Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #318 The changing tides of Aleksandar Duric

With Alex Duric ar the Coffee Bean at the Forum Shopping Mall.
This appears in the Monday, July 9 edition of the Business Mirror.

The changing tides of Aleksandar Duric
by rick olivares

"Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?" 

The lyrics of the Fleetwood Mac classic, ‘Landslide’, are apropos for Aleksandar Duric. “I am old like the song, yeah?” he joked.

Singapore’s great striker sat in a coffee shop along Orchard Road sipping some cappuccino. A few youngsters entered rather noisily chattering about the things that occupy the minds of kids these days. Duric couldn’t help but notice that one wore a shirt of AC Milan while another had the colors of English club Chelsea.

“That’s the problem of kids today,” pointed out Duric. “They have been seduced by the English Premier League, the Serie A and other big leagues of Europe that they do not recognize their own. Since the days of my youth, I have only rooted for one club – Red Star Belgrade.” Duric, who plays for the Tampines Rovers in the S League, pointed out how the internet, video games, and technology have made many Singaporean youth less athletic or interested in sports. The S League which used to be packed with crowds is nowadays lucky to pull a couple of hundred during kickoff.

That evening, Tampines took on Japan’s Albirex Niigata in the second leg of a quarterfinals series of the Singapore Cup. There were a little over 200 fans in the stands. “You hardly see Singapore youth wearing shirts of teams like Geylang, Gombak, Armed Forces…,” he complained pointing out to the stands where some fans wore the colors of Real Madrid and Chelsea as he made his way off to the dugout.

In a few weeks’ time, it will be the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It is a significant date for Aleksandar Duric who competed in the kayak event under the flag of the newly born state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yugoslavia was then disintegrating in a horrific series of wars of secession and Aleksandar Duric, an ethnic Serb who was born in Doboj, Bosnia, chose to represent the country of his birth. It wasn’t a popular decision as Duric’s friends joined the Yugoslav and Serbian armies that laid siege to Bosnia that was once the site of the Winter Olympics.

After the Olympics ended, Duric made another life-changing decision, this time it was to switch from kayak to football. The reason behind the decision was simpler: “There’s a better future for me in football,” Duric said with a smile at a memory long unearthed. “The war in my country scarred so many people myself included. That is why I hate war and politics. They make life more complicated. Sometimes it’s more simple to settle a matter with a ball and your boots.”

It seemed logical that Duric started out as a goalkeeper as he stood at six-foot-four. “But it was boring,” he stated and soon as to move to a field position where he was a defender. His coaches noticed that he had a penchant for scoring goals and he soon moved to a forward position. “The knock on me is I cannot shoot with my right.” But what a powerful left foot! Since 1992, he has scored over 500 goals.

Duric bristles at the criticism that he is nothing more than a highly paid mercenary for Singapore who was naturalized to beef up the country’s national squad. In 1999, after a stint in Australia, Duric’s agent asked if he was interested in playing in Singapore. He had been to this country before but never thought that they had a football scene. Intrigued, Duric briefly suited up for Tanjong Pagar United before returning to Australia. However, he had impressed Singaporeans with his game that he was once more offered another contract. He had enjoyed his brief stay in Southeast Asia and going back wasn’t a difficult decision. This time around, Duric suited up for Home United before moving over to Geylang United for a lengthier spell and where his goal-scoring prowess was on full display. It was during this period where his two children were born in Singapore. He personally sought citizenship for his family but he was twice denied by immigration. “My family loves living in Singapore and the S. League at that time was booming as we played to large crowds,” he recalled. “Making a life here was a no-brainer.”

As he switched clubs to the Singapore Armed Forces in 2007, many wondered why the S. League’s most lethal scorer – and one who had lived there for quite some time already -- couldn’t suit up for the country. “A journalist wrote about my situation and about a few days later, I got a call from immigration that they would finally process my papers,” he chuckled.

Duric never got any favors on Singapore’s national squad even if it was coached by Serbian Radojko Avramovich. “In my first game with the team, I was told that I had to earn my place no matter what I had done in the S League. I was behind two players in the order. A day before Singapore’s World Cup Qualifier against Tajikistan, those two players got injured so I was told that I would start. I scored the match’s two goals to give Singapore the victory. The rest as they say, ‘is history.’”

“I don’t like being called a foreigner,” he pointed out. “Yes, I am from Bosnia but I am also Singaporean. Tell me who isn’t? This is a country built from many cultures Asian and European. There are many immigrants here – Filipino, American, Japanese, Malay, and others. If they look to Singapore to make their life and fortune then how different are they from me?”

Duric admitted that his footballing days are almost done. “But I will give you a scoop. I have not told this to any journalist from Singapore but I will play one more year with Tampines then I am done.” Duric is 40 years old and many of those he played alongside with have retired. He has kept in marvelous shape by eating the right food and staying away from vices. “In football, to be successful, it doesn’t just take hard work and skill but also a little bit of luck. I think you also need a lot of discipline.”

As his great career winds down, just as it was all those years ago in the Balkans, Duric is thinking about his future. In the last few years, he has gone into the logical next stage of his career – coaching.
“Football has been good for me so it is time to give back to the sport. Singapore has been good to my family and I so it’s time to give back as well.”

As Duric entered the Coffee Bean shop at the Forum Shopping Mall along Orchard Road, the baristas greeted him with broad smiles and man hugs. Some of the patrons glanced up. One young Indian lad in the table next to me paused from sipping his cold beverage and exclaimed, “That’s Duric!”

His father looked up from his morning paper and proclaimed, “Yes, and he is one of the world’s best strikers.”

Duric heard it and smiled. “It’s good to be recognized because they know me as a national player. But what about the others who are not on the national team? There are many good players in Singapore. Now, we are thinking of ways to promote the S League. You know, raising its profile. It’s a huge battle and I cannot be alone in this. Others should help.

And once more Aleksandar Duric from Singapore by way of Bosnia, is sailing through the changing tides.


Have another piece this time with Duric's views on Philippine football. Watch for that.

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