Photograph by: Scott Webster, The Windsor Star
WINDSOR, ON — Unfamiliar with the language, living alone at 19 in a foreign culture might sound like a lonely existence.
For Windsor’s Stefan Cebara, life couldn’t be better.
"I’m living my dream," said Cebara, who is the youngest soccer player in the Hungarian First Division.
"I’ve always wanted to play professionally and this has been everything I expected. It’s fun playing everyday in such a great environment."
After dipping his toe into professional soccer last season in Serbia, the Riverside Secondary School grad was signed by Zalaegerszeg FC in September.
With the league taking a Christmas break, Zalaegerszeg FC sports a 9-2-5 record good for 29 points and second place behind league-leaders Videoton (36 points).
"I’m pleased with how my season has gone," said Cebara, who has been used mostly on the right side up front or in midfield.
"I’m mostly coming off the bench, but I’ve been in every game. My role has gotten bigger as the season has gone along.
"I’ve been able to contribute by coming of the bench to create some goals."
Cebara is still looking for his first goal of the season, but his play has not gone unnoticed in the media.
The six-foot-three, 163-pound Cebara has had several articles written about him as the youngest player in Hungary’s top division.
"I love the focus on soccer in Europe," Cebara said. "The team is the biggest thing in the city. "People know who you are on the street.
"The crowds are big and passionate with torches and crazy stuff in the stands.
"The games are on television and the quality of play is good. You see kids playing soccer everywhere over here.
"It’s like hockey in Canada."
It all makes for heady stuff for a kid from Windsor, who is now playing against teams he used to see play on television growing up.
It’s forced him to earn his spurs in the eyes of his Hungarian peers.
"I have to prove myself in practice and games everyday or someone will take my job," Cebara said. "Coming from Canada, there’s wasn’t a lot of respect for Canadian soccer to start.
"I had to work to be accepted, but I’ve been getting great coaching and the facilities are excellent. I just love playing soccer everyday.
"I’ve learned how to be a better player within the team concept, not to be so individual."
On the pitch, Cebara said he’s feeling more and more comfortable with each week. The pace that seemed a blur at first is now second nature.
"The game is so much quicker here," Cebara said.
"You have to be thinking two steps ahead about what you want to do with the ball. I’ve learned to maintain my composure."
The other major adjustment affects Cebara, who was born in Croatia and came to Canada at age six with his parents, both on and off the field.
"It’s a different language and culture," Cebara said. "Hungarian is the hardest language to learn and I’m taking classes."
While he’s been aided by growing up with a strong European influence at home, Cebara said adjusting to the Hungarian diet is still a work in progress.
"It’s definitely different," said Cebara, who is a product of the Windsor FC Nationals program. "I like some of their food, but I go to McDonald’s usually once a week for a treat."
Cebara isn’t entirely on his own as relatives still living in Europe have come to watch his games and he’s made a circle of friends. His mother will also be paying him her first visit in a couple of months.
"It hasn’t been lonely," said Cebara, who has his own apartment.
Cebara said he doesn’t worry much about his social life. Soccer consumes his interest and he knows he’s drawing attention from other clubs in Europe.
"This is an important time for me," Cebara said. "A lot of scouts from clubs around Europe watch this league.
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