Dejan Damjanovic has just started his K-League career and after four goals in the first five game, Incheon United are more than happy with their Serbian star.
You were born in Mostar but now you’re Serbian…
Right. I am from Mostar, the Bosnian capital. My father was Montenegrin. When everything was happening in my country, we went to Serbia. It was wartime and I had to take some nationality. I took Serbian because I lived there for around 15 years.
Did you continue to play football during the war?
When I was a kid, everything seemed normal. It was a normal life. In the beginning all the countries were together, a republic. At the time, I was playing football in Mostar. After everything happened, I was then playing football in Belgrade.
This was 1992-93?
I think so.
What was it like playing football in Belgrade?
In the beginning, it was hard but I played football because I loved playing football. It made me happy and my friends happy –it was familiar and comfortable.
I was a child. If I had been 24 or something then maybe I would have had to join the army. But, as a child, everything became normal and football helped it do that. Children want to talk, to play and that’s what we did.
Before you came to Korea, you played for Bezanija in Serbia.
Yes, we played well. We were fifth at the half-season point –we didn’t lose any games and we beat teams like Partizan and Red Star.
After that, I had some offers. My president was a hard man, he wanted so much money for me. I was lucky to come here and play well.
What other offers did you have?
I don’t want to mention teams but I could have gone to other European leagues but here is very nice. The people are good, the players are good and they accept me. I want to stay here.
Your contract is for one year?
Yes, I signed a contract for this year. If I play well then I think the club will want to extend my contract then no problem. I said to my manager that ‘if they want me to stay and we can agree conditions then I want to stay.
What did you know about Incheon before you came?
I knew about the team only through betting on football! My friend knows the wife of Dragan Mladenovic (former Serbian international and ex-Rangers player - now with Incheon). I knew nothing else when I came so now I am learning.
So you were sitting in Belgrade and learned of Incheon’s offer. What was your first reaction?
I thought ‘South Korea? It’s so far away.’ It’s a different country, everything is different. It is eleven hours away by plane. But I wanted to try because I had played in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Ahly. We lost in the final of the cup. We had a good team. The coach was very good. However, for a player, Saudi Arabia is a hard life, everything is closed.
So I felt I must try to go to Korea. I decided to go to Incheon – six months, or a year. If I play well, I will stay. If I don’t play well, I will go somewhere else.
What did you think of Korean football before you came?
I knew that is was good. They played well at the World Cup. I knew that some players play for very good teams in Europe. I didn’t know anything about the K-League.
I knew that is a lot of running. It is so different that Europe. They are better runners, always fighting. In Europe, perhaps tactics are better but here, after three or four games, you start to adapt.
Now you are running and fighting?
Yes, it is no problem (laughs)
Incheon has two other Serbian players. Did you talk to them before you came?
Not really. I had an offer to go to another K-League team – Jeju United. I didn’t want to contact the players at Incheon and then not go. That would be stupid.
As I said, Mladenovic’s wife talked with my friend in Serbia. She said: “Everything is good – the people, the players and president.”
So I thought I will try. If Mladenoic, who is a national team player and has played for big clubs like Rangers, can come here and stay here, then I can come here. I didn’t make a mistake.
How did you feel when you first arrived?
Well, at first I went to Guam for pre-season training so my first impressions were very good! In Guam, I got to know the players. If I came here first, perhaps it would have been more difficult. I don’t Korean, they don’t know English.
Incheon is very nice but Seoul… it’s so big but people are very friendly.
Maybe now you have many fans in Incheon…
Radoncic speaks a little Korean. He says that they like me. Now I play well and score goals. It is better they like me than don’t like me.
How have you found training?
It’s not the same as Europe but it’s enough. We have warm-ups, shooting, tactics – it’s OK. Before training, the small things were difficult at first. You know, I have to bring my stuff and wash my kit. It’s all different in Europe, I just bring my boots if I want to. It took two weeks to adapt but now it is no problem.
What did the coach set as the target at the start of the season?
They told me that they want to reach the play-offs. We want to finish in the top six and after that we will see what happens. Who knows? Maybe we can do something. Also, we want to do well in the cup.
How do you communicate with the players and the coaching staff?
The coach speaks English and the physical training coach is Brazilian and he speaks English. Radoncic speaks a little Korean. I have learned some words for communication on the field –‘give me the ball, left, right, shoot, pass etc.’ They understand me, I understand them a little.
How about away from the pitch. Do you socialize with the other players?
In the beginning we had two or three dinners but not any more. Now we have a game every three days with cup and league games. We are always together! I see them more often than I see my girlfriend.
Sometimes, Radoncic, Mladenovic and I go to have a beer or watch a movie.
How about the food?
In the beginning it was no good. I didn’t eat anything but now they show me the good stuff –rice, soup and kim. It is no problem.
Your first game in the K-League was against Pohang. Were you surprised at all?
I had two or three pre-season games so I wasn’t so surprised. Pohang are a very good team but in that game they were lucky. We missed four chances in the first half. We killed them. They are doing well and have international players but I was disappointed that we didn’t score.
You have scored four goals in 4.5 games. Many people have problems scoring in the K-League but you seem to have no problem…
The defenders are very good. They are not tall but they are quick. They can run and jump very well. It is hard to score and get chances.
You have less space than you are used to?
Yes, I have to do a lot of running to get the ball. I must move to find the space and get possession.
Before the season started, people at Incheon were saying that you were their secret weapon. Despite the goals, you still haven’t received too much attention…
That’s normal. Everyone knows Radoncic, he has made a good impression. Defenders watch out for him which is good for me. But now things have changed. In the past two games, defenders have been getting more serious. They now double up on me. If they pay me more attention that is good for Radoncic who will get more space.
If you keep scoring it will get more difficult…
100%. Next we have an away game and the defenders will kill me because I have been scoring goals.
We are a good team and if we could improve our tactics then I think we could be in the top four.
How can you improve?
It’s not for me to say but work more in training and move more. Nowadays we are doing that every day. Against Jeonbuk, we played very well tactically and gave them only two chances and they are a very good team. I hope we can improve our tactics and then we will have no problem.
In the K-League, Incheon have won one and lost two – not a great start.
That is only because of the referee. They don’t like Incheon. We have had three penalties given against us already- all at home! It is unbelievable.
Until now, the referees have been very bad. They favour some clubs and want to give them everything. In the newspapers, it is always Seoul, Suwon, maybe Busan, I don’t know. About us, we have only this much (makes a small gap between thumb and forefinger).
Do the referees talk to you during the game?
No, they don’t know English. Thank God! One time, a referee said he was going to show me a yellow card as my shirt wasn’t tucked inside my shorts. I showed him that everytime I lift my arms, it comes out – there’s nothing I can do. In Europe, you can put your shirt outside but not here.
We lost two games because we are unlucky. But Gyeongnam won 2-1 and the second half they killed us. We played well first half and were winning but the referee gave them a penalty, a very tricky penalty. Then we were stuck.
Against Jeonbuk, we were better and tactically we had no problems
What do you think of the fans?
Very good but this is a very big stadium for us. If we played in a 20,000 stadium it would be good because they are so loud and they love Incheon but this is a 50,000 stadium. If 5,000 or 6,000 come then it looks strange. They told me maybe we will move to a smaller stadium. We have the best supporters – against Jeonbuk we took maybe 50-100 fans but you couldn’t hear the Jeonbuk fans.
Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile
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