Town’s on-loan goalkeeper is aiming to further improve on that record at in-form Accrington Stanley tomorrow as his side target a third win on the spin, writes Lewis Cox.
Sarkic is an eloquent 23-year-old born in Grimsby to a mother and father who are both diplomats. He spent until aged seven in London before moving to Brussels in Belgium.
There, football-mad Matija and twin brother Oliver were successful in trials at under-eights with Belgian giants Anderlecht. The twins’ older brother Danilo joined fellow side RWDM Brussels.
The Sarkic boys would craft their football in the garden in games where Oliver, a striker, would play against Danilo, a defender, with Matija in between the sticks.
At the British School of Brussels the twins, who speak English and Montenegrin – the homeland of their dad Bojan – focused as much on football as they did their studies. Switching time between tutoring and training sessions at the academy of Anderlecht, the most successful club in Belgian football, where young goalkeeper Matija shared a youth team with Youri Tielemans for 10 years and was a few years below Romelu Lukaku and several others who have made a significant splash in world football.
The brothers’ pathways changed, though their goal – to play top-level English football, has always remained. Oliver was scouted by Benfica and switched to Portugal, Matija returned to England and joined Villa.
The goalkeeper’s journey is a fascinating one. In the 2018/19 season he was loaned to the depths of non-league with Stratford Town. By the end of 2019 he had won his first senior cap for Montenegro, something of a deep, personal pride.
It would be very easy for Matija to dwell on being part of the next ‘golden generation’ of Belgian football. Instead he values each and every step he has taken on his footballing pathway. He impressed in 18 appearances for Livingston in the Scottish Premiership last season.
Then came a setback as Villa opted to release him, but the chance to join Premier League Wolves soon after was too good to pass up. And now, after recovering from a serious hamstring tear in just the fourth game of his Shrewsbury loan, he is catching the eye in English football.
The goalkeeper said: “It’s all part of my career, everyone has different pathways, I’m seeing it as a positive, to take different experiences and learning from them, I’ve learned a lot on the pitch, off the pitch, the mental side. You’ve got to see the positive side of things.
“I played with quite a few who have gone to do big things. I played with Youri Tielemans, we were in the same team for 10 years.
“There are a few playing in France, and a few older, I don’t know, like Romelu Lukaku, a lot come through Anderlecht and have branched out to other countries and the Premier League, it’s working well.
“Youri was the main one, he got pushed into the first team very early and went to Monaco and for Belgium at a young age.
“He was the one everyone was looking at, a few play in the Germany Bundesliga and the first division in France. Some are still in Belgium in the first division. to play in the first division anywhere is a good achievement.
“That system they implemented just brought through a lot of players, Charly Musonda who was at Chelsea was there, Adnan Januzaj as well, I think there will be a good few generations of it.
“Chances of playing in the Premier League are smaller than winning the lottery.
“My mindset is that if you work hard enough and you want it enough then you will get there, that’s my mentality and what I’ll try to do. I don’t look back at it too much, I just focus on the now, what I can do every day to improve myself. I watch Anderlecht, they are still in my heart, I spent a long time there, but I’ve got to focus on now.”
Matija has always enjoyed loans at Wigan, where he made three cup appearances, and with Havant & Waterlooville.
Twin Ollie joined Leeds before moving on to Burton in 2019 and now Blackpool, from whom he is on loan to League Two Mansfield.
“I played against him when I was younger, but not at this level, I was hoping to when we played Blackpool but he wasn’t involved,” Matija added.
“But hopefully in the future. I don’t think my parents want us to play against each other, they want us together, I don’t think my dad wants my brother trying to score against me.
“It was my twin brother trying to to take on my older brother and then finish against me, that’s what we did on pitches at home.
“There is always rivalry between brothers, especially twin brothers. We try to have that sort of rivalry with our careers, who’s doing better, but we’re trying to support and push each other.”
Tomorrow’s hosts Stanley welcome Town off the back of an impressive four-point haul inside a week against high-flying Lincoln and Doncaster.
Stanley were Cotterill’s first league opposition as Town boss at the beginning of December as the sides drew 2-2 in front of supporters at Montgomery Waters Meadow.
Assistant and now stand-in boss Wilbraham, for whom that night was a first on the job, feels Shrewsbury have shown real development in their confidence and detail of what Cotterill demands from his team.
Stanley, however, are a plucky League One side punching well above their weight this season and refuse to go away.
They salvaged an impressive point at leaders Lincoln last weekend before Wilbraham and David Longwell watched an impressive 1-0 victory at Doncaster on Wednesday, which lifted them into sixth and the play-off places.
Wilbraham said: “They are a strong unit who know their jobs. When you they have organisation and detail in your squad then you always pick up good results, and that’s what they are doing.”