Sinisa Mihajlovic: Zdenek Zeman moves with long letter

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Zeman remembered Mihajlovic, who passed away at age 53 from leukemia

Zdenek Zeman wanted to remember colleague and friend Sinisa Mihajlovic, who passed away at 53 after a battle with leukemia, in an open letter published by Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Coach can I bring him to Trigoria? He would like to see a training session and ask you some questions…. Our mutual friend, Andrea Di Caro, organized the visit. He kept telling me that we would like each other and I would discover a special guy. He was the ‘cupid’ of our friendship. At the time I was coaching Roma, it was 2012, Sinisa Mihajlovic showed up dressed very smartly, with a briefcase. We sat outside and he started to ask me a thousand questions about my 4-3-3, how I was coaching the offense, the defense, the athletic preparation. He was curious, taking notes, storing everything.”

“But I was not being questioned by a young ex-footballer with technical ambitions, no, Sinisa was already a colleague of mine and coached the national team of Serbia. I immediately understood that behind that cheerful smile, the ready joke in the duet with Totti who came to greet him, was an ambitious but humble man, passionate about his work and with a desire to work and grow. I liked him right away.”

“We continued the chat at the table. One of the many lunches and dinners that since that day our trio of friends, but it would be better to say our trident has enjoyed together, among jokes, stories, anecdotes and smiles. Of Sinisa the footballer it is useless to speak. He was great: a spectacular left foot, great football intelligence, grit, winning mentality and enormous personality and an ability to shoot penalties that made him unique.”

“The man everyone often saw as tough and edgy, when we were together he always had a smile on his face. He would greet me every time with a ‘hello mister’ full of cheer. I used to enjoy teasing and taunting him to get him angry. Sinisa was a sight when he would get pissed off…. I used to tell him that I remembered him as an opponent when he used to shoot all the free kicks in the Curva and was a danger to the spectators. He immediately got serious: ‘Me?! No coach look you are wrong with someone else. I never shot in the Curve. I was either scoring or taking the cross…’. I could see him biting his tongue not to tell me off. And the great thing was that he always fell for it! Then I’d sketch a smile and he’d realize I was teasing him.”

“Even though we challenged each other on opposite benches, there was always a relationship of great affection: I treated him, even in age, as one would a son. And I think he reserved for me the respect that is due to a parent. When he would recount some bluster or the episodes that blew up nerves on the field, he would always bring a smile to my face. And I was moved to hear him talk about his often difficult childhood in the former Yugoslavia. There as men from the East, we understood each other with a look and compared eras and memories. The news of his illness brought me deep sorrow. But knowing him I knew he would never give up. When Sinisa recovered I was convinced that the worst was behind us, but even when the disease came back I always thought he would make it. With his extraordinary ability to fight and suffer and endure everything. In this he was truly heroic.”

“When at the presentation of my book in Rome on December 1 he showed up giving me a wonderful surprise, I was moved. I knew he was sick and I know what an enormous sacrifice he made to be there. He hugged me and kissed me on the forehead, as one does with a father, and I who usually avoid public gestures of affection stroked his hand with all the tenderness and affection I had for him.”

“I did not want to see him in his last days in a hospital bed and I will not be at his funeral. Death is hateful and his causes me too much pain. Instead, I want to remember him smiling, like he was that night. I will always carry his last kiss with me.”

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