Dejan Antonic – World Youth Championship Winner turns Coach
Although Indonesian football is kept in the cold by the FIFA ban, there is a football coach who refused to leave the country. Head Coach of Persib Bandung, Dejan Antonic, also the former Head Coach
Although Indonesian football is kept in the cold by the FIFA ban, there is a football coach who refused to leave the country. Head Coach of Persib Bandung, Dejan Antonic, also the former Head Coach of Hong Kong’s Kitchee SC and FIFA World Youth Championship winner shares his stories with Junpiter Futbol in Indonesia.
JPF: Knowing Indonesian football is currently in the wildness, what makes you continue to stay in the country?
DA: This country holds a special place in my heart as I have played here in the League from 1995 to 1998 and now I am here coaching for the past few years. I know everyone wants to leave the country due to the instability of the League but I feel like I will be betraying the football here if I am going to leave as well. Honestly, I have overseas offers but I have decided to stay back, hopefully I can do my part in lifting Indonesian football up again.
JPF: You have been in Indonesia for so many years and have also enjoyed successes in the country. Able to share with us how’s the football scene in Indonesia in terms of its infrastructure & players developments?
DA: Most of the stadiums in Indonesia are fantastic. The biggest problem here is the lack of facility for training or football camp. In this country, there are lots of lands but somehow there is no proper training facility in place to house the young players. Having said that, Persib noticed the importance of what has been missed out and already had a big plan – building of a Sports Centre with 2 artificial pitches, a gymnasium and a restaurant starting later part of this year. This is really a good example for all the clubs in Indonesia. And with more of these Sport Centre coming up, I am very sure that the football in Indonesia will be growing very fast.
JPF: How has the FIFA ban affecting the football in the country?
DA: It’s very bad. It’s not just affecting the coaches and players, the ban is affecting all the people involving in the football scene like the fans, the people who are selling the shirts, the food and many more. We really need to fix this problem as soon as possible just to restart everybody’s livelihood in Indonesia.
JPF: Beside coaching in Indonesia, you have also coached (Kitchee) in the Hong Kong Premier League, at one point of your career; you also took charged of Hong Kong National Team. Please share with us your coaching philosophy.
DA: Personally, I have learnt a lot as a coach in both countries as both countries offer me a totally different experience. Indonesian football is more aggressive and fast and the people here are crazy over football. You can easily see 25,000 – 70,000 crowd at the stadiums. In Hong Kong, we do not have that kind of crowd, probably only a few thousands at most. But technically, Hong Kong players are much stronger than the Indonesians. Training wise, I always demand nothing short of 100% from my players as I believe how they perform at training will be a direct reflection of how they are to perform during match day. My biggest achievement as a coach are the trust, friendship and respect which I have forged and earned from the players. You can’t buy that and I thank God that I have earned that maximum respect as a coach.
JPF: You have spent many years with Kitchee as an outfield player, gradually as the Head Coach, tell us more about your Kitchee days.
DA: I have been playing for Kitchee and also captained the team from 1999 to 2002. The following year, I moved on to Indonesian league and eventually retired in 2003. After which, I contacted my good friend, President of Kitchee, Mr. Ken Ng and we reunited in Hong Kong. Together with him, we revamped the club, had the name of the club changed, started building the small team from the scratch & engaged coaches from Spain. Effort paid off, we won 2 trophies in our first season! Nobody believed we could do that but we did not just stop there, we won trophies again in the next season! Those years of building up the team from 2005 were tough and i’m glad that I am part of it. We worked really hard and I am grateful for the confidence and support which Mr. Ken had given me. (JPF: Your best moment?) If you are referring to my playing days, of course it will be winning lots of trophies. But if you are asking me as a coach well it has to be the satisfaction of seeing your own players, for example Ka Wai (Lam), Kwan Yee (Lo) and Gao Wen just to name a few, moving up the rank and representing the country on the international stage. Now they have all become big stars.
JPF: Tell us more about your FIFA World Youth Championship in Chile, 1987.
DA: Although Serbia won the Championship last year too, the team which I was in back in 1987 was really the Golden Generation. Then, we had players like Igor Stimac, Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki, Predrag Mijatovic and Davor Suker. I was one of the younger players in the squad. Nobody believed that we would even get past our group games but you know what, we were extremely ambitious and we wanted to prove everyone wrong. Our team trained tirelessly for 4 years before we went for the tournament. Eventually, we beat Germany in the Final to lift the Cup.
JPF: You used to play for one of the top Eastern Europe clubs, Red Star Belgrade for a long time but why the move to Asia?
DA: Yes, I was with Red Star for a long time and we even won the UEFA Champions League and Intercontinental Cup in 1991. After spending near 7 years with Red Star, I went on to play in Belgian League with Beveren. 2 years into my 4 years contract with the Belgian team, the war started and we had difficulties in getting our working permit. Hence, many of our players started moving out of Europe to Japan, Republic of Korea and even Malaysia. (JPF: So why Indonesia for you?) The agent of one of my good friends, former AC Milan’s Dejan Savicevic told me about Indonesia. He said there was a fantastic league in Southeast Asia which not many people knew about and he recommended me to go and give it a try. The moment I arrived in Surabaya, I fell in love with the country and its football. Then of course, gradually I met my wife, an Indonesian and I settled down.
JPF: In this modern days of football, which type of characteristic in a player do you look out for?
DA: I like hardworking players. Even when I was young, my dad who was also a former National Team player, used to tell me that hard work is the only way to success. So I like players who work hard, and having said that it’s not just working hard for himself but for the team. If I have 11 star players who just want to play for themselves, it’s pointless.
JPF: We are from Singapore, how much do you know about Singapore football or S.League?
DA: I know a lot about Singapore! Haha! I have many good friends playing in Singapore and you know at one point, I almost sign for Home United in 1999! I was there in Singapore but both the club and myself couldn’t reach an agreement so I moved on to Hong Kong instead. I also know one of my good friends, Radojko (Raddy) Avramovic did well for the Singapore National Team too. Personally, I like Singapore a lot, it’s just like an European town, but you never know, maybe I will have an opportunity to work in Singapore in the near future.
JPF: Message for Coaches & young players?
DA: For coaches, work towards a direction where there is trust between you and the player. Let them believe in you to lead them to where they want their football career to be. Time is important for the young players. Do not push them, do not rush them, give them time to adapt and grow. For Singapore football in particular, Singapore does produced good player along the way all these while so keep it up. For young players, you have to be disciplined. You have to follow and learn from the senior players. Most importantly, you must work hard.