Legendary striker Dejan Damjanović's K League career spanned 12 seasons at four different clubs, winning three K League titles, one K League Cup, and one FA Cup, while netting 198 league goals in the process. But, the former Montenegrin international has departed Korea for pastures new and so bids farewell to K League.

Background

Dejan Damjanović joined Incheon United in 2007, made an instant impact by scoring 14 goals in 26 appearances and earned a move to FC Seoul. While in the capital, Dejan won the K League title in 2010 and 2012 before departing at the end of the 2013 season. After two seasons in China, the three time K League top goal scorer award winner returned to Korea, signing for Choi Yong-soo's FC Seoul. Choi would depart midway through that season but Dejan and his teammates went onto secure the K League title.

What followed was a surprise move to rivals Suwon Samsung Bluewings and a run to the AFC Champions League semi-finals with Dejan scoring 10 goals in the competition overall. The man they call "Dejan-mingook" - a play on Republic of Korea (Daehanmingook) in Korean - left Big Bird with an FA Cup winners medal before signing for Daegu FC, helping to steer the Sky Blues to ACL qualification. 

Interview

Dejan, is this goodbye to K League?

"It looks like it. I didn’t plan to finish like this but what can I do? I was thinking that I would stay in Korea, everybody knows that, even I left my clothes and my stuff in Daegu. Everything was more than okay. I can’t say it was perfect but I can say it was good. I was thinking I could extend one more year there and finish my career in Korea but it’s okay. Probably it’s a goodbye for playing football in K League but maybe after football for sure I will be back in Korean football but now I’m in Hong Kong."

What happened at Daegu? How soon did they say they weren’t offering you a new contract? 

"They were really professional. They said they wanted to go with some younger players with a different style of attacker and that’s all. It wasn’t a fight or misunderstanding. My relationship with Daegu was perfect from the first day to the last. Not only with the president and the office, but with everyone. They accepted me like I had been playing there for five years not just one season and I had a really good relationship with everyone. 


"I’m sorry that I didn’t meet a lot of the fans and that we couldn’t celebrate at games together because of Covid but everything [else] was perfect. They wanted to go with younger strikers with a different style and I can understand their decision now when I look back. I know I did well and helped them in the best way I could. At my age at 39 it’s okay and it’s professional life and things change really quickly especially in football. I had four teams in Korea which is not bad. "

You played with good football teams and at excellent stadiums so you must be happy overall?

"I always played at good teams even at Incheon back in 2007. Incheon were 6th or 7th fighting for the playoff with FC Seoul that year. After that with Seoul and Suwon, they are all big teams and now Daegu qualified for the ACL again and I’m happy that I was always playing for competitive teams. Teams who play for something and have quality and always play attractive football. I enjoyed it. "


Was it a two-year contract you signed when you came back to FC Seoul in 2016?

Yes a two-year contract. They were concerned about my age at 35. They were thinking can I stay do it and I showed them I could. I came back from China to finish my football career at FC Seoul and I didn’t. Even after scoring 40 goals in two seasons I didn’t stay there so I’m not planning or regretting anything. I’m just enjoying the moment in Hong Kong with my family and trying to do well on the pitch, score some goals and then we’ll see. Maybe after four months I’ll go home or maybe I’ll continue for two more years. Ibrahimović is scoring goals in Italy. I can do it here don’t worry. "

When you left Suwon Bluewings in 2019, was there any chance of going back to FC Seoul?

"When I signed for Suwon Samsung I had an option of a 1+1 contract. After the first year scoring 27 goals in a season, normally they would activate that option but to be clear it was really hard to even think about this. At that time everything was perfect for me at Suwon. I was living in the same neighbourhood as where I did for FC Seoul. I was in K League and the ACL playing at the highest level. 


"The next year was really hard but after the second year when Choi Yong-soo was at FC Seoul I thought maybe we can meet as they needed a quality striker but he decided not to go for it. Even this I can understand from him that I wasn’t the best option for him. In the end it’s a professional game." 

What were your favourite goals from each K League club?

"I remember scoring against Daejeon in the 96th-minute. We needed the win when chasing the title. It was unbelievable I don’t know how I scored that goal. Daejeon were fighting near the bottom and we needed to win to keep the distance from Jeonbuk. We were losing and I scored late on to win it. Looking back maybe it wasn’t an important game but in that moment it was. I scored against Jeonbuk with a header when we won the League Cup. I scored two goals in a Super Match against Suwon. There are many. I can’t remember them all but there are a lot of really nice memories."

How did you feel about just missing out on 200 K League goals?

"You know, 200 is just for the K League - I scored more than almost 300 goals in all competitions. I can’t be negative about this. After scoring so many goals I can’t focus on the fact that I didn’t score two more just because 200 looks a nice number. You never know maybe I will come back to Korea next year. Maybe somebody will say “Dejan, come to help us for one season", and I will be back. You never know maybe I will score 20 goals in the Hong Kong league, maybe I will do well in the ACL.


"You never know. I was never planning to leave Korea. I was never planning to leave FC Seoul and look what happened. In life and for professional sports people you can not organize your life or think in advance too much. After enjoying what I did in Korean football, now I’m focusing on Hong Kong. I don’t regret anything."

Paul Neat & Peter Hampshire