Sports Direct Arena
Barclays Premier League
By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
When a 16-year-old Haris Vuckic left Slovenia for the North-East of England almost three years ago, he did so to "live his dream" of playing in the greatest league in the world, the Barclays Premier League.
And as he prepared to make his first top-flight start for Newcastle United against West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday night, Vuckic admitted that his dream was now about to come true.
The attacking midfielder, still only 19, starts in place of the suspended Yohan Cabaye at the Sports Direct Arena having previously made three substitute appearances this term, against Scunthorpe and Fulham in August and Swansea last Saturday.
It will be a proud moment for the Ljubljana-born youngster, who has made plenty of sacrifices to get to this stage as well as battling back from several injury setbacks since making his Magpies debut in August 2009. And he spoke exclusively to nufc.co.uk about being named in Alan Pardew's starting XI to face the Baggies.
"I'm very excited and a little bit nervous," he said. "But I think once the game starts I will build my confidence from minute to minute, so I can't wait for the game.
"I've always trained hard to get my chance for the first-team, and I've finally got that chance. So I'm really happy and I'll try my best to play good and get more chances.
"I can't wait to see the fans because it'll be the first time I've ran out through the tunnel with the first-team, so that's really exciting."
Vuckic joined United in January 2009 from NK Domzale and scored on his Reserve team debut against Blackburn a month later, while also excelling for the under-18s. And he won the player of the tournament award at the Foca Cup in Bosnia that May, scoring five goals in three games as United's juniors lifted the trophy.
That led to him making his senior bow against Huddersfield in the Carling Cup under Chris Hughton at the start of the following season, before his first league appearance came five days later against Leicester, again as a substitute.
But then injury struck and he was ruled out for most of the Coca Cola Championship-winning campaign, although he came on in the final game at QPR. He was on the bench at Old Trafford on the opening day of last season and started all three of the Magpies' Carling Cup ties, but then he suffered another set-back. And even this term, he broke his hand just minutes after his introduction again Fulham.
Vuckic said: "For the last two seasons, I've had bad injuries. I came close to the first-team and played some games in the Carling Cup, and the manager told me 'you're close, you just have to keep fit.' But I was unlucky. It was a really tough time because I couldn't stay fit.
"I was unlucky with my knee, my ankle and my hand. But it's okay now and I'm just looking forward to this game. I've forgotten about my injuries now. It's important for me and hopefully I will do good.
"I've had three years here without my family and away from home, all so I could live my dream - and it's finally come true. I have a chance to play in the first-team in the Premier League, so I'm really happy."
One of Alan Pardew's first actions as Newcastle manager was to extend Vuckic's contact until the summer of 2016, claiming he was a player of "real potential," which showed just how highly he rated the Slovenian starlet.
Now Pardew has placed his trust in the youngster once more by giving him his full Barclays Premier League debut, and Vuckic said: "It's really good that the gaffer believes in me and that he has the confidence to put me in.
"I've tried to prove myself to him in training, take on board what he's said and do my best. He's a good manager and he's taught me a lot of things.
"But I still need to keep going. This is one game. It's good, it's something special but I still need to train hard and keep my feet on the ground."