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Dejan Savicevic – bona fide cult legend

Dejan “The Genius” Savicevic was one of the best Montenegrin footballers of all time, famous for the cheeky lob against Barcelona in the Champions League final. Although he won two European champion titles with Red Star and Milan, Dejan Savicevic is not as distinguished today as he was during his playing career, especially when compared with such luminaries as Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, or Marcel Desailly, all of which were his fellow teammates in Milan.

Savicevic was undeniably an attractive player, the crowd adored him for his amazing technique and pace. However, his lack of discipline caused numerous feuds with teammates and coaches, perhaps most notably with former coach Fabio Capello. An impressive career trophy heavy career, the Montenegrin seemingly ran out of time to prove himself, probably the biggest reason why his legacy seems underwhelming today.

Ill Disciplined

“The Genius” is remembered fondly as a highly technical footballer, who didn’t like to train properly and lacked discipline. It is interesting that “Il Genio” dismisses those rumours, claiming that he wouldn’t have been an active footballer until the age of 35 if he was lazy, and he most certainly wouldn’t have played in AC Milan for six seasons if he was undisciplined.

That is probably true, but Dejan’s feuds with his coaches and teammates were so anthological that his reputation is well-deserved.

One of those conflicts happened at the beginning of his career when he was still playing for Montenegrin Buducnost. During his first professional season, 1985/86, when he was only 19, Savicevic struggled to find his form and his club barely avoided relegation.

In season’s finish, when it seemed that Buducnost wouldn’t be able to stay up, Dejan Savicevic was suspended over an argument with Zoran Vorotovic.

Vorotovic was one of the oldest players in Buducnost, who played over 300 matches for the club. His coach had reportedly said that Savicevic didn’t respect his older teammates nor his coach, and that he had had enough of that “mediocre player”. If Buducnost hadn’t sacked their coach during the summer of 1986, Dejan Savicevic probably wouldn’t have played a major role in European football during the early nineties.

His most famous confrontation came in 1992, before the Champions League match between Milan and Anderlecht. At the time, clubs were allowed to have only three foreign players on the pitch, but Milan had six of them under contract that season.

Apart from Savicevic, Zvonimir Boban, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Jean-Pierre Papin and Marco van Basten were playing for Milan during 1992/93 season and it is easy to see why Savicevic had difficulties breaking into the match squad.

Savicevic v Capello

Before the above-mentioned match, Savicevic realized that he would be travelling to Brussels, but only as a reserve player. He told Fabio Capello that he had no intention of going to Brussels unless Capello guaranteed that Savicevic would be in the starting lineup.

Capello couldn’t believe his ears – that was the most audacious request he ever heard from any player.

After a heated argument, Savicevic got into his car, telling no one where he was going off to, and disappeared for the next couple of days.

He was one of Silvio Berlusconi’s favourite players in Milan, however, and the club president’s appreciation played a vital role in saving Savicevic’s job. In the next couple of seasons, with Gullit and van Basten gone, Savicevic had more playing time and he was more productive.

On the other hand, he and Capello never saw eye-to-eye during Savicevic’s playing career, although they are good friends now. Il Genio had similar issues with Yugoslav national team coach Ivica Osim, who preferred more experienced players over him.

Another anecdote from his time in Milano was related to their training sessions. Dejan Savicevic was not a fan of gym workouts and preferred to spend his time training with the ball instead. When he was interviewed by a Montenegrin journalist, he had reportedly said that he didn’t need the gym workouts.

He later explained that by saying he was only joking, but the damage was already done and the reputation of being a lazy, arrogant player followed him throughout his career.

His attitude towards football (he confessed that he liked dribbling more than scoring or assisting), as well as his low work rate, irritated Fabio Capello, which was why he preferred other players over him.

However, Dejan Savicevic will always be remembered as the player whose magical strike got the legendary Barcelona goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta fired; for his speed and dribbling technique reminiscent of the Brazilian footballers, and he will always remain The Genius for the fans of AC Milan and Red Star.

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