x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Man United to Blackpool to free agent, Bojan Djordic speaks his mind

The winger signed for Manchester United at 19, won titles in Serbia and Sweden and has just been released by Blackpool. He tells his story to Andy Mitten.

Djordic in action for Manchester United during pre-season of 2004/05, his last with the club.
Djordic in action for Manchester United during pre-season of 2004/05, his last with the club.

No footballer likes to be substituted, especially before half time, but that is what the smattering of spectators witnessed as Blackpool's reserves took on their Manchester City equivalents on Monday afternoon.

Bojan Djordic, the Blackpool reserve team captain, faced the ignominy after Ian Holloway, his manager, hauled him off. He was not playing badly, but there have been issues between the pair.

An hour later, Djordic was a free agent, with the Championship club issuing a statement that he had left the club by mutual consent and wishing him well for the future. It brought to a close a difficult six months for the former Manchester United man who failed to break into Blackpool's first team. That Holloway signed him last summer was an even bigger surprise.

"The manager accused me of moaning and took me off," said Djordic, 29. "I moan, but in a constructive and not a negative way. Players have to be able to take criticism, it's a man's game. You have to be mentally strong."

Djordic is far brighter than many footballers.

"Sometimes having a brain doesn't do you any favours in football," he said. "As a player you are expected to be quiet and nod your head, that's what 95 per cent of players do. If you're honest and speak out, you get punished for it. I'm guilty of speaking my mind, but I have to live like this to live with myself."

Djordic joined United in 1999 at 17 from Brommapojkarna, a Swedish second division club near his Stockholm home.

A Serb born in Belgrade, his family were in Bosnia's capital Sarajevo when war broke out and, like many Bosnian Serbs, moved to the safe haven of Sweden and took Swedish nationality.

"I was 10 when we left," he said. "Sarajevo is a divided city. My grandparents are still there and the scars of war are everywhere. There's life, but the spirit is different.

"But the people laugh, even though they don't have half as much as we do in Western Europe."

United spotted Djordic playing in the Under 17 European Championships for Sweden against England. Within a year he was named United's Young Player of the Year and presented with the trophy in front of 60,000 at Old Trafford. By 2001, he was being named in United's first team squad on a regular basis.

"I thought I was going to make it," he said. "I needed to otherwise United would eat you up because it's a machine. There was always pressure at United and it was impossible to stay in your comfort zone."

He celebrated scoring a delightful chip against Celtic away in a testimonial match. "Roy Keane [the former United captain] brought me back down to earth, shouting at me to calm down," he said. "I'll be showing my grandkids that goal."

Djordic made his first team debut at Tottenham Hotspur in 2001, his only match."I'm not bitter," he said. " I was given a fair chance at United. Playing with lads like [Ryan] Giggs was an honour. Or watching Scholesy [Paul Scholes] train. He's by far the best I have ever played with."

Djordic was loaned out. "I went to Aarhus, Sheffield Wednesday and Red Star Belgrade," he said over coffee. "I had a full season at Red Star in 2003/04 and we won the double. That was the most memorable loan.

"We did well in the Uefa Cup and Nemanja Vidic was my captain. He was very, very good and we're still friends. He would put his head where you would not put your foot. He always gave 100 per cent whether playing or training, which is not a very Serbian trait. Serbians can be a little lazy."

Vidic would have a future at United, Djordic would not.

"It got to the stage when I knew I had to leave," he said. "I had a chat with [Sir Alex] Ferguson. I said: 'Gaffer, I'm getting a bit older now.' Playing with younger players all the time in the reserves didn't feel like a challenge. You could play at 50 per cent and have a good game. The team I was trying to break into won the treble.

"The gaffer explained that I was not going to be a first XI player. Rangers were interested and he encouraged me to go."

Bojan signed for Glasgow Rangers in 2005. "I made my debut away to Celtic in an Old Firm game," he said. "Luckily I'd played there before for United so I half knew what to expect. It was nice to play every week. Then after five games I tore my groin. I was only on a six-month loan, so Rangers weren't interested in keeping me and I moved to Plymouth Argyle."

Plymouth are currently 92nd of 92 league clubs, but in 2005, they were playing in the second-tier Championship.

""I planned to play a full season and then move back into the Premier League," explains Djordic. "I was 24. I played the first season and did well, but Tony Pulis (current Stoke City manager) took over and he went for a different type of player - usually someone who was 7ft tall and good at corners. So I was mostly sub under him.

"I wasn't enjoying my football and was happy when Holloway came in [to replace Pulis]. Totally the opposite, he is a very funny man. Some people loved him, some loathed him. I liked him.

"I scored three goals in three games for him until West Bromwich Albion's Jonathan Greening broke my cheekbone with an elbow. We went up for a header. I'd played with Jonathan in the reserve side at Old Trafford and he's not a nasty player."

The injury signalled the end of his time at Plymouth, with Holloway saying: "I'm disappointed, because I don't like losing people that I can't get the best out of."

Djordic moved to AIK Stockholm, helping them win the league, and only left after a change of manager in 2010, joining Videoton in Hungary. They also won their league, before he came to Blackpool at the start of this season.

"I thought it would be different with Holloway this time," he said, "but it wasn't. I'm a free agent and looking for a new club. I'm in good shape."

And it's not like he's forgotten.

"People still come up to me and tell me that I was great for them in Championship Manager (the computer game) 10 years ago," he said. "At least I'm remembered for something."

sports@thenational.ae