A contract dispute in Romania caused him trust issues- but the community feeling at Motherwell has brought faith in humanity back for Christian Ilic.
The Croatian made his first start since August against Hibs in a 0-0 draw. It was a game in which he showed flashes of his Fir Park potential after a spell out the side with injury.
Back when he first signed for the Well, Ilic took to social media to say he had arrived at his new home. This was much-needed relief after a horrible situation in the summer.
The Austrian moved from TSV Hartberg to Romanian club Sepsi prior to the Well move. He had signed on the dotted line only for Sepsi to break news to him that they couldn’t pay his wages.
It was a troubling situation for Ilic but now the Croatian is loving life in North Lanarkshire: “It was a crazy story. Last summer was something that showed me what football is, but it also showed me that everything goes quick in football. But I am so happy that I am here.
“I signed a contract and they just said they don’t have plans for me and another six players and I accepted that.
“It was hard to trust people again after this situation. I trained two weeks with the Romanian club and they said they didn’t want me. To trust people again and come alone to a new country was hard for me.
“But I took the risk and I signed for this great club and I am happy. The players helped me to settle so much. When I saw the boys, tattoos, strong, I thought ‘the boys are hard’. But they are very good to me, they helped me to settle and they make it so easy for me.
“You don’t miss your friends too much when you can hang out with these guys. It’s very good and I thank them a lot.”
Adjusting to the SPFL
Off the back of that ordeal, Ilic still had so much to contend with. Even in stable surroundings like Motherwell, he had a new language to learn, a fresh league to adapt to and a club full of new people.
It was never going to be easy and so it’s proved for Ilic. He says that whilst it has been hard adapting to the SPFL way of life, he believes that now he’s settled, he can really kick on at Fir Park.
“It was not so easy,” the wideman said about adapting to Scottish football. “It’s a new country, new people, everything is new, different football.
“Now I understand players when they say it takes so long when they go to another country or a new club. It’s not so easy but now I feel 100 per cent settled.
“The tempo is faster, there are more crosses, everything is forward. In Austria it was more side to side but here it’s faster and quicker.”
Ilic’s Northern Irish manager is very aware of his abilities too. Capable of playing on either wing or even at left-back, Ilic is a handy option for Stephen Robinson when fully fit.
He’s been utilised as a right midfielder in recent times. Robinson reckons that Ilic brings something unique to his forward line, hailing the Croatian’s key traits.
“I think he’s completely different to what we have got,” said Robinson. “He is a very intelligent footballer. The other boys playing in wide berths go one on one and take players on.
“He comes into little pockets, his movement with and without the ball is very good. He creates different problems, he is left-footed, gives us an option to cut in from the right.
“I think he can get better and better and I am looking for him to really burst on to the scene.”