Nobody else, just the next Noah Botić – striker finding his feet at Western United

For Noah Botić, the football pitch is a place where he can be himself, a place where he doesn’t have to worry about the expectations heaped on his young career and he can just be himself. But even with him beginning to find his goalscoring touch and see the field more regularly, Western United coach John Aloisi says that he’s not the type to get carried away with things anyway.

Though only 21 years old, Botić has long been touted as one of the more exciting prospects in Australian football. The former Hurstville Zagreb junior was the joint top-scorer of the 2018 AFC U18 Championships as Australia booked a place at the 2019 FIFA U17 World Cup, a tournament in which he nabbed four goals in four games. 

Awarded the inaugural Dylan Tombides medal as Australia’s best player at the U23 level for his efforts, a trial with Manchester United and interest from Everton and Bayern Munich ensued, as did a place in The Guardian’s list of the 60 best young talents in world football, before he left Rockdale Ilinden and signed a two-year scholarship deal with Hoffenheim in 2019.

Botić in action with Australia’s junior international sides
Image Credit: Football Australia

However, the descent of the COVID-19 pandemic soon threw a wrench in those plans, with its paralysing effect on youth football around the globe and the restrictions on travel adding further difficulty to the already difficult task of breaking into Bundesliga football. 

Ultimately, after sporadic appearances for the U19 side of Die Kraichgauer, Botić decided to return to Australia and sign with Western United ahead of the 2021-22 A-League Men season, 

“When I went there, in the beginning, I was able to see my family every three months during breaks and whatnot, they were able to come over to Germany and be with me,” Botić said. “Which was doable, and I was able to deal with. 

“But then the second season over there it was tough. Because of COVID, I wasn’t able to travel. You’d have to quarantine and stuff like that. And obviously, the season gets cut or sort of cancelled, it puts a big toll on you because that’s the reason why you go over there to pursue dreams to play football. 

“Once it gets cancelled. You just feel like you’ve lost, you feel like you’re stuck. Which can be tough on people. So I felt like family is most important to me. And they helped me and supported me so I feel like being close to them and coming back to Australia would give me a lift and give me a bit of confidence. Knowing that they’re here close to me. And they’re only an hour’s flight away from me.”

A disrupted preseason restricted Botić to just 27 senior minutes across three appearances in his maiden season in Melbourne’s west but, after consistent cameos off the bench to start the campaign, he has been able to force his way into the XI in 2022-23: starting five out of United’s last six goals and scoring the first three goals of his professional career across this period. It’s the first somewhat regular football he’s had since leaving Rockdale four years ago. 

“Scoring goals, it gives you a sort of confidence booster to go and want to score more goals,” he said. 

“We’re not doing amazing this season but after that game against Newcastle [a 3-1 win in which Botić scored a brace] it sort of lifted the boy’s spirit a bit because we fought really hard in that game and we knew it. We feel if we play like that again we can go on and make the finals

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“[Aloisi’s] been telling me that all through last year his goal, his sort of aim was to help build me up. Over the past few years, I hadn’t played much football and I was getting sort of injuries here and there so he knew we had to build me up so I was ready for men’s football.

“It’s really sort of uplifting [to be guided by Aloisi] because obviously, he had a really, really good career in his past and then playing overseas, so he has that experience to sort of pass down to young footballers. That was one of the main reasons that I wanted to move to Western so I could learn from him, and I feel like so far it’s paid off.

“Also with [Aleks] Prijovic because he’s played overseas as well in Australia. So it’s good to have those people around me that I can learn from and they can give me advice on what type of runs to make, how to make and stuff like that. It’s really important.”

Over 180 cm tall, Botić is one of the increasingly rare breed of young prospects that shapes as an out-and-out number nine. This had likely fed into some of the hype and not-always-helpful comparisons during his development – ‘The Next Mark Viduka’ superlative feels more like a hindrance than a help at this point – but it still makes him an exciting prospect. 

“I think he can become someone who can hold the ball up well,” said Aloisi. “He’ll still need to improve on that side of things but he knows the movement of when to come to feet, when to run in behind – his understanding of that striker role is really good. 

“And he gets into good goal scoring positions. I know players don’t like scoring tap-ins but as a striker that’s the best goal you can [score] because you’re finding that space and the timing is good. He scored a tap-in against Newcastle and that’s because of his positioning. He’s alive in the box and any striker should be, but it’s easy to say and harder to do. He’s always on the move in the box and that’s a big asset of his.”

“He’s not the type that will get carried away. He still works the same, and works hard. It’s up to me to make sure that the added pressure from the outside and the added hype don’t affect him. He’s started five games this season and there’s still a lot of learning and improving [to go], and he knows that.

“The pressure’s not on Noah anyway. The pressure’s on the older, experienced players that know how to deal with certain situations. Noah’s there to keep learning the game and keep improving, and so far he’s doing that. He’s got that mindset.”

Though sitting second-bottom of the ALM heading into the weekend, their 3-1 win over Newcastle last round means that United will face Perth Glory sitting just five points outside the top six and guaranteed to overhaul their foes should they take the points. 

Veterans Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Steve Lustica, and Aleks Prijovic are all in contention to feature against Glory, Aloisi hinting that the veteran defender is the most of the three to feature. Attacker Ramy Najjarine, signed from Western Sydney during the January window, is still some weeks away. 

If Prijovic can’t start, it will likely fall on Botić to once again serve as the focal point in the side’s attack – a big responsibility given how much of the side’s game runs through the Serbian striker – but he’s not one to be overawed by the occasion. 

“Once I step onto the football field, everything just goes over my head, and all I can think about is football,” he said. That’s why I enjoy it so much. It eases me to have the ball at my feet and to score goals.”

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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Header Image Credit: Football Australia

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