Born in Sydney to Croatian heritage on the 04th July 1971, Nedijeljko Zelić played for local team Croatian Deakin in his youth before moving on to play for Sydney Croatia [1989-91] before a year at Sydney Olympic.
Zelić had already played at Australian schoolboy level and in the U20 Youth World Cup Qualifiers before being selected as a member of the U23 team qualifying squad for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Australia comfortably finished top of the Oceania qualifying group which sent them to a home and away play-off against a Netherlands team containing Philip Cocu, Frank de Boer and Ronald Koeman amongst others. A 1-1 all draw in Australia made Netherlands clear favourites to proceed. In the return leg, two goals from Zelić to tie the match sent Australia to Barcelona on away goals.
With Zelić playing as sweeper [he was equally adept as a defensive midfielder] Australia were arguably a surprise package, progressing to the semi-finals – eventually finishing fourth. However, Zelić’s performances had attracted attention and after the Olympics he moved to Borussia Dortmund. At BvB he would become a regular in the team amassing over 70 appearances. UEFA Cup runners-up in his first season, he would go on to win a Bundesliga title in the 1994-5 season. Queens Park Rangers came calling with a club record fee of £1.25m and the Australian was off to West London.
The spell was disastrous – injury and discontentment meant Zelić played only 11 games followed by a swift return to the Bundesliga and Eintracht Frankfurt. He moved again at the start of the 1996-7 season this time to Auxerre to replace the departing Lauren Blanc. The move was not a success and again the Australian returned to the country he seemed most at home in – Germany – this time to 1860 Munich. This would be the most settled period of Zelić’s career. The Australian stayed in Munich until 2001 and was a pivotal member of the team making over 100 appearances. It was during his spell in Germany that he entered a self-imposed exile from the Australian team. Arguments with national coach Frank Farina in 1999 led him to being dropped for a match with Zelić stating he would never play for Australia again. He never did, Australia losing one of their best players in the process.
After his time in Munich, Zelić became almost nomadic playing for clubs in Cyprus, Japan – where he won the J League Cup, Australia, Austria, Holland and Georgia [winning the league title in his final year as a player].
Zelić was a tough, aggressive defender who excelled bringing the ball forward. A gifted player who seemed to have difficulty settling in one place by all accounts was also moody, tempestuous and temperamental. If he hadn’t been one wonders how far could he have gone, but then maybe he wouldn’t have been the same player at all.
GREATEST SQUAD – STARTING XI [4-3-3]
LUCAS NEIL PETER WILSON CRAIG MOORE DOUG UTJESENOVIC
JOHNNY WARREN NED ZELIĆ JOSIP SKOKO
TIM CAHILL MARK VIDUKA HARRY KEWELL
GREATEST SQUAD – RESERVES
GK: MARK BOSNICH
GK: RON CORRY
CB: JOE MARSTON
CB: ALEX TOSIN
SWP: MILAN IVANOVIĆ
CM: CRAIG JOHNSTON
RM: BRETT EMERTON
LM: STAN LAZARIDIS
AM: MARK BRESCIANO
ST: ATTI ABONYI
ST: RAY BAARTZ
ST: JOHN ALOISI
Group A: Theophile Abega | Toto Carbajal | Josip Skoblar | Toninho