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Frank Lopapa On April - 20 - 2012

Legends of Calcio: Dejan Savicevic

Blessed with amazing dribbling and technical ability, Dejan Savicevic is undoubtedly one of calcio’s stars from the golden age of the 1990s. He was born on September 15, 1966 in Titograd, Yugoslavia (now Podgorica, Montenegro), joining the youth setup at hometown club OFK Titograd as a fifteen year old. However, two years later he would go across town to join Buducnost, where he would start out by playing at both the youth and senior levels, at least in his first year with the club. Ahead of the 1984-85 season, Savicevic became a full-fledged senior squad member; however Buducnost were nearly relegated in the Yugoslav First League, missing out on the drop by three points. While a poor season for the club as a whole, Dejan enjoyed a promising first full season, scoring six goals in 29 appearances for the club. By the next season Buducnost’s fortunes improved, finishing seventh as Savicevic continued to improve as a player earning his first senior international cap. ‘Dejo’ would garner interested from Yugoslavia’s biggest clubs, and he eventually joined Red Star in 1989.

In his first season with the Belgrade side, Savicevic netted ten times in twenty-five matches as well as making his debut in the European Cup. On the continent, Red Star actually faced his future club Milan in the second round, drawing at the San Siro in the first leg 1-1. In the return tie in Belgrade, Savicevic put the home side ahead in the 50th minute; however, the match was abandoned due to heavy fog and was replayed the next day with the scoreline cleared. The two team would draw one apiece again with Red Star losing 4-2 on penalties (Savicevic missed his). Red Star would also finish runners-up in the league that season. In the 89-90 season, the Montenegrin would improve on his goal taley, finishing with seventeen goals as his performances helped lead Red Star to the Yugoslav league title. As a result of his league performances, Dejan was selected to play for the Yugoslav national team at the 1990 World Cup; however, Savicevic was largely used as a bench player during the length of the tournament as Yugoslavia bowed out in the quarterfinals against Argentina on penalties (this time Savicevic converted his).

1991 would prove to be a banner year for Savicevic as he helped lead Red Star to a league and European Cup double, only missing out on the trophy trifecta by losing to Hajduk Split in the Yugoslav Cup final. In the European Cup, Savicevic would scored all three of his goals in the quarters and semifinals, finding the net in both ties against Dynamo Dresden in the quarterfinals and scoring the winning goal against Bayern in the semifinal first leg. In the final Red Star edged past Marseille on penalites in an unlikely victory for the Yugoslav side. Savicevic would finish joint-second in the Ballon d’Or vote behind Marseille’s Jean-Pierre Papin. He would play one more season for Red Star before making his big money transfer to Milan. Upon his transfer to Italy, he was lauded by both Silvio Berlusconi and Marco van Basten for his skillfulness and creativity.

Savicevic’s first season at Milan was a tough one, as he only featured ten times in a season where Milan would walk away with the scudetto in addition to reaching the Champions League final, only to be upset by Marseille. The forward would not score his first goal for Milan until January against Genoa. Savicevic’s lack of appearances came down to a combination of Milan having too many foreigners on the team  at the time (only three were allowed on any given matchday) and Capello’s skittishness towards the Montenegrin, feeling that he was purely a product of Berlusconi’s transfer policy and was not necessarily needed. By the next season, with van Basten injured and Guillit and Rijkaard leaving, Dejan would see much more playing time, playing in 20 of Milan’s 34 league matches despite recording zero goals in the entire campaign.

However, it would be in Europe where Savicevic would shine, most notably in Milan’s 4-0 triumph over Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’ in the Champions League final. In that match, Savicevic would be involved in three of Milan’s four goals, including the cross that led to Daniele Massaro’s opener, scoring on a fantastic lob two minutes into the second half, and hitting the post in the lead up to the rossoneri’s fourth. On the night, Milan were, according to Barcelona’s Andoni Zubizarreta, “just perfect.” Despite his magical form in Milan’s run to the Champions League title, Savicevic would still not be entirely in Capello’s favor the next season despite reaching his highest goal tally with Milan at nine; the rossoneri would also finish fourth in the 94-95 campaign, thirteen points behind Juventus. In their third straight Champions League Final Milan would fall to Ajax 1-0 as Savicevic would not even make the bench for the game despite his stellar performance in the semifinals against Paris Saint-Germain. Savicevic would again play a significant role for Milan in the 95-96 season helping the club to another scudetto by scoring six times in 23 matches, his highest number of appearances with Milan. The next two seasons would see his role at Milan diminish, playing only eight times in his final season with the club.

Savicevic was easily one of his generation’s most naturally gifted players, but like most players of his ilk, he would tend to fade in and out of matches and was maddeningly inconsistent. One could say that his legacy lives on in Italy through two other skillful Montenegrins in Stevan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic. Dejan will always remain in the hearts of not only milanisti, but all calcio fans who have been lucky enough to see a player with such skills, whether it be his lob over Zubizarreta in Athens or one of his trademark mazy runs through the opposition.


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