One to watch: Meet the modest Fran Mileta
Handball in Croatia has a tradition of producing promising young talents. Generation 2000 is no exception, and one of the standout players here is Fran Mileta.
The right wing would have been one of the players to watch at the Men’s 20 EHF EURO 2020 in Italy and Austria this summer, but the tournament has been postponed until January 2021 and relocated to Croatia amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, Mileta is a fitting start to our new ‘Rising Stars’ series, focussing on players that likely would have impressed us at the M18 or M20 EHF EURO events this summer.
Handball had something special for him
Born on 14 August 2000, Mileta spent his life in the small town of Labin on the Istrian peninsula where handball has a special place.
The young Fran tried football, as most kids do, but handball had something special for him. He has been playing it for 13 years now and his future in the sports looks bright.
“I started playing handball when I was seven. In the beginning I played both handball and football. With time, handball grew on me,” Mileta says.
“I met many friends and enjoyed our time spent on the court. Each match, each tournament, meeting new people at different cities is what makes this sport so beautiful.”
Regarded by many as player with great potential
Now a 20-year-old right wing, Mileta has spent 12 years at Rudan Labin.
Coming through the youth leagues, playing second and first division of the Croatian Championship and finally arriving at the Croatian Premier League, Mileta has been regarded by many as a player with great potential.
Hard working and modest, Mileta quickly came under the spotlight in Croatia.
“Talent is just a small part of becoming a great player. It takes a lot of practice and sacrifice to pursue your dreams. Also, experience through matches to gain confidence is a big part of the journey with a little touch of luck,” he says.
In the summer of 2019 Mileta joined Croatian vice-champions and EHF Cup contenders RK Nexe.
The move marked only the beginning of his international breakthrough.
That same summer Mileta was preparing to play with Croatia’s national Under-19 team at the Youth World Championship in North Macedonia when he also received an invitation from the U-21 team for the Junior World Championship in Spain.
Croatia’s 1998 generation came back from Spain with the silver medal, while two-year-younger Mileta even made it into the All-star Team.
"For someone as young as me, it's very special"
After playing two World Championships in two months’ time, an even bigger invitation came Mileta’s way: Head coach Lino Cervar called him up for the national A team in October 2019.
“It happened in such a short period of time. I could not believe with my eyes when I saw I got an invitation to the senior national team,” Mileta says.
“That is an honour for every player, and for someone as young as me, it’s something special. Being a part of the Croatian national team was a dream of mine since I was little. Sharing a locker room with your favourite players is indescribable.”
Scoring the last goal for Croatia against Portugal in the semi-final of the Junior World Championship is one of his favourite goals, the one which he will remember for the rest of his life.
Also special was his first goal against Germany when coach Cervar gave him the opportunity to show his skills against experienced players.
"Experience is something I long for"
In his first season in Nexe, Mileta played in the EHF Cup qualification, where his club lost to Benfica based on the away-goals rule, and in the SEHA League.
Now he is eagerly awaiting more European matches with the ‘Thunders from Krndija hill’, as Nexe are nicknamed.
“Playing European and high-level matches was something different. It took me a few matches to accustom and experience is something I long for,” Mileta says.
While the coronavirus outbreak has stopped club and national team handball for months, Mileta is looking forward to getting back onto the court.
“This is my first summer without national team gathering. I have mixed feelings. We were all waiting for that, we miss each other. The national team is always something special,” Mileta says.
However, the postponement of the M20 EHF EURO has one advantage, as the tournament has be relocated to Croatia next January.
“Playing in front of your fans in your country gives additional motivation,” Mileta says.
"I will give my best each step of the way"
When asked about a player he looks up to, Mileta can’t give a straight answer.
For him, France star Luc Abalo is one of the greatest right wings of all time, as well as fellow Croatians Ivan Cupic and Zlatko Horvat.
Still, if he has to name one player, it would be…
“… right-handed Uwe Gensheimer. He is the one that stands out as an idol. It impresses me how versatile he is when it comes to technique on the court,” says Mileta.
For now, Mileta is aiming to improve and gather experience as much as possible.
“I want to thrive and play on top level as my idols do. I will give my best each step of the way,” he says. “My dream is to play for clubs like Kiel, Barcelona, PSG and Vardar one day while representing my country at big tournaments.”
Photo Fran Mileta © Sasa Pahic Szabo / kolektiff