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Interview: Dejan Damjanović

FC Seoul's Dejan Damjanović is a living K League legend, second only to Lee Donggook in the all-time top goalscorer charts, and is the league's top foreign marksman having notched up over 150 goals. Not only that, Dejan has racked up over 300 appearances for Korea's top capital club, FC Seoul. But, despite scoring in both legs of the 2013 Asian Champions League Final, Asian continental glory has alluded the Montenegrin ace. Recently, following on from our FIFA interview K League United sat down with FC Seoul's main man for an exclusive interview. Dejan reveals how a hunger for further silverware, particularly ACL glory, is partly why he returned to FC Seoul.
(image via Naver Sports)

Dejan, you said before you left in 2013 that you knew you would be back at FC Seoul but did you expect to come back so soon?

When I was leaving my plan was to play there (in China) for two years to play two good seasons, to represent K League good and then come back to FC Seoul. That was my plan, honestly as I had a really nice two years there. Professionally and personally I was enjoying it there; the team was good, the fans were awesome, the stadiums were full. Both seasons, almost 20 goals so I was really enjoying it there and my performance showed that. Then I was thinking, they offered me one more year and maybe I was going to stay.

But, China is a little bit different about these things. Honestly, they are changing more players than they need to change. Honestly, I don't know why but it is their politics so they are trying to bring really big players with higher CVs and things so when I saw it wasn't going to happen, this new contract, my first option was FC Seoul and luckily everything finished good for me and I signed.

I didn't plan everything to be that soon and like that but, like I said, football is really strange and these things can change in one week or one month. Everything can change so it was maybe a little sooner than I was expecting.

When you did come back, did you feel that there was some unfinished business to attend to? You scored in Asian Champions League finals...

That was my biggest goal, there: this ACL. And now Jeonbuk beat us in the semi-final so I think we didn't show ourselves that game. I came because of ACL, that was one of the goals. Even when we speak, when I had signed already and we speak with the coach and the players and after pre-season, we saw that this team is really good so we said "let's try to win this Champions League."

We can do it; we have a good schedule, the group was okay, not that tough so everything goes perfect for us and then this Jeonbuk east side semi final, I think we didn't perform how we know we can perform. Jeonbuk, excellent team - especially last year - but that game we lost 4-1 that was not the real picture so they used that, our bad day, and now this ACL, it's going to be maybe I won't catch this goal anymore. Again, this year we missed it so it is going to be very hard to get it but we will not give up, for sure.

Clearly you hold the ACL in high regard, what about the FA Cup?

I want to win everything! I came back for trophies. I said this many times, when I was here and when I left and then when I came back; they asked me but I said: "guys, this is FC Seoul, I don't understand why you are asking me what we want to win. We are going to win what we can win, we are chasing everything." I didn't come here to say "let's win FA Cup and it is going to be good for us this year". We are chasing everything, this is a team to be champions, let's see what we can do.

Normally, one bad day or something; injuries, bad performance, can put you out for some competition but you must not think for one, you must chase everything. Everybody needs to think like this, I was always thinking like that so, for me FA Cup, Champions League, K League: everything is important. Normally, first is ACL, then it is K League, and then maybe FA Cup but it's important to win some cup. Make it a habit, make it like it is a normal thing to win every year.

You mentioned Jeonbuk earlier, you won the title at their stadium on the final day, what was that game like to play in?

It is because of this you play football. Finally, it was full stadium atmosphere was almost like it wasn't Korean; like Japan or China; full stadium two hours before the game. You feel the nerves when you are coming to the stadium, the fans talking to us in Korean and gesturing. I didn't understand but I feel this pressure.

Finally, this is why you play football and then if you overcome that, it is how you become a player, for the younger players. This is what they need to be mentally stronger. I said: "guys, we are playing 300 days for this, for 300 days you are running for this; for these 90 minutes. Just run, just fight. If you fight, and run, we are going to beat them."

And, everything goes perfect. Jeonbuk was not how they can be, they were a little bit tired, we were the best motivated fighting spirit, everything was perfect so I said "This is it. Maybe we can win." In the game you don't have time to think too much but sometimes you see players fighting and think "We can win this. This is going in a good way". Everything finished the best for us, we won how we won but you know it was a really good season for us.

Dejan Damjanovic speaking to columnists Ryan Walters, Matthew Binns and Paul Neat at Upper Deck Sports Bar, Seoul
You talked about leading some of the younger players, you're not officially the captain of FC Seoul although you have worn the armband on quite a number of occasions, do you feel a sense of responsibility to guide these young players?

Yeah, honestly. I said in the beginning, captain is not just the armband, captain is everything. Especially when they look at you with respect, like a role model and they listen to you. There are many things when I feel one of them (a Korean). Foreigners, when they are here they need time to adapt. Secondly, you need time for the Koreans to accept you like one of them. The Koreans, they are not saying annyeonghaseyo and these things to foreigners; it's "good morning" or "how are you, man?" even though you are older than me. But I feel that respect when they are coming into training; "annyeonghaseyo Dejan hyeong" (big brother). It means they respect me, I am one of them so I need to show them everything on the pitch, outside of the pitch, training.

Generally, you must be a role model for them in every situation. I cannot say I am perfect, sometimes I get angry and I am yelling on the pitch but we finish the game, especially last year, we had dinner together and have a beer and speak about the game and these things and celebrate a lot of times. I said: "guys, don't think too much when I am yelling at you, this is to push you not to speak bad about you because this is nothing against you". I feel a lot of responsibility, honestly.

So you feel like you have earned the respect of the players, they call you their big brother, do you feel that is part of your legacy at FC Seoul? 

Generally, I had a lot of games and a lot of things happen here in the last eight or nine years but generally every year I think I made good things, and improved myself, and show that I am still hungry for trophies to be better to help the team to help the players. Everybody saw that and every year you get more respect, you need to show yourself all the time - to prove yourself.

We are foreigners, so we need to be better than them (Korean players). I am now older and but still I need to push, I need to show them I am better and I am helping them, I am better than them I am coaching them. I am always tutoring them, these kind of things you must do like that. If you are doing this kind of everything then they are going to respect you more and more. They are going to respect you, they are going to listen to you. Then, you have more responsibility. Then I know they are going to look at what I am doing, how I am behaving and it's not easy but that is something that I am prepared to do and because of that I am here.

I came to finish football in FC Seoul and to be like a living legend, now I am living legend but to stay like living legend after and in FC Seoul because nobody did what I did for foreigners. It's not going to be forgotten but I just want to stay here and continue doing football but after just to be around Seoul again, to do something for FC Seoul because I really, really think like that this is my second home. So hopefully it is going to stay like that.

Do you feel a lot more responsibility up top this year than you did last year to score goals?

Yes! Yes, too much. From the beginning I was saying that our offensive part is really good. I know who plays up, I know these guys; I play with them, I play against them, so I was sure these guys can do their job but you cannot expect to play all season with one up top without a shadow striker, without two up top. These kind of things, it is impossible to do in K League.

K League is physically really hard league; tough, a lot of running, a lot of pressing, a lot of kicking so sometimes when it is one up top you put too much pressure on him. His job is to score goals, that's fact. They are paying me to score goals, not to play nice; to make a nice pass. That's good, that's my plus, if I can do a bit extra but you are paying me for goals. But if I am not scoring goals, a lot of pressure comes on me and (Park) Chuyoung but the expectations are not realistic. I know I am going to do my best on the game, try to help the team. Sometimes I am just fighting, jumping, kicking for the teammates but this is not how we need to play. We suffer a lot of games, and sometimes we have luck, sometimes we didn't have luck. We suffer a lot and this responsibility, sometimes, makes more pressure on us especially if we didn't score for one or two games. It gets more and more, expectations getting bigger and bigger, results are not coming. Many things are not going how we were expecting.

This year you hit 300 matches with Seoul, what does it mean to you to have 300 matches with one club?

Honestly, I didn't follow that record. Totally honestly, I forgot, first I was thinking that there is somebody else who played much more in FC Seoul. I think before, in some other teams, some players playing 400, 500 games. So I was thinking there was probably one of these guys playing in FC Seoul so I didn't follow that then they tell me that 306 games is the most, the biggest number of games, playing for FC Seoul so I broke that record so I feel really nice. And, I'm a foreigner: not to forget, so one foreigner to play in the, for me, biggest team in Korea it's not easy so that means I really did my job really good and then why not make some new records, to put some new numbers and make other guys fighting for this achievement? I feel nice, generally I feel this record more for goals than these things but it's nice to hear that.

That's going to leave quite the legacy behind, how often do you think about that?

Generally, I know what I did here; it's going to need a lot of time to catch these records. But generally, I cannot say I am not thinking, but I'm not thinking too often. Sometimes fans remind me of some things; some uniform from 200 games, some goals, best 10 goals in last year or the year before - this kind of things. Then I remind myself: "Yeah I did this, man. This is my 150th goal, this is my 200 goal." and then I remember things what I achieved in the past but I cannot say I am watching my goals and this kind of things, honestly.

I know until I am still feeling good I am going to play football, I am sure I am going to score more goals. Just, it's nice to hear time by time, somebody texts you "legend" "you are our legend, thank-you for everything" "please stay" - these kinds of things push me forward; let's do it a little more. Let's try a little more, let's make one more record, let's make one more good season. I don't know how long it is going to last but generally I am not putting too much pressure and thinking about this too much but it is nice to hear from time to time from fans or somebody, or newspapers or anybody you asks me about things that I did in the last 10 or 11 years here in Asia.

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