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Interview: 'In 2012 we were unbelievable', Dejan Damjanović

To celebrate the anniversary of FC Seoul officially sealing the 2012 K League Championship, the league's MVP and leading goalscorer for that season, Dejan Damjanović, spoke exclusively to K League United to reminisce about what was an 'unbelievable' season, why manager Choi Yongsoo was so important, and what made the team so special. 
(Image via fcseoulpics)

What made that 2012 team so special?

That team was built a few years before that, in 2010. They were always saying that our foreigners were perfect; Adilson he was there, they brought me who was doing well and before they were saying that FC Seoul had the best foreigners, without any competition, we were constant without any problems, issues, injuries and anything, we just adapt so well in the squad so they were just looking to put one more guy and when Molina came that was perfect thing, for foreigners I'm saying. We adapt so well and we feel each other on the pitch so it looks as though we cannot lose the game.

On the other hand, Koreans, that time we had the best Korean players on the pitch and off the pitch. Good guys, a lot of character, we had a lot of winning mentality in one squad, normally excellent coaching from Choi Yongsoo, he was just driving us. He didn't need to do any U-turns, he didn't need to change everything,  he was just listening to what we are saying and he was following us and we were following him normally like a head coach so everything was really perfect and in the end that was one of the best seasons for any Korean team, how many records we broke that year and we put really high standards after that 2012 [title] for K League.

FC Seoul players celebrate the 2012 K League Title (image via fcseoulpics)
Most important, you must have good players. Team building, team atmosphere is really important but if you have good players everything is possible do to at the highest level. I am not saying to be fourth or fifth or sixth, I was never average - I said this a million times. I didn't come here to be fifth or sixth, I was never that guy I will never be that guy until the last day of my football career. I was always fighting to be best, to be champion and at that time FC Seoul had really strong character with players who think the same. That's the priority, to be the best in Korea, in K League where teams are really tough. We just had the best players. We had an unbelievable atmosphere and are friends for life and when you put the main point of Choi Yongsoo, our head coach who enjoyed training with us, and we enjoyed training with him. After the game the atmosphere after we won, everything was perfect and the reward was an unbelievable season.

You got 31 goals, Molina got 18 and 19 assists, Adilson and Kim Yongdae were in the K League Best XI for the K League that season but were there any players who you thought were underrated?

Believe me, if you ask me, we were smiling, we joke about this when I spoke with them [teammates] about this many times now at dinner; that time there need to be like seven or eight from FC Seoul - players in Best XI. That was not my opinion, that was opinion from all K League. We were like dream team. They were saying like maybe two or three guys were unbelievable in other teams but that year needed to be more players from FC Seoul but I must understand this, and I must admit that we were taking so many awards: best scorer me, MVP me, Molina best player, Choi Yongsoo best coach, we took so many awards so I understand that we need to show respect to other K League teams. We were the best that year but we were not aliens so other players were good in other teams, just that we were better that year. But, if you ask me? Seven, seven have to be there. Almost all of these players made great careers,  take some nice money, prove themselves in some other countries so I think that was a present for K League and Asia, that 2012 team.

That season was the first without playoffs so you were the first team to win the league outright...

Yeah, I think four, five or six years they changed it a few times, this playoff system and that year [2012] they said no playoffs but we are going to have more games, so we had a lot of games. I'm not sure, Jeonbuk, I think they had one season like this but we like Champions five or six games before we finished the season. I don't remember if somebody else did that. We were like Champions in October, almost. [That's] how good we were and without playoffs we were 22 points, I think, something like this. Even though it was a long season, we were unbelievable even in October we had 20 points more than Jeonbuk. It was tough but, honestly, I like this kind of system more than playoffs.

You finished on 96 points, that was 17 clear of Jeonbuk, but before the split the gap was just five points after 30 games, so you got stronger and stronger as the season went on, it seems....

Yeah, I don't know how to see this. I don't remember every game and which points [we had] but everything was perfect when you're just feeling [it] and you start going well, in 2012 we were unbelievable; when every game was tough, we were better - more tough, more better. At that time we showed character and I remember in one moment we were like coming into a game and I felt, as a striker, I know today I am going to win - I cannot explain this. I come into the game and I see the opponents and I think "you're going to lose today", with how much respect they looked at us, how much fear I see in them. I see that in their eyes, they know they are going to lose. This way or that way, easy or they are going to fight, I started to feel that at some point in the season and after that was just automatic. Every game we know that we were going to win.

So, as a team, you're not sure exactly when it was when you starting to think "this is our title"?

At that time I didn't think that we were unbelievable. For us, 'okay this year we are the best, let's take the championship'. I was not thinking that we were so much better than others, just after a few years and looking back at that time, yes we were unbelievable. We were just thinking game by game but now looking back, and [from] watching K League over the last seven years, now I see what we did, how we were good, but I didn't think like that [then], only game by game, game by game.

For you personally, do feel that you were at your absolute best in your entire career?

Now, when I look back, I will put 2010 as the same because that year we won two cups. After that the League Cup was cancelled but we won two cups, we were good that year so I can say 2010 and 2012 but I must say 2012 because that was the finished product. FC Seoul's squad was unbelievable, I think. For me, 2012 was the best season ever. 

You've mentioned him already, the manager Choi Yongsoo, it was his first full season as a manager. To win the league like that, in the manner which you did, what was he like?

Not everyone can handle a big team. It's not only about you coming and having good players. Every player has character, every player has a different opinion, every player thinks different, reacts different, so it's not easy to control players. He's that guy, he knows [how to] work, he was a very good player, unbelievable career. When he came to FC Seoul he recognised this, maybe he recognised himself in me - something like similar character, so he deserved our respect. I'm sure every player had some situation, some issue and he reacted well. He supports us, he was like our father at that time and whatever he said we accepted, we listened. We thought 'Okay, he did that with reason'.

The 2012 league title was Choi Yongsoo's (pictured above) first major honour as a manager. (image via fcseoulpics)
I fought with him a million times in training, [it was] never a problem with him after training. Ever. Because he was that guy and I know that this was for the good cause of the team. He was that guy, he could handle us. He could pick us up and put us in one box - it's not easy. Not only that year but 2012 and 2016 when he made the team again. He put us all together in one basket, believe me it is not easy. You can see how many coaches after tried to do that and it didn't work, in my team and in other teams. He's that guy, he's a coach for big teams. He can handle big teams, big pressure, highly paid players, he was perfect for us. I'm happy that he came that year and he showed how you need to treat us, how you need to coach us and, like I say, 2012 was like the finished product for him.

The anniversary of when you actually sealed the title is 21st November, you did it with a 1-0 win at home to Jeju United, you played the full 90 minutes, can you think back to this game?

Honestly, it was a really bad game. We won 1-0, I remember it was not a nice game. That year we had many games where we scored many goals and made many chances but this game, I remember. It was really tough, we won but I didn't feel as though that day we had won the championship. I felt that much, much sooner. We knew that if we won that day then it was going to be official so we celebrated with the fans but I didn't feel like 2016 when we against Jeonbuk, it was a different feeling. It was that game; now if we win we will be champions. That [2012] was like, this day or next day, next game. I didn't feel the same. We were happy but we knew we were going to be champions, now or next week it's going to be a done deal so that game wasn't that fun or not that good from my point of view but the most important that day was when we officially became champions. I can't even remember that well after the game, just some celebrations on the ground, in the locker room.

We had this kind of team spirit that even with many games we had time to celebrate together, the Korean players and foreign players - we were like one group. We didn't look like Korean or foreign, or young and old, we were a group and we celebrated together and when it didn't go well we had meetings together, not only five players but everyone together. We cannot blame three players or five players, no discount. If there was a problem we fixed it all together. 

There are some players still at the club now from that time and you do still keep in touch with them because I saw you were with them recently, did you share stories about 2012?

Yeah, a lot. I had some dinner with them and I told them about this interview, to remind ourselves of this wonderful season. We were speaking and getting sensitive about it because some of them are now retired, some of them maybe they will retire soon, and my career is coming a little bit towards the end for football, so we got a little bit sensitive because that was an unbelievable time. We enjoyed every day that year. We cannot remember all the things, sometimes somebody is saying something, for example I remember some things that  Ha Daesung didn't, [Kim] Jinkyu remembers something, that I didn't so we try to remind ourselves about this time because it was a nice time. It is going to be written in history, maybe not for that long but these records are really hard to be broken.

To listen to the full interview, including more on who Dejan roomed with in 2012, where he keeps his medals, a quiz about the 2012 title winning season, and much more, tune in via K League United's Patreon page. For as little as $3 a month you can gain access to exclusive interviews such as these as well as many other benefits.

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