Monday, September 14, 2009

However, one Communist country officially exported players to the West – Yugoslavia. Yugoslavian players were well known quality for many years – ‘the European Brazilians’ played for Western professional clubs well before the Second World War and were highly respected. Reputation alone meant nothing in the Communist worldview – it was Josip Broz Tito’s independent policy which provided for continuous export: Tito permitted ordinary Yugoslavians to work abroad. The general permission automatically included footballers, but under special regulation: no longer needed for the national team stars minimum 29 years old. The rule is peculiar, combining ideology, plain economics, and sporting concerns. ‘Mature’ players were thought to be able to behave ‘appropriately’ abroad and not to be a disgrace for Communism. Keeping them at home when young serviced the needs for a strong national team - for many years it was wildly believed, and not only in Eastern Europe, that a footballer was not good after reaching the age of 30. Hence, 28-29 years old was reaching the point when he was not to be called anymore to the national team. Old horses, then, were allowed to go to the West – but old horses with big names established by playing for strong Yugoslavia. So the old horses brought some handsome cash to the Yugoslavian clubs, or the Federation. It was not excessive cash by Western standards, something well understood by the Yugoslavian officials, so at the end there was even a mercy element included in the practice: in gratitude for the long service to the nation by playing for the national team, old guys were allowed to try proffesional football – and good luck to them! If they managed to get good money – fine; if not – at least they had a chance, it was ultimately up to them to scrape something in the last years of their careers. Some players managed well, like Velibor Vasovic in Ajax, but others were kept at home so long, that when finally allowed to go West they were too old to find decent club. Dragan Djajic, one of the finest European players from late 1960s and the first half of the 70s, was perhaps the most unlucky.

‘Magic Dragan’ is regarded the all-time best Serbian player. Born in 1946, Djajic debuted for Crvena Zvezda (Belgrade) in 1961 and scored 287 in 590 matches for the club until 1975, when he was transferred to Bastia (France). He collected 85 caps and scored 23 goals for the Yugoslavian national team, and was one of the top European players in the late 60s and early 70s – which was his bad luck at the end, for he was kept at home for so long, no big European club was interested of having him in 1975.