FEBRUARY 19, 2020
Playing for a club soccer team, U19 North Texas Celtics; potentially playing for the U19 Bosnian national team and managing high school is more than what most students can handle and yet that is the life of Coppell junior forward Ilhan Muslija.
To this day, Muslija dreams of making it professionally in soccer.
“I watch [English Premier League]. I watch [Cristiano] Ronaldo,” Muslija said. “They are living the life. I want to be in their shoes right now.”
Eventually that drive and passion led to the possibility of playing professionally with the accomplishment of making the first cut of the U19 Bosnian national team.
According to FIFA, players are eligible to play for a national team if they were born in that country, grandparent was born in that country, are married to a citizen of that country or are a naturalized citizen of that country.
As an American citizen, Muslija is eligible to play for either the U.S. National team. Due to his grandparents being born in Bosnia, Muslija can also play for the Bosnian National team.
The ability to play for a national team means increased exposure to other scouts and other teams.
“[Making the Bosnian National team] will make his professional career progress,” Arben Muslija, Ilhan’s father, said. “He would be playing on the national level. After that, you can start signing professional contracts.”
But making the first cut represents more than a career as a professional soccer player, it represents his heritage.
“[Ilhan making the team] would be huge for [Coppell soccer],” Coppell assistant Stephen Morris said. “It’s visibility for our program. Younger kids coming up will be like ‘Wow, that guy made the Bosnian team and he plays for Coppell. That’s big. I played club soccer and my mom and dad would come but that’s it. Now, your fellow students come and watch you. Other kids’ parents are coming to watch you. There’s an environment you can’t get in club soccer.”
This love and drive for soccer is not unique to him. Mr. Muslija plays professionally for FC Gusinja and worked as a coach.
But Ilhan was not always set on soccer. As a child, he also played basketball.
“[He plays soccer] because [it is] in [his] genes. Soccer goes more to him than basketball,” Mr. Muslija said.
Mr. Muslija does not just serve as a mentor but one of the biggest sources of inspiration fueling Ilhan.
“My dad [inspires me],” Ilhan said. “My dad is the most motivated person I have ever met.”
Ilhan plays for the U19 North Texas Celtics, allowing him to further improve his soccer skills.
“Without a doubt, [there is a difference between athletes who play club soccer and those who do not],” Morris said. “You can get a freak athlete but at the end of the day he’s got to have soccer skills. Take Usain Bolt, the fastest guy in the world. He tried to make it professional [in soccer]. He’s a freak stud but his skill is not where it needs to be. But it’s not just skill level. He’s got to play enough games so he gets the tactical experience.”
Perhaps one of the most prominent traits Ilhan displays is hard work.
“He’s a hard worker,” said North Texas Celtics teammate Harris Jasic, a sophomore at Denton Ryan. “He always wants to work no matter the score, no matter the situation.”
This dedicated work ethic propels Ilhan to get in as much practice as possible leading to improved skills in his technique and stamina.
“His fitness has gotten better. With [Performance Course] in the fall, he has gotten stronger,” Morris said. “[He has improved] in his ability to deal with the physicality of the game.”
Through it all, Ilhan still maintains a sportsman-like attitude, showing respect even in times of defeat or criticism.
“He’s very coachable,” Morris said. “He’s a ‘yes-sir, no-sir’ kid. You don’t get kids to play high level if they don’t have that attitude. No matter how good you are, nobody has ever played a perfect game.”