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Dejan Savi?evi?
Dejan Savi?evi?.jpg
Dejan Savi?evi? in 2007
Personal information
Full name Dejan Savi?evi?
Date of birth (1966-09-15) 15 September 1966 (age 54)
Place of birth Titograd, SR Montenegro, Yugoslavia
Height 1.82 m (5 ft  in)
Playing position(s) Attacking midfielder / Winger
Youth career
1981-1983 OFK Titograd
1983-1984 Budu?nost Titograd
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1983-1988 Budu?nost Titograd 130 (36)
1988-1992 Red Star Belgrade 72 (23)
1992-1998 Milan 97 (21)
1999 Red Star Belgrade 3 (0)
1999-2001 Rapid Wien 44 (18)
Total 346 (98)
National team
1986-1999 Yugoslavia[1] 56 (19)
Teams managed
2001-2003 Serbia and Montenegro
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Dejan Savi?evi? (Serbian Cyrillic: , pronounced [d?jan sa:t?e?it?]; born 15 September 1966) is a Montenegrin former footballer who played as an attacking midfielder. Since 2004, he has been the president of the Montenegrin Football Association (FSCG);[2] currently in his fifth term at the post.

After beginning his career with Budu?nost Titograd, Savi?evi? moved to Red Star Belgrade, and was a part of the team that won the 1990-91 European Cup, before joining Italian club A.C. Milan in 1992. With Milan, he won three Serie A titles and the 1993-94 UEFA Champions League, among other trophies. He later returned to Red Star for half a season in 1999, before ending his career with Rapid Wien in 2001. At the international level, he represented Yugoslavia at the 1990 and 1998 FIFA World Cups and, after his retirement from playing, coached the Serbia and Montenegro national team between 2001 and 2003. Following an illustrious professional playing career that lasted 18 seasons, as well as a short and unsuccessful head coaching stint during the early 2000s, he has turned to administrative matters - becoming, during the summer of 2004, the president of the Montenegrin FA.

Early life

Born to father Vladimir Savi?evi?, an employee of the state-owned Titograd railway transport company, and mother Vojislava "Vojka" ?urovi?, an administrative clerk in the same company,[3] Dejan grew up with a younger brother Goran in the family's apartment located in Titograd's Dra? neighbourhood near the Titograd railway station.[4]

From early adolescence, he took up street football as an activity with neighbourhood friends, playing on outdoor surfaces in the vicinity of his apartment building.[5]

Club career

Early years

Savi?evi? began playing structured association football during summer 1981 in the youth teams of OFK Titograd under youth team coach Vaso Ivanovi?. Two years prior, in 1979, he had gone through a short three-month episode at FK Budu?nost's youth system, which he quit as soon as his youth coach got transferred to the first team.

Almost fifteen-years-of-age at the time of joining OFK Titograd -- considered fairly late to be starting out by professional football standards -- his only continual prior involvement with competitive football revolved around outdoor concrete and clay surface futsal tournaments, which he continued to participate in even in parallel to playing with OFK. Due to the popularity of this five-a-side "scaled-down football" in Titograd at the time (known as "mali fudbal" throughout the Balkans), many tournaments of semi-formal character were organized in and around town. Barely a teenager at this point, Savi?evi? played for an informal team that consisted of men from his street and was named Tehnohemija after the entire block of apartment buildings in the neighoubourhood where they lived. More than able to hold his own with and against men much older than him, the youngster quickly marked himself out as a skilled player with great ball control and good overall technical ability. During this time, Savi?evi? often played with and against a neighbourhood friend three years his senior, ?eljko Ga?i?, who would go on to become widely recognized as the best futsal player in Montenegro and among the best in SFR Yugoslavia.[5][6]

During his year and a half at OFK Titograd, young Savi?evi? occasionally made appearances with the full squad, but mostly played in the youth setup. In January 1983 at the age of sixteen, he transferred across town to the more established top-tier league club FK Budu?nost on the insistence of their head coach Milutin Foli?.

FK Budu?nost

Teenage Savi?evi? played at Budu?nost's youth setup from January 1983 until summer 1984, a period during which he recorded a few substitute appearances for the full squad as well. The club signed him to a 4-year scholarship-based agreement (stipendija), which was not a professional contract. Furthermore, he had been receiving regular call-ups to the Yugoslavia national under-20 football team as well as SR Montenegro youth select team (alongside future notable professionals such as Bo?idar Bandovi? and Refik ?abanad?ovi?) that competed at annual tournaments against other Yugoslav republics' select squads.

On 5 October 1983, week 10 of the league season, head coach Foli? gave the seventeen-year-old his first full-squad starting appearance at home versus Red Star Belgrade and the youngster ended up scoring on a put-back that he chased down ahead of Red Star's defender Zoran Bankovi? and its goalkeeper Tomislav Ivkovi?. Savi?evi?'s first-ever top-flight goal ended up being the winning one as Budu?nost recorded a famous 1-0 league victory over the heavily favoured Belgrade visitors.

1984-85 season: regular playing time

In summer 1984, in preparation for the upcoming 1984-85 league season, newly arrived head coach Josip Duvan?i? made seventeen-year-old Savi?evi? a full squad member at the expense of the thirty-two-year-old club legend Ante Miro?evi? who was essentially incentivized to retire by being given a position on the club's coaching staff. The season turned out to be a disaster as the club barely avoided relegation while Duvan?i? got sacked after only six months at the helm. However, for Savi?evi? personally, the campaign marked a bit of breakthrough as he recorded 29 league appearances, scoring 6 goals.

1985-86 season: professional contract

During the summer 1985 transfer window, soon to be nineteen-year-old Savi?evi? looked to leave the club in search of a professional contract. To that end, he went to Red Star Belgrade on his own initiative and got to the club's technical director Dragan D?aji? who in turn had former referee Konstantin Ze?evi? look at Savi?evi?'s scholarship agreement with Budu?nost with a view of examining the legal basis for a possible transfer.[7] Ze?evi? reportedly determined that in order to transfer to Red Star at this time, despite not being under a professional contract with Budu?nost, Savi?evi? would still require Budu?nost's permission, which the Titograd club was extremely unlikely to give. Another option was for Red Star to financially compensate Budu?nost in order to let the player go, however, the Belgrade club was not sufficiently interested in Savi?evi? at this particular time to do that. As a parting bit of career advice on this occasion, D?aji? reportedly counseled Savi?evi? not to sign a professional contract with Budu?nost at all and then come to Red Star in 1987 once his scholarship agreement expires.

Wanting the security of a professional contract, Savi?evi? continued pursuing it, going straight to Nik?i? the same summer and getting a verbal agreement with FK Sutjeska that seemed ready to pay a large sum to Budu?nost in order to have the talented youngster. However, the move soon fell through and Savi?evi? was back home at Budu?nost where he got offered a 4-year professional contract, which he decided to accept.[7] Talking about his thought process at this time, Savi?evi? said several years later:

I didn't take D?aji?'s advice because I was afraid that had I rejected Budu?nost's offer of a professional contract they would purposely undermine me as revenge. You know, things like leaving me on the bench, which would lead to a loss of form and then even Red Star wouldn't be interested anymore. A footballer's job is uncertain. Any number of things can end your career. Having this professional contract was at least a little bit of security.[7]

In addition to the YUD35-40 million monthly salary, among the provisions of his contract there was an agreement that if Budu?nost doesn't provide him with a two-bedroom apartment by summer 1987, the contract is void.

The season, Savi?evi?'s first as a professional footballer, was marked by another desperate struggle to stay up until the very last week. Budu?nost managed to avoid relegation again amid a huge league-wide match-fixing scandal that erupted. For Savi?evi? personally, despite good numbers, 10 goals in 32 league matches, the season was one of stagnation and antagonism as he butted heads with the club's management and head coach Spasojevi? on a regular basis, even losing his starting spot and getting suspended over a row with teammate Zoran Vorotovi? towards the end of the league campaign.

1986-87 season: renaissance under ?ivadinovi?

Ahead of the 1986-87 season, head coach Milan ?ivadinovi? took over the reins and the team started off very well, continually keeping pace by staying in the top 3 as the season unfolded. Among the notable results Budu?nost posted during this run of form was beating Hajduk 1-2 away at their Poljud Stadium as well as winning over Red Star Belgrade by the same score at their ground Marakana.

Savi?evi? truly came into his own, becoming the team's focal point. The success led to the increased spotlight, resulting in the talented midfielder getting his first cap for the national side in October 1986 against Turkey. Two months later, in December, he got voted the league's "breakthrough player of the season".[7] He furthermore placed high in the 1986 Yugoslav Player of the Year choice by the Tempo magazine -- the top prize went to Red Star's sweeper Marko Elsner while Vele?'s Semir Tuce, Savi?evi?, and ?eljezni?ar's Haris ?koro placed just behind.[8] Yugoslav press couldn't get enough of outspoken Savi?evi? with numerous print interviews and electronic media appearances. Asked in February 1987 how he envisions his football career, the twenty-year-old said:

First of all, I don't want to do something stupid and end up like poor Miralem Zjajo. I'm fully conscious of the fact that leaving your natural setting too early can mess up a young player's career. You know, I remember Bo?idar Bandovi?. He was perhaps a better player than I am right now. He went to Red Star and became a bust there. Then he began globetrotting all over before settling in indoor football in the United States. I mean, kudos to him for all the dollars he's making, but at the end of the day it's indoor football. I want to play the "outdoor" one. So, for me to leave just for the sake of leaving and then become a bust, that wouldn't be good. My natural setting is Titograd, and then Yugoslavia. Only once I outgrow that will I go further. Money is still not my main motivation. The game itself is. To have the fans admire me and give me adulation. To cheer for me. That's still not out of my system, I still like that applause noise when I pull off a good dribble and score.... You know, the way I see it, Milko ?urovski is the best player in Yugoslavia right now, but what good is that if he doesn't have a platform to show it to the world. Last season he didn't even play half of Red Star's league matches and then in the summer he transferred to Partizan thereby giving up a chance to play European competition. The seasons are coming and going and he's not being showcased. D'you know what I mean, what good is it if he's the best? On the other hand, players that are a lot more modest in talent and ability compared to him like Marko Elsner and Milan Jankovi? are constantly on the big stage either through the national team or through Red Star's games in the European Cup. So what's better I wonder? To be a talent and the best player no one sees or to be prudent and make sure I always play on the right stage even if I'm not the best. I read somewhere that Velibor Vasovi? is the most successful Yugoslav footballer of all time in terms of the silverware he's won. Not ?ekularac, not D?aji?, not Bobek -- but Vasovi?. I'm a practical pragmatist and I'd prefer to have Vasovi?'s fate over ?ekularac's fate. This is why I'm still pondering my next move.[9]

In the second half of the domestic campaign, Budu?nost ran out of steam, eventually finishing in 7th spot, but Savi?evi? further solidified his play-making and goalscoring credentials as it became clear he would soon be making the move to a bigger club.

1987-88 season: weighing offers from big Yugoslav clubs

By the 1987-88 season, bigger Yugoslav teams such as Red Star Belgrade and FK Partizan began expressing strong interest in the Montenegrin's services. The twenty-one-year-old became the most sought after commodity in Yugoslav football so his entire league season at Budu?nost was marked by the chase for his signature. Budu?nost was reportedly more inclined on selling him to Partizan, however by January 1988 he reached a verbal agreement with Red Star's representatives Milo? Slijep?evi?, Nastadin Begovi?, Dragan D?aji?, and Vladimir Cvetkovi? about transferring to the club because their offer was "direct and financially more concrete than Partizan's".[3]

Simultaneously, despite putting in another confident season under new head coach ?paco Poklepovi?, Savi?evi? butted heads with the Budu?nost management resulting in the player not being taken to winter training with the rest of the team during the winter break. In late March 1988, Hajduk Split also joined the chase for his signature and, according to Savi?evi?'s claims, offered the largest sum of money of the three, but the player still decided to honor his agreement with Red Star. It was precisely against Hajduk -- which struggled mightily throughout the entire league season -- on 15 May 1988 that Savi?evi? played one of his last matches in the Budu?nost shirt, scoring twice away at Poljud for a memorable 1-2 come-from-behind win.

Red Star Belgrade

On 20 June 1988, the first day of the summer transfer window, Savi?evi? went to Belgrade and signed with league champions Red Star Belgrade.[3] The young creative midfielder thus joined the squad led by twenty-three-year-old attacking midfielder Dragan Stojkovi? who had already established himself as the team leader. They additionally had supremely talented nineteen-year-old midfielder Robert Prosine?ki as well as a potent up-and-coming all around squad.

1988-89 season: in the army

Barely a few days after signing with Red Star Belgrade, twenty-one-year-old Savi?evi? promptly got called in to serve the mandatory Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) stint that would keep him out of action for the entire 1988-89 league season. Also signing with Red Star on the same day was Darko Pan?ev, a twenty-two-year-old natural striker with great goalscoring pedigree from Vardar Skopje, who also got called up to the army right after signing[]. There was much speculation at the time that the timing of the call-ups was FK Partizan's (Yugoslav army club with many ties to top military authorities) revenge to both players for signing with their biggest rivals. Right after reporting to the military, Savi?evi? got transferred to the barracks in Skopje with an agreement that he'll be allowed to turn up for Red Star's European ties and national team matches. In order to help him maintain his conditioning, Red Star dispatched its trainer and youth team coach Vojkan Meli? to Skopje in order to work with Savi?evi? individually by putting him through daily training regiment.

Savi?evi?, officially a serving soldier at the time in the city of Skopje, made his competitive debut for Red Star during September 1988 in the European Cup first-round clash versus Irish champion Dundalk FC, scoring his first goal in the new uniform during the 3-0 return leg rout. Six weeks later, Savi?evi? re-appeared in the epic second-round tie against A.C. Milan played over three matches in late October and early November 1988. He played a prominent part in the first leg at San Siro as Red Star played to a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Dragan Stojkovi? scoring the valuable away goal. The return leg in Belgrade was even more eventful as Savi?evi? had his team up 1-0 with an excellent strike, but German referee Dieter Pauly stopped and voided the match because of thick fog that engulfed the city. The second leg replay was played the very next day, resulting again in 1-1 scoreline, taking the match to penalties where the Italians came up on top 2-4 as Savi?evi? and Mitar Mrkela failed to convert their spot-kicks.

In the meantime, Yugoslav FA president Miljan Miljani? was successful in his lobbying efforts with the JNA chief of staff Veljko Kadijevi? to create the so-called "sporting company" (sportska ?eta) within a Belgrade-based First Army battalion thereby allowing young professional footballers to serve their army stint together while also providing them the conditions to continue with their sporting regiment. After five months of serving in SR Macedonia, in late fall 1988, Savi?evi? thus got transferred back to the nearby Top?ider barracks in Belgrade. Other recruits in the sporting company at the time were also professional footballers: Savi?evi?'s Red Star teammate Pan?ev, Zvonimir Boban from Dinamo Zagreb, Fadil Vokri from Partizan, Aljo?a Asanovi? from Hajduk Split, etc.

Describing his time in the JNA's sporting company, Savi?evi? said: "The players all served in Belgrade, which in and of itself was a perk since it meant we weren't in some godforsaken remote location. Furthermore, we only spent time in the barracks in the morning while in the afternoon we'd be at the stadium training. We were certainly privileged compared to other JNA soldiers".[3]

Midway through the season, head coach Branko Stankovi? was let go and Dragoslav ?ekularac was brought in as replacement. The change suited Savi?evi? just fine as he and another key player Dragan Stojkovi? never saw eye to eye with Stankovi?.

1989-90 season

Savi?evi?'s first season in earnest with Red Star was 1989-90.

Savi?evi? helped Red Star win three consecutive national titles - in 1989-90, 1990-91 and 1991-92, two national Cups in 1990 and 1992 as well as a European Cup and an Intercontinental Cup, both in 1991.

In 1991, following Red Star's European success, Savi?evi? came joint second in the voting for the European Footballer of the Year (Ballon d'Or). In choice of newspaper Sport, he was declared the best athlete of Yugoslavia.

A.C. Milan

Savi?evi?'s tremendous close control and vision convinced Serie A champions A.C. Milan to secure his services for the reported DM30 million[10] (? £9.4 million) ahead of the 1992-93 season as part of the £34 million worth of transfer fees Silvio Berlusconi injected into the team that summer. Also arriving to an already star-laden squad during the same transfer window were the world-class players Jean-Pierre Papin (world record signing at that moment for £10 million if only for a few weeks until Juve bought Gianluca Vialli from Sampdoria for £12 million), Zvonimir Boban, Gianluigi Lentini (another Berlusconi's world record signing for £13 million), and Stefano Eranio.

1992-93 season: struggling for playing time under Capello

Dejan was thus handed the opportunity to demonstrate his abilities in what was at the time the financial centre of European club football - a league where the world's best footballers played. His Serie A debut took place away at Pescara on 13 September 1992, two days before his 26th birthday. Milan won 4-5 that day at the Stadio Adriatico.

However, his first season for the Rossoneri under head coach Fabio Capello turned out to be a rather modest affair that saw him feature in only 10 league matches, contributing four goals to Milan's successful title defence. As Savi?evi? was seen as Berlusconi's rather than Capello's signing, the head coach overlooked him during the majority of the first half of the season. The all-star Milan squad already had a creative attacking presence in the highly influential Marco van Basten who, when healthy, was the preferred option by Capello throughout most of the season. Even the 30-year-old Ruud Gullit, who was increasingly becoming a peripheral figure in the team under Capello, was still chosen ahead of Savi?evi? in the pecking order most of the time. Due to UEFA enforcing the three foreigners rule at the time, Savi?evi? often found himself omitted from the squad on matchdays as, in addition to Gullit and Van Basten, the Milan roster also featured several other high quality foreigners in midfield and attack, such as Frank Rijkaard, Papin, and Boban. Additionally, Capello often preferred hard-working midfielders such as Demetrio Albertini and Stefano Eranio for his tactical setup over the high-priced creative imports.[11] Not taken with the Montenegrin's superior technical abilities, though recognizing his talents, Capello's assessment of Savi?evi? was that he played "a Yugoslav style -- he was the star and the others had to run for him".[12]

Savi?evi? and Capello quickly developed an antagonistic relationship with the former frustrated at being regularly dropped from the first team, and the latter unwilling to change the winning formula that had the team on an undefeated run in the league dating back to May 1991 (the streak would eventually end after 58 matches in March 1993 versus Parma). In November 1992, when asked how he copes with leaving out world class players such as Savi?evi? or Papin, Capello responded:

It's very difficult for all these great players. At most clubs, there's a squad of 15 or 16. Here we have 24. They have to change their mentality just like I've had to change mine. This is a different way of doing the job. It means they have to be prepared to work hard even when they aren't in the team. Work, work, work. That's the only way. It's not easy for them.[11]

By December, Savi?evi? was so unhappy with his status at the club that he made a firm decision to leave during the winter transfer window as he had offers from Olympique Marseille and Atlético Madrid.[13] However, he decided to stay.

It was not until 24 January 1993 that Savi?evi? scored his first goal for Milan - a 78th-minute penalty kick effort at home versus Genoa that turned out to be the game-winner. Finally opening his scoring account encouraged Savi?evi? somewhat and two weeks later he got another one versus lowly Pescara. His shining moment in the otherwise forgettable debut league season in Italy came on 7 March 1993 at home versus Fiorentina when he scored a second-half brace for a 2-0 Milan win.

To cap off the frustrating season, Savi?evi? was not included in the team Capello took to Munich to face Olympique de Marseille in the 1993 UEFA Champions League Final.

At the end of the campaign, following his less than mediocre season, Savi?evi?'s fate at the club was being decided among Milan brass. Capello wanted him out while Berlusconi was adamant about the player staying and getting more opportunities to play.[13]

1993-94 season: continued rowing with Capello and 1994 Champions League Final

The summer 1993 off-season brought some player personnel changes that would end up benefiting Savi?evi?. His main two attacking midfield competitors Gullit and Van Basten were gone; the former transferring to Sampdoria frustrated at seeing his role at Milan greatly reduced and the latter taking a year off to heal his ankle injury that would eventually turn out to be career-ending. Also, Frank Rijkaard transferred to Ajax, which freed up even more room. New foreign summer arrivals Brian Laudrup and Florin R?ducioiu would find little playing time in Capello's structure, all of which made the competition for three foreign spots easier for the remaining foreigners Savi?evi?, Boban, and Papin during the first part of the season.

The competitive season began on 21 August 1993 in Washington, D.C. in front of the half-empty RFK Stadium where Milan beat AC Torino 1-0 to win the Supercoppa Italiana with Savi?evi? getting a start before being subbed off for Roberto Donadoni after 60 minutes.

A week later at the beginning of the new league campaign, it looked like Savi?evi? would be getting more first-team opportunities as he started the league season opener away at Lecce before again making way for Donadoni fifteen minutes into the second half. However, it turned out to be a false dawn as Savi?evi? didn't get a minute of action in the following five league matches as Capello preferred Donadoni. During that time, frustrated Savi?evi? initiated another run-in with the head coach, deepening their simmering row. The Montenegrin gave an interview to the Italian papers, openly blasting Capello over the way he's running the team, and specifically about the lack of playing time he's been given by the coach. In March 2013, Savi?evi? talked about the incident:

I gave it to Capello real good in the papers and not too long after that Boban came over during training telling me Capello wants to talk. I went over to talk, bringing Boban along as a translator since I didn't yet speak Italian all that well. Capello first wanted to know if everything that appeared in the papers was genuine. And after I confirmed it was, he was like 'How could you say things like that' to which my response was 'well, I could'. He then started lecturing me about this and that and how I can't be saying such things and I just told Boban to tell Capello that I said Capello can go fuck himself. Then Boban told me he won't translate that, and I just finally had it with the whole thing, saying 'fuck him' to Boban and walking away in the middle of Capello's little lecture.[14]

It wouldn't be until week 7 in early October 1993 that Savi?evi? reappeared with a home start and full ninety minutes versus Lazio. Although still not a regular, he finally began to establish himself in the club with confident displays when given a chance though Capello still wasn't convinced enough to play the Montenegrin in bigger matches, notably dropping him from the squad versus Juventus and city rivals Inter.

The player's tense relations with Capello soon inflamed again. First, as the Champions League group phase began in late November 1993, Capello named Savi?evi? to the reserves for the first match away at Anderlecht. Then in mid-December 1993, Capello dropped him from the squad altogether for the 1993 Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo versus Telê Santana's São Paulo.[]

The playing setup Capello employed throughout this season was an extremely defensive 4-4-2 that resulted in the entire squad scoring only 36 goals in 34 league matches while letting in only 15, as they won their third consecutive Serie A title.[15] Further solidifying the defensive focus was the November 1993 arrival of Marcel Desailly who became a regular right away. Still, for the Montenegrin's inspirational and creative play, Milan-based journalist Germano Bovolenta of La Gazzetta dello Sport hailed Savi?evi? as Il Genio (The Genius), a nickname that initially drew snickers and even occasional ridicule from other journalists -- especially those writing for the Turin-based Tuttosport and Rome-based Corriere dello Sport -- but would eventually gain wider acceptance in the country after Savi?evi?'s performance in the 1994 Champions League Final.[16] For the time being, his footballing talents had continually been admired by club president Berlusconi with whom Dejan developed a great rapport, and it was basically Berlusconi's personal support that kept Savi?evi? from leaving the club at various low points of his relationship with Capello.[17]

Still, the season ended on a high note for Savi?evi?. His performance in the 1994 UEFA Champions League Final at Athens' Olympic Stadium on 18 May would turn out to be his greatest moment in football and arguably one of the finest individual displays seen in the competition.[18] He had already given indications of improved form and confidence in the second part of the Champions League season, scoring twice during March 1994 right after the winter break in consecutive home-and-away matches versus Werder Bremen (though the goal at San Siro came as result of an atrocious mistake by Werder defender).[19] Still, despite smoothly finishing top of the group and easily winning the one-match semifinal, Milan was in a bit of disarray heading into the final as both central defenders Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta, the core of Capello's tactical defensive setup, were suspended. Considering that the opponent was the high-flying Johan Cruijff's FC Barcelona "dream team" with Romário, Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman, José Mari Bakero, Pep Guardiola, etc., Capello made a decision to fight fire with fire by sending out a lot more offense-minded formation. The changed approach suited Savi?evi? just fine: he created the opening goal for Daniele Massaro[20] and then scored a spectacular 35-yard half volley for 3-0 to put the game beyond Barcelona's reach. The sheer audacity and technical brilliance of the goal - decision to go for a well-placed lob from the right edge of the penalty area on Barca goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta who was slightly off his line in a situation when most would get closer and opt for a hard-driven shot as no defender was near - won Savi?evi? much praise and accolades.[21][22]

1994-95 season

Despite his much publicized Champions League final performance, the following 1994-95 season began much the same way for Savi?evi?. His stock at the club was obviously raised, but since Capello returned to his usual manner of running the team with tactics and defense dominating over offensive creativity, Savi?evi? was still forced to endure occasional omissions on match days (though the competition for foreign spots became easier with only returnee Gullit who left again by mid-season, Boban, and Desailly as competition). On top of that, nagging injuries followed Savi?evi? throughout the season so the Montenegrin only appeared in 19 league matches out of 34. However, he managed to score 9 league goals (his greatest single season scoring output in Serie A), including 4 goals in a single match on 14 January 1995[23] versus Bari at Stadio San Nicola, the site of his European Cup triumph with Red Star. In the second leg of the 1994 UEFA Super Cup Final against Arsenal in Milan, he set up Daniele Massaro's goal to give Milan a 2-0 aggregate victory.[24]

Despite the team's mid-table Serie A form in 1995, Savi?evi? continually played well for Milan in the Champions League en route to their third successive final that, for him, culminated in a spectacular semi-final versus Paris SG, where he scored twice in the return leg at San Siro.[25] Before that in the first leg Savi?evi? set up Boban in injury time for the game's only goal.[26] Despite his brilliant performance against PSG and his statistical importance to the team in 1995, he was not part of the team Capello took to Vienna for the 1995 Champions League Final due to 'injury', even though Savi?evi? insisted he was fit. In the final, a very negative and defense-minded Milan side created few opportunities and ultimately lost 1-0 to Louis van Gaal's young Ajax side.

1995-96 season

New foreign arrivals Paulo Futre and George Weah as well as the signing of Roberto Baggio increased the midfield competition, but 29-year-old Savi?evi? managed to turn in a successful season with 23 league appearances and 6 league goals as Milan managed to recapture the league title. His brightest moments occurred in the Derby della Madonnina as he finally scored a goal versus the cross-town rivals Inter. On more than one occasion Savi?evi? displayed his amazing technical skills and ball control such as when he dribbled and danced around Parma defenders Fernando Couto and Luigi Apolloni to set up Baggio for the opening goal against Parma at San Siro, before scoring one of his own in the eventual 3-0 win.[27]

Later seasons

Savi?evi?'s final seasons at Milan were less successful. The 1996-97 season saw the arrival of several new players, as well as manager Óscar Tabárez;[28] Milan started the season with a 2-1 loss in the 1996 Supercoppa Italiana to Fiorentina, with Savi?evi? scoring Milan's only goal of the match.[29][30] A series of disappointing results in the league[28][31] saw Milan's former coach Arrigo Sacchi return to the club as a replacement.[28][32][33][34] Milan failed to retain their league title, finishing the season in a disappointing 11th place,[28] while they were once again knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia, and also suffered a group stage elimination in the UEFA Champions League.[28][35]

The following season saw Fabio Capello recalled to the Milan bench and several more arrivals. Milan once again failed to qualify for Europe, placing tenth in Serie A, although they managed to reach the final of the Coppa Italia; Savi?evi?'s final goal for Milan came in the first leg of the quarter-finals of the tournament, on 8 January 1998, a 5-0 win against cross-city rivals Inter.[36] During the 1998-99 season, Savicevic did not feature once for the club from June 1998 until January 1999 under manager Alberto Zaccheroni, and he eventually left the club halfway through the season; Milan went on to win the league title.

In his total time at the San Siro, he won 7 trophies, including 3 scudetti (Serie A championships) - 1992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1 European Cup - 1993-94 and 1 European Super Cup), totalling 144 appearances and 34 goals between 1992 and 1998. In spite of his skill and success with Milan, he was also criticized in the Italian media during his time with the club for his poor work-rate and lack of consistency, in particular for not always running or trying against smaller teams, and his performances regularly blew hot and cold.

Final years: return to Red Star, and Rapid Wien

In January 1999, Savi?evi? to his former club Red Star, where he played the remainder of the season, making three appearances.

He played his final two seasons with Austrian side Rapid Wien, before retiring in 2001, after persisting injury struggles.

International career

Spanning 13 years, Savi?evi?'s national team career is divided in two distinct parts: first six years under head coach Ivica Osim when the country was called SFR Yugoslavia featuring six republics and last five years under head coach Slobodan Santra? representing FR Yugoslavia, which consisted of Serbia and Montenegro.

His years under Osim were marked by the tumultuous relationship the two men shared,[37][38] with conservative Osim often distrustful of Savi?evi?'s talents, preferring players he considered to be more mature and reliable for the forward and attacking midfield positions such as Zlatko Vujovi?, Mehmed Ba?darevi?, Dragan Stojkovi?, and even veteran Safet Su?i?.

Under Santra?, Savi?evi? was an automatic regular, but due to the UN embargo imposed on FR Yugoslavia and resulting sporting sanctions, he missed two and a half years of national team football altogether. Also, since Yugoslavia did not resume playing competitive matches until mid-1996, it meant Savi?evi? was prevented from playing any competitive national team matches from the time he was 25 until almost turning 30.

Euro 88 qualifying

Savi?evi? made his national team debut, while still playing his club football at Budu?nost, on 29 October 1986 in a Euro 88 qualifier versus Turkey in Split.[39] Head coach Ivica Osim, who himself was only in his fourth match overall coaching the national team (and his first doing it alone as he previously shared the coaching duties with Ivan Toplak), put the talented twenty-year-old in as the 53rd-minute substitute for Haris ?koro with Yugoslavia 2-0 up through Zlatko Vujovi?'s first half brace. Debutante Savi?evi? wasted no time in making a mark as he scored the goal for 3-0 in 73rd minute before Vujovi? completed a hat-trick for a 4-0 final scoreline.[40] However, despite getting a goal on his debut, Savi?evi?'s thunder was somewhat stolen by another debutante -- twenty-two-year-old sub Semir Tuce who put in a confident midfield display on the left wing that grabbed all the headlines. Two weeks later Osim did not call up Savi?evi? for the important qualifier away at Wembley versus England while Tuce got the callup and made a second-half substitute appearance. Yugoslavia lost 0-2.

Furious over lack of playing time and being altogether omitted from the national team call-ups, Savi?evi? began viciously criticizing Osim in the Yugoslav press, questioning his expertise and even professional integrity. In a February 1987 interview for the Duga magazine, twenty-year-old FK Budu?nost attacking midfielder Savi?evi? launched a blistering attack on the Yugoslav head coach:

If I happened to be playing my club football in FK ?eljezni?ar, I'd be a national team full squad member right now. A regular one, too. Ivica Osim doesn't appreciate my skills and he even declares it publicly. Well, I'm not gonna sit here and take that -- I've got no respect for him as a coach, neither on the club level nor the national team level. And it's not because he's not giving me call ups to the national team, but because he completely privatized the national team head coaching post. None of the Yugoslav football officials are brave enough to talk about this, but I am because I've got nothing to lose. Ivica Osim is giving unjustified opportunities to ?eljezni?ar players in the national team at the expense of the more deserving players from other clubs. And in that process, he's not just causing damage to those omitted players' careers. No, the greatest damage he's causing is to the national team itself. And I've got specific examples that prove my point. At the 10-day training camp in Topol?ica ahead of the Turkey qualifier, Osim's favourite player Haris ?koro didn't even train. Not once for the entire 10 days; he was constantly in rehab. But then he got the starting assignment against Turkey. Not only him, but Radmilo Mihajlovi?, another ?eljo player, too. Then, once the team started playing badly, not result-wise obviously, but the overall play, Osim decided to take both ?koro and Mihajlovi? off with Yugoslavia leading 2-0, a move that implied their supposed injuries thereby giving them a reprieve for both having poor outings. And afterwards I'm the one who gets criticized even after scoring a goal after being on the pitch for 20 minutes. Osim also left ?tef Deveri? on for the entire match despite him having such a horrible performance that even his own father would have subbed him at the half. Osim did that, of course, because the match was being played in Split in front of Deveri?'s club fans..... And then finally the whole Wembley debacle. Don't even get me started on that. Before the England qualifier, I got a call-up notice without specifying if it's for the full squad or the under-21 one. So upon my club's insistence to clarify, the FA president Miljan Miljani? sent a telex that I've in fact been called up for the full squad and that I'll definitely be playing at Wembley. However, as we boarded the plane for England I got told I'll be playing for the u-21s supposedly, as it was put to me, because it's in 'the national team's best interest'. I was furious. I was the one who should've been starting at Wembley ahead of ?koro. But no, Osim gave him the start again and then took him off again supposedly because of injury while half of the ?eljo squad, a team that's near the bottom of our league, got to play at Wembley. Osim is not only making a mistake in loading the national team with so many ?eljo players since not all of them are on form, but he's also making a huge error for tinkering with their customary playing positions. He's forcing his former club's players to play positions in the national team that they never play in their club. Everyone can see that ?koro, and even Mirsad Balji?, play target forward positions at ?eljo while in the national team Osim is overnight trying to make Balji? into a full back and ?koro into a midfielder. A magician wouldn't have been able to pull that off, let alone Osim, because the habits a player picks up in his club are too set to be changed in the national team..... Yes, Osim called me up for winter training in January, but he only did it to supposedly prove to me, and to some other players, that we have no place in the national team's full squad. We played a training match versus FK Vele?' club side in Mostar and lost. It was embarrassing. He put ?koro, Piksi Stojkovi?, Radmilo Mihajlovi?, myself, and Semir Tuce in midfield and upfront -- all attractive names for the crowd, but players that can never make a good team. We're stars in our respective clubs where we have teammates that run for us. This time there was nobody who would run and it was a disaster. We all wanted to be the main guy, and the setup didn't work. But this isn't just the problem for the five of us, almost everyone Osim calls up has this issue. The national team can't be an All-Star squad, but a new entity. Osim still doesn't get that.[9]

Youngster Savi?evi? would wait a whole year for his second cap. In mid October 1987, Euro 1988 qualifying was still on with Yugoslavia playing Northern Ireland at Grbavica in Sarajevo, and he came on as the second half sub again, this time for Fadil Vokrri. Yugoslavia won the game easily 3-0, and with England destroying Turkey 8-0 at home on the same day, the stage was set for the crucial Yugoslavia vs. England clash that would decide who goes to Germany. If England was to win or draw it would automatically qualify and if Yugoslavia was to win, it would then also have to later win away at Turkey in order to qualify and overtake England. The match was played on 11 November 1987 in front of a packed house of 70,000 at Marakana in Belgrade and Savi?evi? again did not get a chance to play as Bobby Robson's England destroyed Yugoslavia 1-4, thus qualifying for the Euro.

A month later, Osim gave 21-year-old Savi?evi? his first national team start in a meaningless remaining qualifier versus Turkey in ?zmir.

Over the coming period between two qualifying cycles, Yugoslavia played six friendlies from March to September 1988 and Savi?evi? featured only in the first two (full 90 minutes versus Wales and Italy in late March 1988) as his uneasy relationship with Osim - who was not fired by the Yugoslav FA despite the failure to qualify for Euro 88 - continued.

1990 World Cup qualifying

The 1990 FIFA World Cup qualifying started in October 1988 with Savi?evi?, who had in the meantime completed the big-time summer move to Red Star Belgrade and right away got sent to serve the mandatory army service, not being called up for the first match away at Scotland.

Then, a month later, perhaps surprisingly knowing the coach's conservative nature, Osim brought on the in-form Savi?evi? (who was coming off a great performance in Red Star's European Cup tie versus Milan) as a 69th-minute sub for Bora Cvetkovi? right after France went ahead 1-2 a minute earlier on a goal by Franck Sauzée. The substitution paid off in a big way as French players had no answer for Savi?evi?'s fresh legs and midfield creativity. Dejan first participated in a move that ended with Su?i? scoring the equalizer and then with two players guarding him provided a perfect cross from the right for Red Star teammate Stojkovi? to score the winning goal in 83rd minute as Yugoslavia recorded a big comeback 3-2 win at the JNA Stadium in Belgrade.

Savi?evi?'s great performance against France put him in Osim's good books, for the time being at least, as he got a chance to start the next qualifier at home versus Cyprus in December 1988. Dejan, still officially in his army service, returned the favour, scoring a hat-trick as Yugoslavia won 4-0 at Marakana. The following qualifier in late April 1989 was a crucial one away at France and Osim decided not to play Savi?evi?, choosing instead to continue with his older regulars up front such as Zlatko Vujovi?, Su?i?, and Ba?darevi? as Yugoslavia eked out a hard-fought scoreless draw at the Parc des Princes.

Savi?evi? would also not play in the next qualifier away at Norway, returning only as a second-half sub for Dragan Jakovljevi? in September 1989 at Maksimir in Zagreb versus Scotland. With the 3-1 win over Scotland, Yugoslavia overtook the Scots at the top of the table. So, with two matches remaining, Yugoslavia were now leading the pack with 10 points (4 wins and 2 draws) followed by Scotland with 9, and France and Norway with 5. In such circumstances, conservative Osim certainly was not about to tinker with the team, which meant that Savi?evi? only got his chance in friendlies. The match point for Yugoslavia took place at Ko?evo in Sarajevo versus Norway in October 1989, and not surprisingly Savi?evi? again did not get a single minute of play. The team won 1-0, and combined with the fact that Scotland got beaten by France 0-3 in Paris, Yugoslavia clinched the top spot in the group, qualifying for the World Cup in Italy. The last qualifier was a meaningless affair away at Cyprus (the match was actually played in Athens since Cyprus were penalized for the riots during their match versus Scotland), and Savi?evi? got a chance to start along with a slew of other young and up-and-coming players from the domestic league that Osim normally shied away from using in competitive matches such as Darko Pan?ev, Robert Prosine?ki, Branko Brnovi?, and Slobodan Marovi?.

1990 World Cup

Heading into the World Cup, Savi?evi?'s chances of playing a larger national team role looked to have received a bit of a boost as Mehmed Ba?darevi?, one of his competitors for an attacking midfield spot, was suspended by FIFA for spitting at the Turkish referee Yusuf Namo?lu during the crucial qualifier versus Norway. However, Savi?evi? did not get a single minute in the first two friendlies -- in March 1990 at Poland and in May 1990 at home versus Spain -- leading to conclusions that he would again be looking from the outside in. But then in early June, only seven days before the opening World Cup match, he got to play the full 90 minutes at the "dress rehearsal" at Maksimir in Zagreb versus Holland where he put in an inspired performance.[41] The game itself, however, took a back seat to the controversy caused by nationalist Croatian fans who booed the Yugoslav national anthem and thoroughly insulted the players.

Savi?evi? chose a jersey with number 19 at the tournament "out of admiration for his childhood idol Vahid Halilhod?i?" who wore the number for Yugoslavia at the 1982 FIFA World Cup.[42]

At San Siro on 10 June 1990, the same starting eleven that faced Holland in the final friendly also started versus West Germany, including Savi?evi?. Playing in front of almost 75,000 fans (the largest crowd of the entire 1990 FIFA World Cup), the team was picked apart by speed and strength of the German players as Lothar Matthäus and Jürgen Klinsmann had the Elf 2-0 up before halftime. Shortly after the break Davor Jozi? pulled one back for Yugoslavia, which was a signal for head coach Osim to make changes in hopes of sparking a comeback. One minute later he took off Savi?evi? who was mostly invisible, having a game to forget much like most of the Yugoslav team, and put Dragoljub Brnovi? on as part of the double midfield substitution that also saw Prosine?ki replace Su?i?. The move did not do much, though, as Matthäus rampaged through Yugoslav defense before unleashing a powerful shot for another score. Fourth German goal came as the final insult as goalkeeper Ivkovi? made a mess of Brehme's easy shot.

Getting nothing from the West Germany match pretty much meant that the next group contest versus Colombia was a must win. Osim made three changes in the starting lineup, and one of them was Savi?evi? who got benched in favour of Brnovi?. Yugoslavia made tough work of the plucky Colombians, but got a 1-0 victory in the end with Savi?evi? not getting a single minute of action. More or less the same lineup faced minnows United Arab Emirates in the final group match, which meant that Savi?evi? was again surplus to Osim's requirements as Yugoslavia won easily 4-1.

In the knockout stages, Savi?evi? was again on the bench for the start of the match against Spain in the excruciating late afternoon heat of Verona, but got his chance early into the second half with the score still tied at 0-0, coming on for largely ineffective club teammate Darko Pan?ev. Substituting striker for a midfielder, meant that Osim changed his formation from 3-5-2 to a bit more defensive 3-6-1 with only Zlatko Vujovi? up front. The match was soon taken over by Dragan Stojkovi? who scored a beautiful goal in the 78th minute, but the score at the end of 90 minutes was 1-1, with Savi?evi? putting in a confident performance. In the extra-time Stojkovi? scored his second of the match on a masterfully placed free-kick. Incidentally, the free-kick came after a foul on Savi?evi? during one of his surging runs across the midfield from right to left.

Despite his satisfactory showing against the Spaniards, Savi?evi? was benched again for the quarterfinal clash against reigning world champions Argentina four days later. Starting the match in 4-5-1 formation, Osim had Zoran Vuli? back in the lineup as part of the four-man defensive unit, and youngster Prosine?ki replacing injured Katanec in midfield while Vujovi? was now alone in attack from the very start. Riding behind midfield playmaker Stojkovi?,[43] Yugoslavia looked very good throughout the match even when reduced to ten men following the 31st minute expulsion of Refik ?abanad?ovi?. Somewhat surprisingly, Osim did not make any substitutions after the sending off, deciding to wait until 15 minutes into the second half to put on Savi?evi? instead of Su?i?. Savi?evi?'s fresh legs gave the team a much needed infusion of energy and another target in the middle for Stojkovi? to pass to after his surging runs, however Savi?evi? was not able to convert on any of them. The most glaring miss came early on in the extra-time as Stojkovi? masterfully got free on the right side before providing a perfect pass to Savi?evi? who was unmarked 5-6 meters from the goal line. Alone in front of keeper Sergio Goycochea and with goal at his mercy, Savi?evi? somehow put the ball over the bar. It was one of the best chances created by either team throughout the entire match.

Euro 92

Dejan Savi?evi? was called by Yugoslavia national football team to UEFA Euro 1992,[44] but the nation would be suspended due to the Yugoslav Wars.

1998 World Cup

Dejan Savi?evi? was picked as a part of Yugoslavia's national squad for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. He appeared in two games, the first one being a group-stage game against the United States[45] and the second one against the Netherlands.[46]

Career statistics

Club

[47][48]

Club Season League Cup Continental Other Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Budu?nost Titograd 1982-83 2 0 -- -- 2 0
1983-84 7 1 -- -- 7 1
1984-85 29 6 -- -- 29 6
1985-86 32 10 -- -- 32 10
1986-87 31 9 -- -- 31 9
1987-88 29 10 -- -- 29 10
Total 130 36 -- -- 130 36
Red Star Belgrade 1988-89 0 0 0 0 3 1 -- 3 1
1989-90 25 10 7 4 6 3 -- 38 17
1990-91 25 8 7 3 7 3 -- 39 14
1991-92 22 5 7 2 4 2 2[a] 0 35 9
Total 72 23 21 9 20 9 2 0 115 41
Milan 1992-93 10 4 4 3 3 0 -- 17 7
1993-94 20 0 3 1 7 3 2[b] 0 32 4
1994-95 19 9 1 0 6 2 3[c] 0 29 11
1995-96 23 7 3 2 3 1 -- 29 10
1996-97 17 1 2 0 2 0 1[d] 1 22 2
1997-98 8 0 7 1 0 0 -- 15 1
Total 97 21 20 7 21 6 6 1 144 35
Red Star Belgrade 1998-99 3 0 0 0 0 0 -- 3 0
Rapid Wien 1999-2000 22 11 0 0 4 1 -- 26 12
2000-01 22 7 3 0 3 1 -- 28 8
Total 44 18 3 0 7 2 -- 54 20
Career total 346 98 44 16 48 17 8 1 446 132
  1. ^ One appearance in UEFA Super Cup, one appearance in Intercontinental Cup
  2. ^ One appearance in UEFA Super Cup, one appearance in Supercoppa Italiana
  3. ^ Two appearances in UEFA Super Cup, one appearance in Intercontinental Cup
  4. ^ Appearance in Supercoppa Italiana

International

FR Yugoslavia
Year Apps Goals
1986 1 1
1987 2 0
1988 4 3
1989 5 1
1990 5 0
1991 9 5
1992 1 0
1993* 0 0
1994 2 0
1995 3 2
1996 6 4
1997 10 3
1998 4 0
1999 4 0
Total 56 19
  • Note: Yugoslavia was banned from international football in 1993, since 1994 FR Yugoslavia became the successor of SFR Yugoslavia national team.

Player profile

Playing style

Savi?evi?'s number 10 Milan jersey (next to Paolo Maldini's number 3 jersey) in the San Siro museum

Considered by many in the sport to be the best footballer that Montenegro has ever produced,[49][50][51][52] Savi?evi? was a classic number 10 who preferred functioning in a free role as a playmaker; throughout his career, he was usually deployed in an attacking midfield role, either in a central position behind the striker(s), or out wide on the wings, on either flank, due to his ability to provide crosses to teammates in the area from the left wing, or cut into the centre onto his stronger left foot from the right. He was also deployed as a supporting forward, and occasionally in a central midfield role as a deep-lying playmaker in midfield, or, with even less frequency, along the front line as a main striker. A quick, technically gifted, and agile player, with an athletic physique, he was known in particular for his outstanding pace and acceleration on the ball, as well as his excellent dribbling ability, and close control, which allowed him to beat opposing players with ease; he was also highly regarded for his vision, tactical knowledge, and passing accuracy, which made him a highly effective assist provider, although he was also capable of scoring goals himself as well as creating them, due to his powerful and accurate shot on the run, as well as his precision from penalties.[49][50][51][53][54][55][56][57] His talent, unpredictability and exploits during his time at Milan earned him the nickname "Il Genio" ("the genius", in Italian).[20][49][50][51][58]

In addition to numerous accolades for his skill, technique, flair, class, and creativity,[50][51][53] he also received criticism over his poor work rate, limited stamina, lack of consistency, selfishness, and his tactical indiscipline on the pitch, as well as his strong character, which led to frequent clashes with his managers and referees; he also frequently struggled with injuries throughout his career.[51][54][55][59][60][61][62][63][64][65][66]

Reception

Widely regarded by pundits as the greatest Montenegrin player of all time,[49][50][51][52] while Savi?evi? often received praise throughout his career from pundits, players, and managers, for his playing ability, technical skill, success, talent, and creativity, he also came under criticism over his poor work-rate, lack of discipline, and inconsistency.[50][51][53][54][55][59][60][61][62][63][64][65][66] Sports journalist Gabriele Marcotti, for example, once described Savi?evi? as "the languid genius who played the game at his own pace and, for long stretches, appeared to be in his own world".[67]

Fabio Capello, who coached Savi?evi? at A.C. Milan for four seasons, during which their relationship featured no shortage of confrontation and antagonism, said: "Without question, Savi?evi? is the player with whom I had the most rows. He hardly trained, he hardly worked. And, when he was on the pitch, everybody else had to work twice as hard to make up for him. But he was an exceptional talent. And we turned him into a superstar".[67] In 2018, Capello commented on the clashes that he and Milan's chairman at the time, Berlusconi, had over Savi?evi?'s role in the team during his time as the club's manager, stating: "I have always had an excellent relationship with Berlusconi, the only strong point of discussion was regarding Savi?evi?. He wanted him to play, I told him that I would keep him on the pitch as long as he could run. We also had some problems with Savi?evi?, but then we became great friends, he was one of the best players overall that I have ever coached. He was very important throughout the whole period that I was with Milan. Let us not forget that I had a half-fit Van Basten for a year, then everything that was done was done without Van Basten. He was a great player who lost himself a bit because he wanted to be operated without question."[68]

Ivica Osim coached Savi?evi? from 1986 until 1992 in the Yugoslav national team and butted heads with him regularly over playing time. In 2014, the retired coach said: "Yes, I had issues with him. He was a fiery character who felt he had to play. But what was I supposed to do, get rid of Zlatko Vujovi? who was every coach's dream and put in Savi?evi? who was perhaps the better player, but with whom you never knew what he's going to give you on the pitch in a given match. Savi?evi? is one of the best players I ever coached, but he also fell victim to some bad advice at that time. Today we've got decent relations, we talked it all out.... Back during the time of those frosty relations with Savi?evi?, for me personally, it got to the point where I lost the will to coach. I got sick of going to practice knowing I'll be looking at Savi?evi?, that we'll be staring each other down, that he'll be unhappy for not playing.... I was unhappy about that too".[69]

Talking in October 2015 about Savi?evi?'s playing days, Vladimir Cvetkovi?, Red Star Belgrade general secretary from the mid 1980s until 2001, said: "He really was a genius. When he felt like playing, that is. The problem is he frequently didn't feel like playing. But the things he did and the moves he pulled off, for example in Munich and Manchester, are a thing of beauty - truly unbelievable stuff. Kind of like what Messi is doing today, only with even more flair and style. Yes, Savi?evi? had more flair and style than Messi does today".[70][71][72]

Honours

Club

Red Star Belgrade
Milan[53]

International

Yugoslavia

Individual

Coaching career

Savi?evi?'s two-year spell as head coach of the national side was a polar opposite of his distinguished playing career.

Immediately after retiring from playing in May 2001, he was named as head coach of the FR Yugoslavia / Serbia-Montenegro national squad, in succession to the short, tempestuous, and hugely disappointing 3-month tenure of Milovan ?ori?. Despite Savi?evi?'s complete lack of any relevant coaching experience, and the side's already faint chances of progressing from the World Cup 2002 qualifying tournament, the announcement of his appointment was generally well received by the public. His appointment came as part of the general changing of the guard in the Yugoslav FA (FSJ) with Savi?evi?'s close friend Dragan Stojkovi? taking over as FSJ president.

2002 World Cup qualifying

At first, Savi?evi? was part of a 3-man coaching commission with the experienced Vujadin Bo?kov and Ivan ?urkovi? by his side. At the time of their arrival to the bench, Yugoslavia was sitting in fourth place of the qualifying group with only 5 points from 4 matches, behind Russia (13 points), Switzerland (8), and Slovenia (7). However, Yugoslavia had a game in hand and with a win in Moscow had a chance to overtake Slovenia and join the Swiss tied on points in the second spot. On the other hand, a loss to Russia in Moscow would probably mean losing any hope of finishing in the top two.

Savi?evi? thus faced a make it or break it prospect right on his coaching debut. Despite the fact that national team was officially headed by the three-man commission, Savi?evi? was the only one of the trio present on the sidelines during matches and was the only one available to the press. The team fielded on 2 June 2001 at Luzhniki Stadium was substantially the same as ?ori?'s, both in names called up and playing formation. Other than two debutants - goalkeeper Radovan Radakovi? and defensive midfielder Boban Dmitrovi? - the gist of the starting squad was still made up of old guard: players like Predrag Mijatovi?, Sini?a Mihajlovi?, and Miroslav ?uki?, all of whom were well over thirty, as well as longtime defensive mainstays such as Zoran Mirkovi? and Goran ?orovi?. With a defensive approach and mostly unimaginative play with very little created through midfield, Yugoslavia never looked capable of winning. The match ended 1-1 as Russians went ahead following Radakovi?'s poor reaction and Yugoslavia tied some fifteen minutes later on Mijatovi?'s scrambled goal that he managed to put away after Savo Milo?evi?'s header hit the post.[74] The press reaction was not overly negative as the tied score still had the team on course for a second-place finish.[75]

After the next two qualifiers, home and away against Faroe Islands, in which Yugoslavia recorded easy wins, came the decision time - facing Switzerland in a must-win situation away on Saturday, 1 September 2001. Cheered on by a large expatriate crowd in Basel, Yugoslavia ended up winning 1-2 in what was easily the team's best showing under Savi?evi? to date, setting up the deciding match at home versus Slovenia four days later.

Playing on difficult surface as the Partizan Stadium pitch was soaked from the heavy rain that had been pouring throughout the match day, Yugoslavia went behind early and only managed to tie the score by the end, which was not enough for the second place. Despite dominating proceedings through veteran Mijatovi? who was the offensive focal point, the second goal proved elusive.[76] The chance still existed in theory if Faroe Islands managed to win or draw at Slovenia in the final match, however such unlikely scenario did not happen. After Slovenia game Savi?evi? bemoaned the bad luck, citing playing in the rain on a soaked surface without injured regulars Mirkovi? and Vladimir Jugovi? as the main reasons why his team failed to beat Slovenia.[77][78]

Savi?evi? was handed the coaching duties all by himself in late December 2001. At the time, he claimed to have taken the solo job on temporary basis only, since Du?an Bajevi? rejected it.[79][80] Savi?evi? also intimated the new permanent coach would take over by the summer of 2002. However, that did not happen and he remained in post until June 2003.

Euro 2004 qualifying

Throughout his reign, he failed to achieve a settled team, and his personal disputes with Mateja Ke?man precipitated the striker to temporarily retire from international football. Savi?evi? finally resigned on 20 June 2003, after a humiliating 1-2 defeat to Azerbaijan in a Euro 2004 qualifier, which was also the team's fifth defeat in a row; he was replaced by Ilija Petkovi?. His overall managerial record was 4 wins, 11 losses, and 2 draws, in addition to 4 wins, 2 losses, and 2 ties as part of the commission.

Administrative / Political career

Savi?evi? is active in the political life of Montenegro and is a member and public supporter of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). In the summer of 2004, thirty-seven-year-old Savi?evi? became the president of the Football Association of Montenegro (FSCG), a local regional football sub-association under the umbrella of the Football Association of Serbia and Montenegro (FSSCG).

On 10 July 2009, Savi?evi? got re-elected as Montenegrin FA president for another four-year period at the FSCG delegate vote where he was the only candidate.[81] On 11 July 2013, he got re-elected one more time, again as the only candidate.[82] On 5 July 2017, he got re-elected for his fifth term until 2021, again as the only candidate.[83]

As FA president, Savi?evi? has so far presided over six national team qualifying cycles -- 2010 World Cup (with Zoran Filipovi? as head coach), Euro 2012 (Zlatko Kranj?ar as head coach), 2014 World Cup (Branko Brnovi? as head coach), Euro 2016 (Brnovi? again as head coach), 2018 World Cup (Ljubi?a Tumbakovi? as head coach), and Euro 2020 (Tumbakovi? followed by Faruk Had?ibegi? in the head coaching post) -- with Montenegro failing to qualify each time; the best result coming in Euro 2012 qualifying when they managed to get to the two-leg play-offs, losing 0-3 on aggregate to Czech Republic. As of fall 2019, Montenegro remains among nineteen UEFA national teams -- alongside Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cyprus, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Georgia, Gibraltar, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Israel, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, North Macedonia, and San Marino -- never to have qualified for a FIFA World Cup or UEFA Euro.[84]

Additionally, the Montenegrin under-21 national team has participated in six European under-21 Championship qualifying campaigns during Savi?evi?'s presidency -- 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019 -- failing to make the final tournament every time.

Furthermore, Savi?evi?'s time at the job has been marked with frequent public feuding and controversy.

2004-2005 feud with Milorad Kosanovi?

On 17 November 2004, Serbia-Montenegro under-21 national team lost 4-0 against the Belgian u-21 team in Lokeren as part of the qualification round for the 2006 European under-21 Championship.[85] In the wake of the disappointing result, Savi?evi? publicly came out against u-21 head coach Milorad Kosanovi? by saying he should resign over the loss as well as over the fact that he did not call up any players from the teams based in Montenegro for the Belgium match. In support of his claims, Savi?evi? stated that "Miroslav Vujadinovi? from Budu?nost Podgorica is the best young goalkeeper in Europe and wasn't even called up for the under 21 squad" and went on to add that such state of affairs constitutes "discrimination of Montenegro".[86]

Over the coming months, Savi?evi? exerted continuous pressure within the FA ranks for Kosanovi? to be fired,[86] even going so far as to semi-officially boycott the under-21 team by refusing to allow Montenegrin players to turn up for Kosanovi?'s callups.[87][88] Savi?evi?'s bullish behaviour strained the internal relations within the Serbia-Montenegro FA organization to a maximum. In late 2004, in an effort to ease the tense standoff, Serbia-Montenegro FA president Dragan Stojkovi? (Savi?evi?'s close personal friend and longtime teammate during playing days) reportedly asked Kosanovi? to resign, which he vehemently refused.[89] As a result of the episode each member of the FA's expert council delegated from Serbia resigned in protest - Du?an Savi?, Jovica ?koro, Milovan ?ori?, and Miroslav Tanjga - with Savi? stating he wants no part in this "dirty political game" while criticizing Savi?evi? and Montenegrin FA for interfering in under-21 head coach's job.[89]

After initially managing to resist,[90] Kosanovi? eventually resigned some four months later on 8 March 2005.[91]

Montenegrin independence referendum

Savi?evi? then publicly came out in favour of Montenegrin independence, becoming an important part of the pro-independence campaign organized by Movement for Independent Montenegro. He attended, and spoke at, rallies alongside Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo ?ukanovi?. Savi?evi?'s face also appeared on billboards urging the citizens of Montenegro to vote 'Yes' at the referendum.[92]

In spring 2006 while interviewed for Montenegrin local station NTV Montena, Savi?evi? admitted to playing "in a couple of fixed matches" while with Budu?nost in the old Yugoslav First League during the 1980s. He also claimed on the same occasion that most of the matches in that season's (2005-06) Serbia-Montenegro Superliga are fixed, but declined to elaborate or provide evidence, saying: "I don't want to be killed because of football like Branko Bulatovi?".[93] Such controversial claims caused a lot of reaction. Serbia-Montenegro FA (FSSCG) announced formal investigation, arranging a hearing for Savi?evi? to provide details and evidence of his claims.[94] Others, like FK Partizan vice-president Ratomir Babi?, accused Savi?evi? of "scoring political points for his mentors in the separatist-oriented Montenegrin regime by intentionally spreading explosive false rumours in order to bring the union's league into disrepute".[94]

2006 feud with Rajo Bo?ovi?

Simultaneously, all throughout 2006, Savi?evi? butted heads with his own second-in-command -- FSCG vice-president and FK Zeta president Radojica "Rajo" Bo?ovi?.

Their feud began in mid-March 2006 after the Zeta vs. Budu?nost Serbia-Montenegro SuperLiga fixture. Initially, the row culminated on 12 May 2006 during an FSSCG executive board meeting in Belgrade where Savi?evi? and Bo?ovi? participated as representatives of regional Montenegrin FA (FSCG). At the said meeting, Savi?evi? reportedly abruptly left the premises following a vicious two-minute shouting match with Bo?ovi?[95] that started after Bo?ovi? introduced a motion for an FSSCG investigation of Savi?evi?'s media claims about match-fixing as well his mentions of FK Zeta in this regard.[96] Since Montenegro became independent some ten days later on 21 May 2006, FSCG became the top footballing body of the newly created country, responsible for the national team and also for organizing a football league. Savi?evi?'s presidential term continued as well.

Several months later in fall 2006, the vicious public rift between two men got reignited following cancellation of the FK Zeta versus Budu?nost Montenegrin First League fixture that had been scheduled for 4 September 2006 but ended up not getting played due to threats of fan violence and incidents outside of Zeta's Tre?njica ground in the Podgorica suburb of Golubovci as scuffles broke out between members of the two clubs' respective managements after Bo?ovi? refused to let the rivals enter the stadium. Bo?ovi? subsequently publicly accused Savi?evi? of favouring his old club Budu?nost, working against Zeta, and tampering with the Montenegrin First League referee selection process. Savi?evi? responded by calling on the Montenegrin government and ruling political party DPS to get involved.[97]

In mid-October 2006, FSCG held a meeting during which the majority of delegates supported Savi?evi?, deciding on the same occasion to relieve Bo?ovi? of his duties as vice-president.[98]

2006-2011 feud with Dan newspaper

Also in 2006, Savi?evi? began rowing with Podgorica's Dan daily newspaper, a protracted issue that continued off-and-on throughout the following five years.

Irritated by the paper's criticism of his work as FSCG president, his pro-independence political engagement during 2006 referendum campaign, as well as his ties with the regime of Milo ?ukanovi?, Savi?evi? verbally abused, shouted at, and generally menaced Dan journalists during FSCG press conferences.[97] He especially went after the Dan sports editor Veselin Drljevi? (former referee and former FSCG member) with whom he has a long-standing personal feud.

In March 2007, when Montenegro national team started playing matches, Savi?evi? raised even more controversy when in an unprecedented move, he banned Dan journalists from attending national team matches. In 2008, the Dan editor-in-chief Mladen Milutinovi? complained about the situation to various international bodies including the International Sports Press Association (AIPS).[99] The issue was even discussed at the AIPS congress in Milan during late April and early May 2009.[100] Under pressure from AIPS,[101] Savi?evi? eventually relented and allowed the issuing of matchday accreditation for Dan journalists.

The antagonism reignited two years later during the Euro 2012 qualifying cycle. All throughout 2011, Savi?evi? publicly expressed anger with Dan's criticism of the national team head coach Zlatko Kranj?ar, calling the publication a "Serbian-oriented paper that never has and never will accept Montenegro as an independent state".[102][103] Savi?evi? even returned to his old ways on 7 October 2011, for the Montenegro vs. England Euro 2012 qualifier, refusing to issue accreditation for Dan.[104] Because of this, a protest against Savi?evi? was published in their pages.[105] Then, a month later, for the deciding home leg playoff qualifier against Czech Republic, Savi?evi? again did the same thing, which led to more critical coverage by the paper.[106] On 17 November 2011, in the wake of the playoff loss to the Czechs, Savi?evi? appeared on TV Vijesti's talk show Na?isto where he was asked by the host Petar Komneni? about his problems with Dan. Savi?evi?'s response was that Dan is an "unimportant media outlet" and that he prefers giving accreditation to "objective outlets". Dan responded with more pointed criticism of Savi?evi? through sarcasm and ridicule,[107][108] which led to Savi?evi? scheduling a press conference on Saturday, 19 November 2011 at which he delivered more verbal vitriol towards the paper including a bizarre offer of subjecting himself to a drug test and paying out EUR2 million to Dan if the test results come in positive while asking for EUR500,000 from the paper if the test result is negative.[109]Dan responded in the paper's next day issue with more veiled ridicule of Savi?evi?.[110]

Personal life

In the late 1980s, Savi?evi? married Valentina "Vanja" Brajovi?.[111][112] The couple had met and began dating a few years earlier in Titograd while Savi?evi? played for FK Budu?nost and teenage Vanja attended the local streamlined touristic high school.[111] Their first child, son Vladimir, was born in November 1989 in Belgrade while Savi?evi? played for Red Star. While living in Belgrade, Savi?evi? and Brajovi? reportedly resided in an apartment they leased from Serbian professional handballer Svetlana Kiti? who had been playing abroad in Italy during that time.[112] Their second child, daughter Tamara, was born in 1992. The couple divorced in 2000.

Since the mid-2010s, FSCG president Savi?evi? has been in a relationship with Jelena Babi? from Podgorica.[113][114][115][116]

His son Vladimir Savi?evi? started his football career at FK Mladost Podgorica youth teams,[117] and was capped for the Montenegrin U19 team. In November 2019, Savi?evi?'s daughter Tamara married professional footballer Aleksandar Kapisoda, three months after giving birth to their daughter, Savi?evi?'s grandchild.[118][119]

2004 traffic infraction

Following a Saturday night out in Trebinje on 18 September 2004, Savi?evi? was involved in an incident with Podgorica police several hours later, at around 2:30 am Sunday morning. After driving his Audi TT at a high rate of speed through Podgorica streets and running a red light, he was stopped by a police patrol. According to the police, when stopped, Savi?evi? insulted the policeman with a series of obscenities that among other things included saying: "I'm God, laws don't apply to me".[120][121]

A misdemeanor investigation request (prekr?ajna prijava) was filed against Savi?evi? by the police.[121]

2005 motorcycle crash

On Thursday, 29 September 2005 at around 5:30pm, Savi?evi? was severely injured in a traffic accident on Stanko Dragojevi? Boulevard in Podgorica in front of the Montenegrin National Theatre (CNP).[122] The thirty-nine-year-old FSCG president fractured both arms and a pelvic bone after crashing his Yamaha motorcycle into the rear end of a moving Volkswagen Golf Mk4 vehicle driven by thirty-four-year-old Ljubi?a Golubovi?, becoming airborne, and landing hard on the pavement.[123]

The same night, Savi?evi? underwent a two-and-a-half-hour surgery at Podgorica's Klini?ko-bolni?ki centar to contain the effects of his three fractures and got placed in intensive care.[123] Some ten days later, he arranged to be transported to a specialized orthopedic medical facility in Hanover, Germany where he had three more surgeries within the span of a week -- one on each arm and one on his pelvic bone.[124][125] His rehabilitation period was about six months long.

In popular culture

In 1998, Serbian comedy rock band The Kuguars recorded the song "Dejo" (a cover of Harry Belafonte song "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)"), dedicating it to Savi?evi?.[126][127]

1999 heckler viral video

Someone off to the side had been insulting me incessantly by swearing at me before I could no longer take it, so I turned -- only to see this short guy with no more than two teeth in his mouth wearing a Croatian ?ahovnica jersey and track pants. And, I gave it right back to him. Then I told the filmmaker to edit that out and he assured me he would. A couple of months later, he called me in Vienna telling me the movie is done and asking my address to send me a tape. My stomach turned when I saw that he didn't edit that out. You can imagine what I told him next time we talked.

-Savi?evi? on his viral video from Het laatste Joegoslavische elftal.[128][129]

Savi?evi? is the protagonist of a widely circulated viral video from the 2000 Dutch documentary Het laatste Joegoslavische elftal (The Last Yugoslavian Football Team) by Vuk Jani? about the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship winning SFR Yugoslavia under-20 team.[130][131][132]

Conceptualized as a "what might've been" sentimental homage of sorts, ostensibly to SFR Yugoslavia's up-and-coming late 1980s football generation that never got a chance to play together on the sport's biggest stage but also to the disintegrated country, the documentary interviews different members of the 1987 youth side -- such as Robert Prosine?ki, Predrag Mijatovi?, and Zvonimir Boban -- who were by 1999 split between the senior national teams of FR Yugoslavia and Croatia. Other individuals -- including Savi?evi?, who was winding down his career at Rapid Vienna and thirty-year-old S.S. Lazio star Sini?a Mihajlovi? as well as fifty-eight-year-old coach Ivica Osim who coached Sturm Graz at the time -- are featured prominently in the documentary film despite not being members of the 1987 youth team. In Savi?evi?'s case, the filmmaking crew had behind-the-scenes access to him at his home in Vienna as well as his club side's Austrian Bundesliga matches and FR Yugoslavia national team qualifying fixtures.

Some of the film's footage was shot in October 1999 against the backdrop of the FR Yugoslavia and Croatia national teams playing the deciding Euro 2000 qualifier in Zagreb. The particular part of the film that went viral shows thirty-three-year-old Savi?evi? being interviewed the day before Croatia versus Yugoslavia match in front of the hotel where the Yugoslav team was staying. He is wearing Yugoslavia training gear and as such is easily spotted and recognized by people strolling by. As Dejan is answering a question, a man on the street, presumably a Croatian fan, is heard shouting off-camera: "You're a piece of shit!".

Savi?evi? looks to the side and responds to the heckler by berating him with an obscenity-laced tirade of his own. After insulting him sufficiently, Savi?evi? returns his attention to the interview and continues answering the question right where he left off without missing a beat.[133]

In subsequent interviews after the video went viral, Savi?evi? has claimed that the film's director Jani? broke their verbal agreement that the swearing part would not be included in the final version of the film.

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