Lunch with... Aleksandar Duric

FFT's Lim Weixiang spent lunch with S.League legend Aleksander Duric, just hours before the curtain fell on his distinguished career.

I meet up with "Aleks" at the Coffee Bean on Jalan Mambong in Holland Village, just hours before his last professional game in the S-League. He was there early ahead of our scheduled 1pm lunch appointment. The first thing he does is apologise to me, for missing our two previous arrangements. "I am so sorry for missing you so many times, it's just been a crazy crazy week."

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Apologies accepted. And an easy decision really, for a man about to retire after giving so much to Singapore football, and asking for so little in return.  I ask if I can get him something for lunch. He is reluctant. "I don't really eat much for lunch on game days. I have a good breakfast, and I have maybe a few slices of bread throughout the day, that's all. I cannot eat too much, if not I won't be able to perform." He explains. On my insistence, he agrees to have a tuna sandwich. "But we can share," he says. Every bit the model professional, even on the last day of his career.

What are your favorite local dishes?

I have so many. Prata has to be the top, but I only eat that once in a while. I love the chicken rice from Ghim Moh market as well. But I always have to limit myself. You know, I have been a fitness freak for the last thirty years. I don't drink, I don't smoke. Even my wife thinks I am too extreme. But fitness, it's very important for me.

What is the secret to your longevity as a player?

In everything I do, I want to be best. Even in training, I give my best, no different from a game. When I play two sides or in a friendly, I want to win. There's no difference to how I train, whether I was 27, 37 or now 44. I eat exactly the same, I sleep exactly the same, and I am still excited like a small child on game day.

I love the feeling when we step out onto the field. Football is in my blood. That's the life for me. And that's why I have been able to keep going for so many years.

You are 44 now, and still fitter than most men half your age. How do you keep yourself in such good shape?

I make sure I get enough sleep. I sleep very early. By 9.30 or 10pm, I am sleeping. I wake up at 5.30, 6am.  If I have no training in the morning, I like to run, I will go for a run, 10km-15km, and I try to hit the gym twice a week - hard gym training. I really like to torture my body. It's as simple as that. I do that.

It's a football life. If I don't train properly, somebody else will play well and make me look bad. I was an Olympian at a very young age [for Bosnia-Herzegovina at the 1992 Summer Olympics] in Kayaking.  Kayaking is an individual sport and I had to defend myself and train on my own. The experience taught me the importance of training hard and looking after myself. That attitude helped me a lot later in life when I was playing professional football. I started very late. I was 21 when I became a professional footballer.

I could have started earlier, but just like in Singapore, I went on to serve in the Bosnian army and after that, war came. I had to leave the country and fight for my life. I didn't have any money, a place to stay, I was on my own. It was a difficult period.

That's why it took me such a long time to find a club. I started late but I picked up very easily because I was fit and determined to prove that I deserved a contract. I always believe in hard work. I never believe in luck. 'Luck' is the result of hard work. My motto for life is: How much hard work you put in is how much luck you will get.