|Dejan Damjanovic / Korea Times file|
By John Duerden
It would be sad indeed if the K League has seen the last of Dejan Damjanovic. The veteran striker has been released by Suwon Bluewings and is currently without a club but surely not for long. There are plenty in Asia and elsewhere who are interested in this evergreen 38-year-old.
I interviewed the Montenegrin striker shortly after he arrived in South Korea back in 2007. He joined Incheon United, a club that never won anything but was known in its early days for signing players from the Balkan region of Europe. It was obvious that he was a cut above most of the imports. He was a cut above everyone in those days.
There was no suggestion that he would still be in the country 12 years later. At a club that often struggled and did not score many goals, he managed 14 in his first season and was soon snapped up by FC Seoul.
In the capital, he established himself as the best striker in the K League and played a major part in the club becoming champion in 2010 and 2012. He then scored the goals that took Seoul to the final of the 2013 Asian Champions League. Over two legs, Seoul tied 3-3 with Chinese powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande but did not take the trophy as Guangzhou scored twice away from home, compared to Seoul's one.
Also in 2013, he was making a name for himself internationally. In qualification for the 2014 World Cup, he scored home and away against England. Not many K League strikers have scored at the famed Wembley Stadium in London. He also found the target in Ukraine and in Poland, also difficult places for visiting teams.
By this time, he had surely established himself as the best and most consistent foreign player that the K League had ever seen. Ahead of the 2013 Asian final, I asked Guangzhou's famous Italian boss Marcello Lippi about the Seoul striker. "He is intelligent and he is one of those strikers who can always find space in the area," the 2006 World Cup winning coach replied. "If we want to defeat Seoul then we have to watch him. If you lose concentration for a moment then he can punish you."
He impressed so much that he attracted the interest of ambitious Chinese club Jiangsu Sainty. The Nanjing club paid close to $5 million for his services. It was good business for Seoul: the club got six great seasons out of the player and also made a profit of around $4 million.
He looked good in Nanjing but was bought by Beijing Guoan six months later in the summer of 2014 and enjoyed a successful season and a half in the Chinese capital before returning to Seoul for the start of the 2016 season. Older, wiser and a little slower now, Damjanovic still knew how to score and 32 more league goals came in the following two seasons, with the title coming in 2016.
Despite his 19 goals in the 2017 season, Seoul decided not to renew his contract and Damjanovic went to bitter rival Suwon. There were two more prolific seasons, more goals in the Champions League to take his total in that tournament to 37. Only Lee Dong-gook has scored more goals in the continental competition.
Damjanovic has a will to win and a level of professionalism that also rubbed off on colleagues. For years at Seoul World Cup Stadium, there was a banner that read "Dejan Minguk" and that sums it all up.
If he is to say goodbye to the country and league he loves, then he deserves a mighty send-off.