From Podgorica to Port: The Sandpit Meets Dragan Boskovic

 

“Can you take that bit out?” Dragan Boskovic asks me after having a quick look at the first draft of this interview. “I don’t want to make any enemies.” Whilst that may sound surprising to anyone familiar with his, shall we say, ‘combative’ on-field presence, off the pitch he’s a thoughtful, articulate and likeable character, as passionate about books, films and politics as he is about the game he plays – very successfully – for a living.

With over 100 league goals scored in the top division, Dragan is a bona fide Thai football legend, and arguably the biggest star in T1. And yet, Thai football media being virtually non-existent, very little is known about one of the game’s most recognisable figures. So as he prepares to spearhead Port’s 2019 T1 campaign, The Sandpit sat down with the big Montenegrin for a chat about his formative karate years, his assimilation into Thai culture, and his optimistic look at what the new season holds…

 

The Karate Kid

When I was 6 my parents took me to karate class, and I really got into it, because my family are very sporty. So for four years I was really successful at it, but it was a small town and the opportunities for karate weren’t good. All the kids in my neighbourhood played football on the streets so one day when I was about 10 my friend said to me ‘Let’s try football training’, so a few of us went and I stayed the longest, I progressed and improved…I chose well I think!

Forza Milano

Montenegro was influenced by Italian football a lot as we had some players playing there, like Dejan Savicevic at Milan, so I’ve liked Milan since I was a kid.

Fat Ronaldo

I don’t like to idolise anyone, but my favourite is Fat Ronaldo – the best player ever for me. Messi, Maradona I respect, but this guy, the ease with which he played, unbelievable, he’s the number 1 for me. But I’m not going to get fat like him!

Welcome to Thailand

It was pure luck how I came here! Montenegro is not an important league – we are tactically and physically good, but the prospects for players there aren’t great so I was looking for a way out. I’d reached my limit there, I’d played for the national team, captained my club, I was officially the best player in the league, there was nothing left to achieve. So during pre-season I was on the phone with a friend of mine who’d just left Kazakhstan to join Chonburi, so I said – long shot – if you know any teams who are looking, let me know. And he called me the next day, saying there was a club – Suphanburi – who really needed a player like me, so I made a deal, packed my bags, and the rest is history.

Life in the Sticks

This was my first encounter with Asian culture, and remember, I didn’t come to Bangkok, I came to Suphanburi! It’s not a big city, it was totally different to where I’d come from, and I thought what is this? But then I thought OK, take your time, remember why you’re here. So I went to see the pitch – amazing. The training pitch – amazing. The people were friendly, so I thought OK this is much better. Because where I come from, it’s a country shaped by war, and people are much more negative, and the economic & political situation isn’t good, so when I came here it was refreshing. So I committed myself to training and to proving myself, I made friends, I got to know Thailand, and things were much much better.

Thainess

I just adapted to the local culture, I made a lot of good friends – Thai friends – and that helped me to assimilate. A lot of players come here and they moan about things but I say hey, this isn’t your country, you need to adjust to their culture, let it go, try to understand them, go with the flow. Otherwise you’re done. With Thai players for example, I yell at them a lot, I try to push them, but not too much, because they are fragile and you don’t want them to break. So if you want to yell at someone on the pitch, yell at me! Only me!

Mr 100%

Karate builds character! I’m not afraid of anything. And I don’t like to lose – friendly, league game…even if we just play a game of pool now, I don’t like to lose. This is how I grew up, this is street shit, I grew up playing on the street with my friends. I always give 100% to everyone, and so I expect 100% in return. On the pitch, I don’t care who it is, some kid 10 years younger than me, I will fight for him, and he sees that and he will fight for me.

Coming Inside

Left wing is my natural position – even now I know I can give the most from left-wing. But at Bangkok Utd it was about filling in the gaps – ‘Bole can do it’. It was always, ‘Bole can do it’. Our striker got injured and we didn’t have a backup, so Mano (Polking) came to me and said “We need you to play striker”, so I said “OK, I can do this, I did it when I was a kid – but don’t keep me there for a long time!” Because when you’re a striker you’re dependent on the rest of your team to give you the ball, and if they don’t provide for you, you’re dead. But on the left I was more involved in the game, and I like this. But anyway it worked out because I was at Bangkok Utd for a long time. First season, I scored 13 goals. Second season, 20 goals. From left-wing. I got to know the team, and we were playing as one, and when you play as one, with quality players, it’s easy for me, which is how I got 38 goals in 2017.

Leaving Bangkok Utd

After the 2017 FA Cup final, which we lost, Bangkok Utd wanted to make some big changes…maybe I didn’t agree at the time but they wanted to make changes and now I see they did the right thing. Mano, he’s a great coach, and a great guy, but most importantly he has assimilated into Thai culture. He knows how to manage foreign players, but most importantly he knows how to manage Thai players. He has some very big heads in the dressing room, and he knows how to manage them, and they couldn’t play better anywhere else. He is good at getting the very best out of the team he has. He is a great human being and coach.

 

This is Khlong Toey!

I had offers to leave Thailand but I wanted to stay. Port had liked me a long time, and I live close to the stadium – I come from Europe and you know what the fans are like there, and Port fans are like this, everyone knows they are the best fans in Thailand. So they said we want to grow as a club, we have great fans, we want you to help, so I said OK, I want to help this club improve a lot as they deserve to be on top. It takes time and it takes patience and it’s difficult, it’s a huge job. We have only one pitch to train on and play on, and that needs to improve. With a good pitch, we can kill anyone with our football. And before we didn’t have a deep enough squad, so we all had to play every game and this is not easy, playing every 3-4 days, you have no recovery time and people don’t understand when you say you’re tired. But this is what shapes you as a team – we talk, go over things, and this is the biggest strength of Thai Port, we all talk about our problems and we make a bond, and Port’s bond is amazing – our team spirit is unbelievable, this is the best thing about Port. Then we go out in front of the fans and they give us a push – they don’t call them the 12th man for nothing.

THAT Debut Goal

Amazing! It was the first goal of the season, my first goal, a very good one, let’s see how the fans react…OH WOW! I lost myself, running around like a kid, I don’t normally do that but the emotions were too much.

Teammates

They all have special qualities. Elias – look at the power of this guy, look at the balls on this guy (makes ‘big balls’ gesture to convey the sheer size of Elias’ balls). Rochela – look at the anticipation & the smartness of this guy. Suarez – look at the ball control. Kevin – a hundred times a game, up & down the wing. You see Nurul, a hundred times, shooting, scoring, crossing. Pakorn, the best right foot in the league, trust me. (Has lengthy ‘discussion’ with Dom about the merits of Pakorn). He’s young, he’s been there a long time, he’s trying to improve himself, and there’s a lot of pressure on him because we all know he has quality. I get angry with him too, I yell at him, then I come to him & hug him & push him more and more. He’ll be good this season, you’ll see!

The New Boys

Sumanya, that was a little bit my influence…I said if you want to bring anyone, bring him. I’ve trained and played with him, he has unbelievable qualities and he’s a great guy. He’ll need some time to assimilate, but you will see.

Go Seul Ki, he’s a quality player, one of the best Asian players in the league. He’s incredibly fit, smart, very calm. I HATED playing against him, HATED this guy, so when I heard he was coming to Port, I thought fucking great! I don’t have to play against him!

Toughest opponents

Go Seul Ki, like I said. Everton from Bangkok Utd, Victor…he’s always tough because he’s very smart & very strong. But I don’t think they like to play against me either!

2019

I think with our quality new signings we have a chance…I won’t say we’re going to win the league but I can promise that we will do everything we can to compete. We have the quality but if our pitch is not good – and I tell you there are people working on it 24/7 – small teams can come here and defend and we can’t do anything. Playing away on a good pitch, no problem! We will go for the league, we will go for the cups, because the quality is there, we have a deeper squad, we can rotate, relax and improve.

Jadet

He’s the greatest guy ever! He’s the epitome of Thai culture – always smiling, always positive, always joking around. But you can’t argue with his results and it wouldn’t be right to doubt him. Look what happened when they replaced him in 2017…

Off the Pitch

I like to read, that’s my number one thing. I read everything – self-improvement, business, novels. I’m currently reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Reading clears my palate as you say. And movies – especially ‘heavy’ movies – the last one that really made an impression on me was Nocturnal Animals. I’m also really interested in politics, though global politics frustrates me these days. And hanging out with my friends – Thai friends from Bangkok, not football people; it’s important to take your mind off football sometimes.

Future plans

I’ll play as long as my body allows me to stay at the top level – I won’t be dropping down to a lower level. I want to stay in Bangkok, do something in football, maybe invest in something, do some business…not the coaching side, as it’s unstable and although I could be a great coach I want to get off the pitch. I’d rather stay in the stands, on the business side. I want to have time for other things, I don’t want the rest of my life to be all about football.

 

Interview by Tim Russell & Dominick Cartwright. Photos by Tim Russell. Big thanks to Dragan for taking the time to answer our questions, and to The Sportsman for kindly hosting us

 

Tim Russell

Tim Russell

The founder and editor of The Sandpit, Tim has been in SE Asia since 2003 and in Bangkok since 2012, where he runs a travel tech business. Tim has followed Port FC since 2014, and is also a fan of his hometown club Coventry City, and French club AS St-Etienne. He has written for the likes of Football365, ITV.com, NME and The Quietus, and is a regular contributor to God Is In the TV. He's a keen photographer and his work can be seen on his website.

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