Biljana Obradovic caught up with former Partizan players Aleksandar Mitrovic during international break while he was in Belgrade on international duty with Serbian national team. Mitrovic scored in both Montenegro and Lithuania League of Nations wins.
To start with, Fulham forward was shown photos from his Partizan days.
– Oh, yes. I remember each and every game. This one was against Jagodina and this one was my first Eternal derby and I scored early in the game. That was the best moment of my career so far. I remember every game and each goal I scored for Partizan, said Mitrovic.
Those were the best days of my career. You can`t buy that feeling – when you get out of the tunnel, see all the fans, score a goal…That stays with you for life. I enjoyed, it wasn`t just about money. You are on the pitch and you live your childhood dream. All my family are huge Partizan fans – late grandfather and uncle, my father…I hope I`ll live through that experience again, to play for Partizan and just enjoy in football game.
Sometimes I feel so nostalgic when I watch Partizan play, memories keep coming…It`s something love, something that money can`t buy. No amount can buy it. All kids who graduated from Partizan youths know what I`m talking about.
Mitrovic arrived to Partizan as a 9-year-old. He would travel from his hometown of Smederevo to Belgrade every day to train with other Partizan youths. His parents were crucial during those tough days.
– Those moments made me stronger, my parents build that persistence in me, I was never giving up. I still hear my father`s words in my head “There`s always sun after the rain”. I`m not sure how I would react today if someone told me I had to travel from Smederevo to Belgrade to train. Every football player has a story to tell, there are some tough moments there but I was lucky to have my family`s support. They were always pushing me forward telling me I have to train more than the other kids.
From Partizan, Mitrovic signed to Anderlecht followed by a move to Newcastle United.
– Anderlecht is not as big club as Partizan is. Here, if you lose a single game, it`s a shock, chaos. It was not a big deal if you lose with Anderlecht. It`s such a great pressure in Partizan and all Partizan opponents would try to play to the best of their abilities against you. That`s why Partizan is the biggest club around. It`s not the same playing for Partizan or some other club.
A move form Newcastle to Fulham followed while return to Anderlecht and Bordeaux signature were also on cards.
– I was so lost at the time. I said to myself – if I don`t make a move somewhere, I`ll return to Serbia and I`m not going to play for the next six months. Those were my real thoughts. I lost it. Partizan also phoned me and I wanted to come back but that was never going to happen due to amount of money involved. It was not about my wages but Newcastle asked for couple of millions to loan me out.
Mitrovic was close to move to Bordeaux and Anderlecht option came up too. But, he was on line with Fulham Manager Slavisa Jokanovic as well.
– I took a flight to Brussels with my father and brother and we spent some 18 hours there. Documents were ready, journalists were there as well, a woman from the club…I entered training centre to meet everybody but the club director says to me “ We have a problem. We were supposed to sell our forward but we didn`t and now we have no money to make a deal”. We phone Newcastle but they were not ready to wait for a subsequent payment and they told me they agreed my move to MIddlesbrough. I was not to happy with that but at least I would play more there. I was looking through my phone and I see Jokanovic`s name. I send him a message saying “Hey boss, what`s going on?”. He replied saying he heard there was something wrong going on with my move and I told him to ask Fulham executives if they want to pay for my transfer.
So, Fulham wanted to sign but I need to do my medical and I was in Brussels and Anderlecht doctor looked through every bone of mine. I never seen so many documents in my life. They sent it all to Fulham and after their doctor checked it all up I was ok to move. It was 23.30h, half an hour before transfer deadline. I couldn`t sleep until 5am.
He`s early football icons were Alan Shearer and Didier Drogba. But, there`s one more name popping up.
– I always liked to watch Shearer and Drogba play, especially before my games would kick-off. I have to mention Sasa Ilic too, he was truly my idol and someone I looked up to. He was an icon for 90% of the kids at the time. A wonderful person. As long as he is part of Partizan, the club will move forward.
Mitrovic is well-known for his trademark haircuts and tattoos.
– That`s behind me now. When I was younger I knew what I wanted to wear or what kind of haircut I wanted each and every day. I wanted to change my haircut every weekend. But, that`s the thing of the past now.
He once said he would like to be a chef. But, how about being a football boss?
– I`m all about playing now. When you are a player you only think about yourself. As a coach, you think about 22 or 23 players – did he sleep well, is he tired, does his leg hurts…
If you were a football boss today, what would happen if a 14-year-old Mitrovic showed up?
– (laughs). I would be patient. I would use experiences I had with my coaches to show him the right path, I would be full of understanding. Although, it would be a hard job (laughs).