Aleksandar Đuric is a name synonymous with Singapore football. After all this is a man who is one of Singapore’s most decorated player. In 15 seasons in Singapore’s top flight, he won eight S.League Championships, three Singapore cups and was named player of the year three times. Duric is a proud Singaporean and was the first foreign born player to captain the national team. All of this despite taking three personal attempts to receive Singapore citizenship.
Moreover, add of all his aforementioned success to the numerous charity work he is involved in, this is a man who is loved by Singaporeans just as much as local legend Fandi Ahmad. In 2012, Đuric became a taxi driver for 12 days to raise $2,657 for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. His modest and unassuming nature has always been at the heart of what he does. While his success in Singapore is widely known, it was his little-known journey to the island that has made the man what he is today.
Born to an ethnic Serbian family in the town of Doboj in war-torn Bosnia, the young Duric grew up in a poor family and used sports as form of escape from his troubles. At age 12, he switched from football to kayaking. He excelled at the sport becoming junior champion and senior champion. In 1987, he was ranked 8th in the world for the sport.
However the war that broke out in Yugoslavia changed his life completely. Duric would lose his mother to an artillery attack in 1993. In bizarre circumstances, he would go on to represent Bosnia in kayaking at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Duric hitchhiked to Barcelona for the Games, travelling without a passport from Hungary. Additionally, Duric served as an officer in the Bosnian army and credits 60km walks carrying a 30kg pack and gun in the Balkans winter for the toughness he brings in warmer climates almost two decades later.
He would eventually give up kayaking and at age 22 sign his first professional football contract with a Hungarian team. This marked the start of a nomadic footballing career that saw him ply his trade all the way to Asia. After his first professional footballing stint in Hungary, he would move to Australia in 1995 where he would play for six clubs in three different cities. In 1996, he had a stint in China where he played for two seasons before returning to Australia again.
His first encounter with Singapore came during a 24-hour stopover in 1995 on the way to Australia. With the faint hope of playing for the Socceroos, Duric took out Australian citizenship. But in 1999 when his Adelaide club went bankrupt, he accepted an offer to play in the S-League and signed with Tanjong Pagar United. His new side needed a centre forward so Duric had to change from his favourite left midfield role. Little did he know that this shift in his role would transform him into the world's top-ranked striker a dozen years later. And the rest as they say is history.
Duric’s journey from refugee to Singapore’s soothing condominium lifestyle is one of true inspiration. He overcame obstacles that many of us in comfortable Singapore would not have to go through. When Singaporean footballers complain, Duric simply kept his head down and worked harder than most. His discipline above all kept him going even into his 40s.
“I see a lot of talents in Singapore, but they will sit in the coffee shop until 5am. They get fat so easily. They think about girls and everything else first. The last thing is football. In my way, football should be on top.” Duric once remarked.
It’s not wrong to say that he hit the nail on the head with that remark. For one to succeed in life and football, a player must work harder than hard. Duric is a living example of this and that is why he is the perfect ambassador for Singapore when it comes to the beautiful game. Maybe our future footballers instead of looking for role models far away should look somewhere much nearer to home.