Wisdom is in Patience
All the great things that happened, he first dreamed about, long and steadily. Zemun taught him to be himself in life. His family gave him strength and support, just as he gave it in return. He feels the pain of all the wounds of our people. He admires the fact that people in Serbia still manage to find a motive and endure, with their heads up, all the horrors they have been exposed to. Serbs however mostly miss patience, especially in what needs to be planned long-term, and the ability to wait. He relies on what inspired us to survive even when everyone had written us off, even when we ourselves don’t believe we have any strength left

By: Dejan Bulajić

How do stories begin? With words or memories? Are they made of the one that tells them and testifies about them not only with words but also his life? This time, Dejan Stanković, football player, gives us a few stories as a route of the subway of his life.

Childhood. My childhood was like many others in Zemun: a nice careless story, with my generation gathered around the ”Vladimir Nazor” school. The only thing that separated me from my classmates were my dreams, because all the things that later happened to me, I had first processed through my imagination as a boy. The ball and football were the living image of my wishes, so I rushed towards them with all my forces, although I was only nine when I started practicing. Therefore it wasn’t a surprise when I reached ”Zvezda” at the age of sixteen, where my dreams already began coming true. However, not everything was so easy. My first experience was a failure. I didn’t pass the test for the ”Zemun” FC near my home. They estimated I wasn’t talented enough and told me to join a smaller club. I remember the bad feeling after that, even the impression that perhaps I wasn’t born for football after all. It took me a few months to make another try. Finally, under great pressure, I went to ”Teleoptik”, to coach Dragan Šipka who greeted and registered me already the next day. It was the beginning of my most passionate childhood hopes coming true. By the way, Zemun will be an important part of my life forever. It is a unique city which had and still has its authentic features. The people of Zemun ”rarely crossed the bridge”. They preserved their lifestyle, which is now sometimes brought to grotesque in jokes, but they are able to carry it because they are aware of their special charm. Zemun showed me that you must be yourself in life.

Family. I wonder if I would achieve all that I had without the support of my family. I have always loved football, but there were times, especially when I was a teenager, when I was changing my mind and thought of leaving it all. My parents, also engaged in football, were by my side, encouraging me not to lose hope. I often joke that it’s good my younger brother didn’t inherit the talent for sports, since obviously all their football genes went to me. With their help I realized that talent doesn’t mean much if it’s not accompanied with great sacrifice and persistent work. There were many talented boys with me, even more skilled, but they didn’t succeed. Some dropped out and some continued but didn’t last long. My family’s support meant a lot to me later as well, when I became an acknowledged player. Then I had my wife Ana with me, who understood my career and helped me with it. Besides, I can rightly say that I had a good upbringing from my parents, who taught me that, if you want to earn respect, you must learn to respect people. You don’t have to become famous to earn respect. You can also do it with a pure heart and honest relationship with people. I am trying to transfer that part of my upbringing to my children as well. Their growing up is different from mine. I didn’t miss anything, because, although in a modest financial situation, I was surrounded with love and attention. They have more than that and they don’t lack anything. I want them to be aware of that, not to be boastful, but to respect, preserve and promote it, and through it all become honest and good people.

”Zvezda”. Toma Milićević takes most credit for my arrival to ”Zvezda”. I remember he organized several games where he brought his colleagues to see me, and already after a year of playing in ”Teleoptik”, I came to ”Zvezda”. I couldn’t even imagine that I would play in the first team after only five years. There were many nice moments in my career, but that moment, when I was invited to come to the first team practice, is unrepeatable. I was so nervous that I couldn’t even kick the ball. The coach, Ljupko Petrović, yelled from the side: ”Kid, can you finally make a pass!?” I felt as if my legs were made of iron, as if I have never had touched a ball in my life! However, both for my talent and my behavior, the first team players accepted me well, especially Zvonko Milojević, team captain of ”Zvezda” and first goalkeeper of the national team. Unfortunately, my story in ”Zvezda” didn’t last long, only three years, and I couldn’t give everything I wanted to the club. The fans didn’t have time to get used to me, and I was already gone. I admit I feel a small emptiness in this case. The affection between me and the fans of ”Zvezda” is still felt today, but we couldn’t develop it in the field the way we both wanted. Memories, however, are still vivid – the encounter with the Đorović brothers, Kovačević, Krupniković, later playing with Pantelić, Ognjenović, Njeguš, working with coaches Petrović and Kosanović, the famous game with ”Kaiserslautern” where I simply exploded. For me, ”Zvezda” will forever remain something to dream about. Vladimir Cvetković once said a great truth: ”Zvezda is as big as you imagine it before you come to play in it.” There may be problems, failures, collapses, but for me there is nothing bigger than ”Zvezda” in Serbia. Even today, when I go to see the games, I have the same feeling as nearly twenty years ago, when I went out to the field and raised my eyes towards the stands. It is something only a trembling heart can decipher.

Italy. My entire football story in Italy was told in two clubs (”Lazio” and ”Inter”) and two cities (Rome and Milan). I am glad I didn’t change many clubs, because I believe this speaks not only of my talent, but also some other values. The field is a measure of quality for a sportsman, but there is another measurer that measures other, mainly human qualities. I am absolutely not denying the achievements of some great sportsmen who played in different leagues and clubs, but my experience is precious for me. I am proud of leaving a deep trace in ”Lazio” during the six years I played there and for, after almost nine years in ”Inter”, slowly summing up my career, aware that I have given my best to both clubs and contributed to their results, both as a player and as a human. One shouldn’t forget that I was very young when I came to the country which has clear and strict principles, with a wish to prove myself on a ground that recognizes only good results. The fact that I have survived for a long time gives me the right to be satisfied with what I’ve done. I was fortunate to have Italy accept me well and offer me an opportunity to grow up and mature in it. I accepted its standards easily and fit into the richness of its culture, variety of trends and easygoing lifestyle. I met people with whom, besides sports, I also have some generally human subjects in common. This only means that I identified myself with this environment. I am now slowly completing my career, because of injuries. However, I have no right to complain. My health was good and, if injuries had to happen, it’s better they happened at the age of 34 than ten years earlier. Furthermore, it’s also time to think what to do after football. I know we’ll stay in Italy, because we are completely adapted to this way of life, and the boys are going to school here. Serbia is and hour and a half flight away, which makes me even more relaxed. I just have to decide what I’m going to do next. I think it’s realistic to stay in football, however I still don’t know how. I believe that, as I had up to now, I will find a fine road for my feet and continue going down it.

National team. Together with my club career, I was growing up in the national team. I played in all teams, from the cadet to the first team, and spent twenty years in the national team dress. That’s a story for itself. Whenever I went to the preparations of the national team, I changed my chip. I left everything else behind and turned to something special, incomparable. It’s impossible to describe the feeling when you listen to the national anthem, with the state coat of arms on your chest. Unfortunately, there were also bad times, failures, moments to forget, but the beautiful moments I experienced with the national team will remain forever. I played at three world championships and one European.
To be honest, it’s hard to play for the national team when things go wrong. The problem is obviously our lack of patience. When things go wrong, there are immediately strong judgments and changes, looking for a new direction, and that is what hurt me most. Unfortunately, it’s still the same. Sometimes it seems to me that there’s no hope for us to start making long-term plans. Even if we lost two successive cycles of qualifications, it would perhaps pay off if it would help creating a generation who’d play on the world scene for a long time and probably achieve good results. That would redeem all previous failures. We plan today for tomorrow. Especially the media and the public. It’s difficult to work carefully, patiently and long-term in such circumstances. I’m afraid this won’t end and that we won’t see real things for long. Lame comments that my playing for the national team is not as good as for my club have followed me for long. Those who know football better know that I have always, without sparing myself, done the work which is least seen. Some of them called it dirty, but I was proud to do it.

Serbia. I have spent almost half of my life outside of Serbia, but I still know that I am what my country is. Even Ana tells me that I change when we land at the Surčin Airport. I get a smile on my face and my eyes start sparkling. I left early, grew up in other environments and probably missed the chance to, together with my generation, experience all the beautiful moments of the young people here. However, I still have the reflexes of my origins deep inside me. That’s what made me say I’m a Serb out loud and stand on the side of my people numerous times in foreign lands and among many people. Unfortunately there were reasons for it. I always underline that there are different people in any nation, and each person should answer for his sins, but no one has the right to point a finger into entire nations. In my surrounding, I talked a lot about Serbia and succeeded in making a beautiful image of it. Mainly because my acquaintances see how much I love it and how much I enjoy speaking about it, and then, based on sporadic experiences, they get the same impressions. I’m sorry our people are suffering and most of them drawing the strength from their deepest being to move forward. People such as me, who come to Serbia from time to time, see it best. Sometimes it seems impressive that people still have the motive to endure the difficult life. We have within us a kind of pride that many don’t have. Whatever the circumstances are and whatever road we take, we will always have something unique and I think we should be proud of it. I repeat, we are lacking patience in everything, especially in what should be planned long-term, and the ability to wait. I know the circumstances of life and history weren’t on our side and that’s not easy to overcome. I still hope for a miracle which exists among us. It taught us to survive even when everyone had written us off, and to endure even when we ourselves don’t believe we have any strength left.


I don’t believe people who say that they have many friends. There are many acquaintances, colleagues, associates, but only a few friends, especially in times such as ours. I believe in friendship as a strong and serious thing. I am very open and loyal, I have an open heart, and because of this I sometimes take blows. But, what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.
It’s important for one to recognize and find friends in one’s immediate surrounding. The family is also the place for such a relation. This is where you get unconditioned confidence, with parents, with your wife, children. They are the pillars that don’t move. I’m happy to have such a family. Still, I have many acquaintances and people with whom I spend nice moments talking, having dinner, drinks, and they surely mean a lot in my everyday life.


The thing with the sons is my life match. To get them on the right path and teach them to respect what they’ve got, understanding people, the time and circumstances, because nothing lasts forever by itself. For now, my wife Ana and I are on the right way to make good boys out of them, because we see they accept the values we are suggesting.
By the way, all three like football and practice it, but I told them beforehand that they won’t be either spared or privileged because of their last name. It only depends on them how far they’ll go.


Ana and I somehow grew up together and with our sons, because we had three children until the age twenty-seven. We have been together in Italy from the first moment, we became stronger people, almost one being. Our sons feel it too. When children become aware of it, they walk through life with more courage and determination.


Ana and I were reluctant not to speak about our helping people. It’s not important for others who, how much and how we helped someone. We did it from the heart, not for self-marketing. Someone needed help, we were lucky to be able to offer it and that’s all. One shouldn’t forget that when you offer help, you always risk hurting someone, even unintentionally. That’s why you have to be discreet and careful. Some important stories in life begin with words and a helping hand.


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