Lunch with... Aleksandar Duric
You were not on the Foreign Talent Scheme, but applied to be a citizen on your own. When did you realize you had become a Singaporean?
Well, I was PR before that, for many years. I was playing for Singapore Armed Forces then, and I already had two kids, both of them born here. My best friends were telling me, "Aleks, you should apply for citizenship, we need you here, you can bring something different to our country."
And I was thinking about that, should I apply or not? Because you know, my children were Singaporeans. One day, my boy will serve in the army. So I finally decided I would apply, But I didn't know it would be that hard! I was rejected twice! I got lucky on the third try when I was already 37. I didn't have any help from the Football Association of Singapore.
I just went on my own and to my surprise, just a months later I got a call from Coach Raddy [Radojko Avramovic] asking me to play for the national team.
You made your debut for the National Team at age 37. How did you feel putting on the national shirt for the first time?
I still remember my first training after I received the call-up. We were to play Tajikistan in the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers. I knew all the players, from playing with them and against them in the S-league, everyone was really friendly. But my debut in the National Stadium was pure accident.
Coach Raddy had told me previously, that because I was new to the team, I would be on the bench. I was happy just to be there in the historic stadium in Kallang. And then on the night before the game, out of the blue, Coach Raddy came up to me and said, "Indra [Shahdan] has an injury. I need to put you in to play, can you do it?" Of course I said I could do it!
And you scored both goals in the 2-0 win!
Yes! I was flying! The night before the game, I was so excited, I couldn't sleep.
But the next day, poor Tajikistan, they didn't know what hit them. (Laughs) Here is the man, 37 years old, all over the pitch. I was buzzing because it was my first game! I scored both goals and it took us to the 3rd round for the first time! That's one of the best memories I have.
It is a memory that will stay not just in my head, but in my heart forever.
What is most Singaporean about you?
(Laughs) I speak a lot of Singlish. You see, when I first came here, my English was not great. So most of my English was learnt here. And like everybody else, I like to complain. You know, when I want to buy a car, I ask, "why the COE is so high, why the houses cost so much?"And you know I complain about traffic jams and ERP and worry about primary school admission for my kids.
And my kids, you know, I send them for tuition like everyone else, because I feel pressure like all other parents, I want them to do well in school. I live a normal life like every other Singaporean. I like to hang with my friends, I like to sit in a hawker centre and my favorite drink is actually ice coffee from the market, in accompanying plastic bag.
I like the old-style hanging bag and I remember prices were 70 cents or 80 cents - now it's already $1.30. So I am a normal Singaporean like you, I worry about the rising standard of living.
How do you feel about finally hanging up your boots after 16 seasons in the S-league?
I need to start thinking about what I am going to do now that I am retired. Tomorrow morning when I wake up, I have to look for a job. I have to knock on doors. I am a father of three kids, I have a big family, so I am anxious like anyone would be.
But I know I will continue to work out and run to keep myself fit. I am looking forward to joining some amateur team for weekend games, so we can go for prata and drinks after the game. I am looking forward to that. For many many years, I was a Spartan, always fighting, so it's time for me to relax, to slow down and enjoy the life now.
I didn't have a chance to enjoy my life, I missed out on a lot of fun when I was younger. I have had a lot of hard times and I am looking forward to spending more time with my kids, to watch them grow up, to take them to their football games, their tennis games. It's a simple life. Just a simple life.