Hong Kong Premier League - Player in focus - Dejan Damjanović

Published on 14 July 2021 at 07:47

Discovery

My first memory of Dejan was when I watched highlights of FC Seoul take on Manchester United at Seoul's World Cup stadium on 24th July 2009 for a preseason friendly. It was the first time I had ever seen a Korean team play. I didn't even realise they had a League. But that all soon changed when I watched the capital based club take on the premier league giants.

 

64,000 fans packed the stands. Probably more so to watch national hero Park Ji-Sung play. But the fans were in for an entertaining match.

 

Everyone expected it to be a complete wash over by United. But that was far from the case, as Man United were forced to work for a 3-2 win. It was there that I was introduced to the now record breaking Dejan Damjanović.

 

Dejan opened the scoring in the first half, meeting a fantastic cross from Kim Seung-yong as he slipped inbetween O'Shea and Wes Brown and then cooly placed the ball past Tomasz Kuszczak. It was however cancelled out not long later by Wayne Rooney to make it 1-1. But Dejan and FC Seoul weren't about to give up, Dejan made it 2-1 for his side when he calmly and expertly chipped the ball over Kuszczak just before the end of the first half. Despite Dejan's heroics and FC Seoul's stalwart performance, it wasn't quite enough. Man United fought back in the second half, Federico Macheda and Dimitar Berbatov getting the goals to finish the game 3-2 to Manchester. Despite the loss it was a courageous and entertaining fight from the Korean Side. Enough to spark my interest.

 

After watching that game I started to follow Dejan and FC Seoul for a while. I specifically remember playing Football Manager 2013 and managing a Seoul side which had the likes of Cha du-ri, Mauricio Molina, Adilson dos Santos, Kim Yong-dae and of course Dejan.

 

The Beginning

Dejan Damjanović is a footballer who has had an incredible journey. He was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1981, a country which was then part of Yugoslavia. Growing up in the war-ruined streets of Mostar, he decided at the age of 17 to move to Serbia. He joined Sinđelić Beograd where he had 6 goals in 21 appearances. From there, Dejan moved to various Serbian teams across the years with several loan moves in that time, including one to Saudi Arabian side, Al-Alhi. But after his loan was up, the Montenegrin made the decision to leave Europe and make the move to Asia. He signed with Incheon United in 2007 for his first season in K League. 

 

The striker found success in Korea immediately, scoring 14 goals in 26 appearances, the second highest in the league. And whilst Incheon missed out on the league playoffs, Dejan certainly  impressed and did enough to catch the eye of one the most successful and richest clubs at the time, FC Seoul.

 

The Capital based club signed Dejan the following year, and it wasn’t long until he showcasing his goal scoring ability at Seoul World Cup Stadium.

 

The Rise

Dejan was quick to prove to the Seoul faithful that they had got their man. In his first year with capital club, he scored 15 goals and helped them reach the playoff championship. But unfortunately they lost to arch rivals, Suwon, in the title game.

 

Despite this, Dejan was not deterred. In the five years he was at FC Seoul, he scored a whopping 116 goals in 180 appearances. He won the League  and League Cup in 2010 and won the League again with Seoul in 2012. During which time, he had two incredible seasons, netting 23 times in 2011 and 27 times in 2012, as well as a surplus of goals in ACL.

 

With such goal poaching ability and strength, it was only a matter of time before offers came in for the prolific Damjanović. It was at that time that Chinese football was being talked about across the world. With a surge of foreign talent and money going into the Chinese Super League, it was Jiangsu Sanity who collected Dejan's signature. 

 

Damjanović joined Jiangsu Sanity (Later named Jiangsu Sunning before they were dissolved in 2021). The Montenegrin was with the side for half a season before joining Beijing Guoan. His stay in the Chinese Capital was a short one, but Dejan made it memorable when he scored 26 goals in 45 before leaving China.

 

Greatness Personified

In 2016, Dejan returned to Korea, much to the jubilation of both FC Seoul fans and Korean football fans alike. In his first season back, he helped the Red and Blacks win the K-League title alongside fellow teammate and striker Adriano, scoring a combined 30 goals. Dejan with 13 and Adriano with 17. The following season, Dejan was prolific again in front of goal, scoring 19. But despite Dejan's success and legend status at the club, FC Seoul did not renew his contract and decided it was best to part with Damjanović with him being in his mid 30s. 

 

But one mans loss is another mans gain

 

In what could be deemed as a controversial move, Dejan joined arch-rivals Suwon Samsung Bluewings before the start of the 2018. Unlike Seoul, Suwon weren't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Dejan still had goals in him and they knew from first hand experience by being on the receiving end, just how talented the then 36 year old was. It was Seoul's loss. In his first season with the Bluewings, he scored 13 goals to help keep the side in midtable. However the following season Dejan didn't quite hit the mark, netting 3 times in 21 appearances. However he arguably didn't get the support he required.

 

After two years with Suwon, the Montenegrin signed with Daegu in 2020 where he scored 9 goals in 23 appearances. Despite his good form and being a big part of a Daegu team which qualified for ACL. They did not renew his contract. And despite all of Dejan's achievements in Korea, no more K-League sides came calling.

 

Like a fine wine

Dejan maybe surprised many when it was announced at the start of 2021 that he had signed for Hong Kong Premier League side, Kitchee. At the time, most thought he would return to FC Seoul, given his success there and the fact that the Capital side were desperate for goals. However, the move never came to fruition.

 

Despite Dejan being 39, he proved that age is but a number and has not lost his natural goal scoring ability. Despite the delayed start with Kitchee due to covid and quaratine, the Montenegrin scored 17 goals in 14 appearances. He finished the 20/21 season being the League Top Scorer, Footballer of the Year, part of Team of Year and winning the title with Kitchee. 

 

He was also key for them in their AFC Champions League campaign scoring 4 in 6 appearances. But the accolades didn't stop there, as just last month in an ACL game against Cerezo Osaka, Dejan became the all-time ACL top scorer with 38 goals. Surpassing previous record holder Lee Dong-gook.

 

Asian Icon

Damjanović is easily one of the best foreign signings to play in K-League. His name known throughout Asia, his goal scoring ability undeniable and he will go down in history as a legend of the game. But his story is not finished yet...

I cannot wait to see what he brings next


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