At just 25 years of age, midfielder Ben Kantarovski has already experienced a rollercoaster ride across his time as a professional footballer.
This weekend will be another peak in an A-League journey which started at the age of 16, when he becomes the first player in Newcastle Jets history to play 150 matches for the club.
Resilience is one attribute the Jets’ midfielder has in spades – coming back from countless setbacks – namely, the frustrations of a troublesome knee.
After a tough year in the 2016/17 season, Katarovski has discovered his very best form under Ernie Merrick.
Kantarovski was playing with the NSW Institute of Sport in 2006 when he was first noticed by former Broadmeadow Magic coach, Damien Smith.
“I went and watched him and few times, and straight away I thought, I’ll bring him straight into the first-grade squad (at Broadmeadow),” said Smith.
Kantarovski played a season under Smith in first grade at Broadmeadow Magic before getting the tap on the shoulder from then Jets coach, Gary Van Egmond.
“We always expected him to do well (with his career).
“He was big and strong as a 15-year-old, he always had the right attitude and was very easy to work with.”
At just 16 he signed his first contract for the Jets, but was made to wait until the following season to finally run out in Jets’ colours
He made his debut in the opening weekend of the 2008/09 season in the Grand Final re-match against derby rivals the Central Coast Mariners, and at the time held the record for the youngest player in A-League history at just 16 years and 208 days.
At the end of his breakout season, where he won the Jets’ Player of the Year award, German giants Bayern Munich came knocking on the door, and Kantarovski headed over to the Barvarian capital for a trial.
But, when the decision to join Bayern finally came, Kantarovski opted to stay in the A-League, much to the Jets’ delight.
However, it was just after opting to stay in the Hunter when he was hit with a string of setbacks. In late 2010, he injured his knee in a training accident and missed the remainder of the season.
After a strong return in 2011/12, disaster struck again for the then 20-year-old who injured his knee again and played just four matches the following season.
The resilient Kantarovski refused to let the injuries get him down and then played three solid seasons, while Newcastle were in turmoil off the park.
Finally, stability arrived with a new owner, and the arrival of local coach in Mark Jones who has been at the club during Kantarovski’s early days. But, the season didn’t go to plan as he played in just six matches after round nine.
At 25, his career was at the crossroads.
Enter Ernie Merrick.
Within weeks of Merrick’s arrival, Jets CEO Lawrie McKinna talks about how much belief the Scottish-born manager has in Kantarovski’s ability.
“We moved on about 10-11 players last season,” McKinna said.
“When Ernie went through the whole squad, he got back to me and said the only one I want to keep is Ben Kantarovski, because he wanted to sign him when he (Ernie) was at (Melbourne) Victory.
“Ernie has given the boy a chance, and he has taken it.”
Under the new Jets coach, Kantarovski has been revitalised, starting in all nine matches so far this campaign.
His form has been outstanding, with the cherry on top being two goals already this season. Kantarovski’s superb performances have played a key role in the Jets soaring to second spot on the A-League ladder.
And it’s not just on the pitch where Kantarovski’s strengths lie.
“He’s a good boy off the park,” added McKinna.
“He’s a big part of the dressing room, and we’ve been getting so much feedback from people out in the community.
“He is a great ambassador for the club in the community.”
At only 25, Kantarovski has what feels like a lifetime of experience in the A-League, with plenty more to give.
By the numbers:
- Most A-League Matches for the Newcastle Jets - 149
- Newcastle Jets Player of the Year – 2008/09
- Youngest Newcastle Jets Player to Debut – 16 years, 208 days.
- Kantarovski has been assigned 4 squad numbers during his time, but only ever wore 3 of them on field – 26, 16, 6 and 5.
- 109 players have made their A-League debut for the Jets since Kantarovski first pulled on the shirt against the Central Coast in 2008.
- Kantarovski was the 34th player to score for the Jets in the A-League