Timi Max Elsnik: From Swindon and Northampton to facing England at Euro 2024

The Slovenia midfielder, who started his professional career with Derby, is set to line-up against England on Tuesday.

Slovenia’s Timi Max Elsnik is ready to face England
Slovenia’s Timi Max Elsnik is ready to face England (Nick Potts/PA)

Timi Max Elsnik has gone from League Two loans to starting against England at Euro 2024, where the Slovenia midfielder says they will be fearless against Gareth Southgate’s side.

Tuesday’s Group C finale will be a special occasion for the 26-year-old, who came through Derby’s youth system and spent eye-opening spells with Swindon, Mansfield and Northampton.

Elsnik returned to his homeland after being released in 2019 without making a league appearance for Derby, and his form for NK Olimpija Ljubljana has seen him become a national team regular.

The midfielder scored his first international goal in March’s impressive 2-0 friendly victory against Portugal and is now eyeing an even bigger scalp against the country he used to call home.

“When I was in Swindon, no chance to envision yourself playing against England at a Euros or Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo, even scoring in that game,” Elsnik said on his former manager Gary Rowett’s ‘Breaking Lines’ podcast.

“When your career goes one path, everything is becoming normal. Maybe if someone is looking from outside (it’s different) but you go step by step, and every day it just becomes normal.

“It’s not like out of nowhere – out of Swindon, they threw me to a Portugal game. Then it would be a big shock. But when you progress like that, it just becomes part of you.”

Elsnik is in confident mood ahead of the Cologne clash with England.

“The main thing from the manager was just the name – don’t get caught up when you’re reading ‘England’,” said the midfielder, who has brought over the family he lodged with at Derby for the game.

“If we get caught up in that, we are in trouble. They all have two legs, like we do. Two feet. They’re humans. It doesn’t matter how much they’re worth.

“If you put them under pressure, if you’re confident in yourself, they have problems also, like we saw in the first two games.

“For us, it’s just mentality. Don’t be scared of them, like we weren’t scared of Denmark and Serbia.

“We can cause problems to everyone, especially with (Jan) Oblak. It’s easier to keep the zero behind and one point for us is most likely going to be enough.

“But on the other hand, we are hungry for goals. I think, for us, it’s the best, these type of games when the opponent is better and we can be in middle block, maybe a bit lower, and then we surprise them from the counter.

“Sometimes we have bigger problems if we are the dominant team and someone is defending lower, and then we have to create something.

“Then it’s a bit hard, and you really need special quality. But these type of games, it’s bread and butter for Slovenia. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m really not scared of them.”

Slovenia have drawn both of their group games 1-1 and Elsnik says they are ready to exploit a potential weakness in England’s armoury.

Morten Hjulmand rifled home from 30 yards in last Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Denmark and it seems young Slovenia star Benjamin Sesko will be trying his luck from distance.

“England conceded outside of the box – they’re not really the best at closing down this area 20, 25 metres away from goal,” Elsnik said.

Denmark’s Morten Hjulmand lasered home from distance against England
Denmark’s Morten Hjulmand lasered home from distance against England (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“It’s like Adidas on purpose make balls for tournaments to be lighter, faster, just because they want attractive football and the goals you see they’re unbelievable.

“It’s always like this, like in South Africa, Jabulani, in Brazil, in the last World Cup. It’s like they make special kind of balls, and they produce more spectacular goals.

“You can really shoot this one from 30 metres, and if you hit it well the keeper has small chances.

“Sesko is always looking for the opportunities, and he’s definitely going to try to score against England.”