Following his move to Singapore back in 1999, Bosnian-born footballer Aleksandar Duric emerged as one of the most recognised figures in the country. He has written a book about his remarkable journey and spent some time with FourFourTwo to discuss a range of issues…
Improve the stadiums, find new investment, even knock down the competition and start all over again – S.League great Aleksandar Duric has a host of ideas to help the national competition.
Duric can speak with authority on the subject, having spent 16 seasons in the S.League with five different clubs and ending his career as the competition’s all-time leading scorer, with 376 goals in 520 appearances.
The 45-year-old has penned a book which charts his extraordinary path from surviving an abusive household as a child, representing war-torn Bosnia in canoeing at the 1992 Olympics and living as a refugee in Sweden and Hungary.
A trial with football club South Melbourne in Australia in 1994 would then completely change the trajectory of his life and ultimately lead to him permanently calling Singapore home.
We start our discussion with the S.League, which will commence its 21st season on February 13. So how does Duric, who retired in 2014, feel the competition is holding up?
“The S.League is an organisation that needs a lot of help,” he begins. “It really needs to be rebuilt and needs a lot of changes.
“I’ve been here since ’99 and I played a lot of years in the S.League and I know that it was a much better league before, with a much bigger fanbase, better marketing and better media coverage.
“The last five, six, seven, eight years it started going down. Every year there are changes. What we really need is stability. If we don’t stop the changes and the rolling clubs, we won’t succeed.
“If we can’t get the stability,we should close down and try to make everything stable before we reopen again, even with a different name.
“Football is all about money now. But we can try harder to make this league better because we know Singapore is a wealthy country with a lot of wealthy companies and a lot of wealthy people.
“We need to convince those people and those companies to come on board and take this competition to a higher level.
“We can do it. I’m confident we can do it, but with the right people.”
People always talk about the (S.League's) past, but we have to move on and talk about the future
A quick look at the history books only reinforces Duric’s point. Of the 20 previous S.League seasons, only 10 times has the competition retained the same number of teams from the previous year.
Just five clubs have competed in every season, while experiments have included inviting teams from France, China, Korea and Malaysia to participate.
Fans often look back longingly to the late 1990s, when the S.League was first launched and enjoyed bumper crowds and widespread coverage. Duric has experienced good and bad times and has identified one key area that could help bring those crowds back.
“I would like to see something new,” he said. “People always talk about the past, but we have to move on and talk about the future.
“The way to improve the football here is simple; we have to improve the condition of the stadiums, so that families and kids enjoy coming to watch the football.
“At the moment, lots of the stadiums aren’t good enough for professional games of football. We need to find a good investor who can help and it starts with beautiful stadiums.“
Read on for Duric's thoughts on Jermaine Pennant and the emotional process of producing his book