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aleksandar_duric-8495002Born in Bosnia in the early 1970s, Aleksandar Duric fled the country at the age of 20 to escape civil war. At 22, Duric was “re-called” by his country to represent it in kayaking – the other sport besides football in which he excels – at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. And over the last 20 years, he has been plying his trade as a professional footballer on three continents.

Now a Singapore citizen, the national footballer and current Tampines Rovers striker recently celebrated his 40th birthday. Despite his age and achievements – he was the S-League’s top scorer for three successive seasons – Duric has no plans to hang up his boots anytime soon. In fact, he is resolute in becoming the first player in S-League history to score 300 goals (295 at press time) – a feat that’s bound to set the standard in local football. Yet, through all of life’s challenges, this family man finds peace and draws strength from his wife and two children, aged eight and six. And it’s easy to see why. After all, it was his family who opened his eyes to the joyful rigours of sports, and spurred his insatiable hunger for success. Although I grew up in a then-communist country with a lot of restrictions, I enjoyed my freedom through sports, especially football and kayaking. I grew up playing football in the streets – that’s how I picked up the sport. I first tried kayaking when I was 12. I trained really hard and, by 15, I was the junior champion in then-Yugoslavia. By the time I was 17, I was ranked eighth in the world. I was hungry for success because, back then, it was the only way I could leave the country and see the world – and make some money. But competition was stiff, as everyone was chasing the same dream. Yes, I’m extremely competitive, and I will always be because that was how I grew up – I believe that’s the only way one can keep improving. On Perseverance And Adaptability I left my hometown in 1990 at the age of 20. I travelled to Sweden to pursue a professional career in football. Things didn’t work out there, so I went to Hungary and played for three seasons. In 1995, I moved to Australia for a year, before playing in China for three years. In 1999, I came to Singapore and my career really took off. So my family and I decided to settle here. From the food and culture to the pace of life, and the style of football, every country I went to was different. But to succeed, I knew I had to adapt quickly. It’s especially so for sportsmen, because our careers are shorter compared to other professions. There were many times when I missed home and my family. When my mother died in 1993 during the war, I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye to her. I also lost contact with my father and brother for more than 10 years. It got very difficult at times, but I told myself that if I wanted to succeed, I had to persevere at all costs. On Criticisms Of Foreign Talent It hurts whenever I hear people say our foreign sporting talent are not committed and not “true-blooded” Singaporeans. Many of us sacrificed a lot to get to where we are today. If you really knew our paddlers who were born in China, you’d realise how much they sacrificed for the country when they first came here. But their critics still say they’re not true representations of Singapore. That’s really wrong. Singapore is a young country, and its sporting scene is just developing. Hence, it’s beneficial for the future cohort of sportsmen to learn from foreign coaches and professionals. I hope the perception towards foreign talents would change, especially after the recent  World Cup Finals in South Africa. Take the Germany team, for example – many of their players are children or grandchildren of immigrants. On Youth Sports Development We must continue to devote time and resources to grooming our youth to become professional sportsmen. I strongly believe that perseverance  and the hunger for success must be imparted to them early. I think Singapore is heading in the right direction. The recent Youth Olympic Games was a success, and I believe our country can become a top sports nation. But we have to be patient as it cannot be done overnight. We currently have  a good infrastructure in place, with well-equipped stadiums and a culture where parents are becoming more supportive of their children delaying their studies to pursue sports. I,  too, hope that one (if not both) of my children will one day be able to bring sports glory and joy to Singapore. On Supporting Local Football  If we are to reach the World Cup Finals, we will need a strong local football league to  produce quality players for the national team. And for our domestic league to grow, it will need the full support of every Singaporean. I feel that more football fans should attend the SLeague matches with their families. If you look at the German or English leagues, the weekend matches are huge family affairs – entire families would watch a match together, and the atmosphere is just great. One way to improve the standard of the  S-League is for the Football Association of Singapore to consider allowing more  foreigners to play for the clubs. Presently, only four are allowed in each team. But if you  ask me, I think six or seven would be ideal, as it would help encourage the local players to step up their game. You’d also need more money to boost the profile of the sport, and in this area, I think the big local companies should do more to help. Yes, it may take many years for football in Singapore to mature – and maybe even longer for us to qualify for the World Cup Finals – but I believe we will get there.