'I CAN HANDLE PRESSURE'
As one of the four marquee players in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S-League this season, Goran Ljubojevic knows there is huge pressure on him to light up the competition.
But, speaking to The New Paper before a training session on Monday, Balestier Khalsa's new Croatian striker (right) insists he is not fazed.
"I know there is pressure... but this is the same everywhere I have played," he said.
"When I was in Dinamo Zagreb, there was one occasion when 15 supporters, very big guys, came to my apartment (armed) with baseball bats because our team didn't play well.
"Me, (Dinamo teammate Danijel) Pranjic and our wives were inside, and we switched off the lights because we didn't want them to know we were there.
"If I had come out, I think they would have beaten us up, but luckily, the Croatian Special Forces came to disperse the group.
"So, the pressure here is child's play compared to that!"
While comfortable with what is expected of him this season, Ljubojevic is not a fan of the "marquee" tag.
As a marquee player, his salary is not subject to the league's $10,000-a-month cap.
"I really don't like it (the marquee label)," said the former Croatia Under-21 star.
"It makes it seem like I am more important than the rest of my teammates, just because I am on better money.
"First and foremost, I am a team player, and I don't want the guys (my teammates) to think I'm some kind of star.
"It was the same case when I was at Dinamo. I was the highest-paid player in the league, and sometimes that makes people - even your teammates - want to see you fall."
Ljubojevic began his career at hometown club Osijek in the Croatian top division and, after scoring 26 goals in two seasons, he earned a big-money move to the country's biggest club, Dinamo.
There, he played alongside the likes of Luka Modric, Eduardo da Silva and Pranjic, before moving on to Belgian side Genk in 2006.
Unfortunately, in his second season there, he ruptured knee ligaments during a friendly against Dutch side VVV Venlo. The injury sidelined him for 15 months.
While Ljubojevic's teammates went on to play for clubs like Real Madrid, Arsenal and Bayern Munich, none of the big guns were willing to take a chance on him.
"I went through hell to come back from the injury and I am fine now, but none of the big clubs wanted me anymore back then," he said.
"Just before I got injured, I was in contact with (German Bundesliga team) Hertha Berlin and we were close to agreeing a transfer.
"But the stupid injury changed all that, and I played for smaller teams, sides that defend every game and only go on the counter-attack.
"I'm a classic box player. If I don't have an attacking team around me, I won't score as many goals."
"I haven't enjoyed my football in the last four years," he added.
"Marko (Kraljevic, Balestier coach) told me he wants to build an attacking team, so I hope I will start to enjoy myself in the S-League."
Ljubojevic moved from Osijek to Balestier.
Curious about how he would fare in Asia, he immediately took up the offer when new Tigers coach Kraljevic came calling.
Kraljevic, who played as an attacking midfielder for Balestier in the S-League's early years, has big hopes for his star man.
When asked whether he had set a goal target for Ljubojevic, the 48-year-old coach said: "Simple. I want 20 goals."
Considering each team play just 27 league games in a season and last year's joint top-scorers Moon Soon Ho and Aleksandar Duric bagged only 15, Kraljevic has not set an easy target.
But the coach is confident.
"Goran's heading is first class, the timing of his jumping is excellent, and he is great at bringing teammates into the game," said Kraljevic.
"Last year, our best scorer Qiu Li got 12 goals. So, to improve, we must target higher."
Ljubojevic tormented an England Under-21 defence led by current Everton star Phil Jagielka in 2003, scoring twice and notching up an assist as Croatia ran out 3-1 winners at Upton Park
When reminded of that game, he said: "Sure, it was special for me because it launched me as a star in my country.
"But I don't really think about that any more. I also scored against Anderlecht and Brugges for Genk, and had a hat-trick in the Uefa Cup (now Europa League) against some Lithuanian team (Ekranas).
"But all this is history.
"I know I won't score many goals here if I keep living in the past.
"I just want to look forward with Balestier."
Name: Goran Ljubojevic
Date of Birth: May 4, 1983 (30)
Birthplace: Osijek, Croatia
Former clubs (selected): Osijek, Dinamo Zagreb (both Croatia), St Gallen (Switzerland), Genk (Belgium), AIK Stokholm (Sweden)
Favourite player: Didier Drogba
Favourite local food: Sushi
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