender.
LISTEN: SOCCEROOS SQUAD ANALYSIS – The Splash Podcast
On the face of things, Susnjar is a shock selection.
But when you look a little deeper, it’s easier to see why the case for his inclusion was so compelling.
With Trent Sainsbury an unlikely starter, given his recent surgery, Bert van Marwijk needs to bolster his defensive options, especially given the Asian leagues featuring Matthew Jurman and Milos Degenek have only just started, and Ryan McGowan is out with injury.
The new Socceroos boss has been coy on the potential structure of his team — though a back four appears more likely than a back three.
Either way, strong centre-backs will be at a premium going forward.
The upcoming friendlies provide van Marwijk with the perfect chance to test out a number of players — including the young defender.
After all, Sainsbury developed rapidly off the back of international exposure as a 22-year-old under Ange Postecoglou in 2014. Bailey Wright enjoyed a similar early taste of international action that same year, when he was selected for Postecoglou’s World Cup squad.
Looking even further back to Mark Milligan heading to the 2006 World Cup as a 20-year-old, there are plenty of clear precedents when it comes to blooding talented centre-backs at a young age.
So what do we need to know about Susnjar?
Unlike many of Australia’s younger talents, Susnjar wasn’t developed in the A-League, but instead spent many of his formative years overseas.
The defender was born in Perth but moved to Serbia at the age of 13, where he played the majority of his youth career — though he did play some games for NPL club Perth Soccer Club.
Susnjar then spent time in Lithuania and Romania, before moving to the Czech Republic.
He joined FK Teplice in 2017 and established himself as a regular starter at centre-back in the Het Liga, or the Czech First League.
The 22-year-old moved to MK Mlada Boleslav at the start of this year and counts fellow Australian Gol-Gol Mebrahtu among his teammates.
Susnjar impressed during the Olyroos’ ill-fated AFC U23 Championship campaign in China this year, with his strength and composure standing out.
Ante Milicic was his coach there, and is the key Australian advisor for the new Socceroos boss.
His Olyroos appearance was his first experience in the Australian youth international system, with Susnjar having previously represented Serbia at Under 17s level.
As a promising talent, Susnjar’s call-up could also be part of a longer-term plan to ensure his allegiances remain with Australia in the future.
While capping him in the friendlies wouldn’t bind him to Australia at international level, there would surely be a hope that getting Susnjar into the Socceroos system will pay off in the long run.
After all, talented centre-backs don’t grow on trees.