Radomir Djalovic is a Balkans footballing pioneer. By moving from Red Star Belgrade to Zagreb this summer, the 19-year-old became the first player to leave a leading Serbian club for one in Croatia since hostilities erupted in the old Yugoslavia more than a decade ago.
Although scars remain on both sides from the conflict, some observers believe the Djalovic transfer could prove the first, tentative step on the road to normal relations between Serb and Croat.
Not that Djalovic sees himself as a diplomatic ground-breaker. To him, the decision to move to the Croat champions was purely for football reasons. A highly regarded Yugoslav youth international, he spent last season on loan from Red Star at Belgrade neighbours Zeleznik.
And with Branko Jelic, Mihajlo Pjanovic and Dragan Bogovac already ahead of him in the queue for Red Star attacking berths, and another forward, Igor Bogdanovic, arriving this summer from Vojvodina, Djalovic simply felt he would have more first-team opportunities at Zagreb.
He readily accepted their offer of a four-year contract – a move that caused deep displeasure to Red Star youth team coach Jovan Acimovic. The former Yugoslav international revealed how he had often championed the youngster’s cause and slammed the club management for allowing Djalovic’s contract to run out, thus making him fair game for a free-transfer raid.
“Djalovic is an excellent young striker. He’s quick, two-footed and a natural scorer,” declared Acimovic.
“I am sorry he left us. It’s very sad to see young talent go. We often complain about all the good young players who leave the country, and then we let someone like Djalovic go.”
By contrast, Zagreb could not be more satisfied. In Djalovic they have a fine young prospect, a ready-made replacement for Ivica Olic should, as seems likely, the Croat World Cup striker move West soon.
“Djalovic has a great ability,” says Zagreb coach Ivan Katalinic. “It’s incredible to think we picked him up for free.” In the late 1980s, a young Croat midfielder called Robert Prosinecki was released by Dinamo Zagreb, only to make a big name for himself at Red Star Belgrade.
Will Djalovic’s career take off in similar fashion now that he has moved in the opposite direction?
Club Zagreb (Cro)
Born October 29, 1982, in Bijelo Polje
Previous clubs Jedinstvo Bijelo, Red Star Belgrade, Zeleznik