by Peter Davis
Dejan Damjanovic delighted Jiangsu Sainty fans and devastated F.C. Seoul supporters when he chose to move to the Chinese Super League (CSL) for the 2014 season.
Speaking exclusively to Goal, the 32-year-old Montenegrin forward is clearly motivated and looked back on some great years in South Korea but also forward to an exciting 2014.
“It’s not easy to change club after six years and I’m a little sad, but maybe it was time to change country and the league and look for a new challenge,” Damjanovic said.
With a spell at Incheon United before his move to Seoul, it is easy to see why Sainty have gone for the prolific goal scorer - Damjanovic has over 150 goals to his name in the K-League, averaging a goal every 1.6 games.
Damjanovic also scored in both the home and away matches against England for Montenegro in the qualification stages of the 2014 World Cup, and was on target against Ukraine and Poland.
“I don’t know that [if I can be as prolific in China] but I will give maximum effort to make something good for team,” he asserted.
“I’m sure in myself and my abilities and I want to show to everybody that Jiangsu made an excellent move when they signed me.”
The news will no doubt have gotten the attention of other CSL sides, as Damjanovic scored twice against Sainty themselves in February. He was also a threat against Beijing Guoan and scored in both legs of the AFC Champions League final against CSL champions Guangzhou Evergrande, who won on away goals.
“[Losing the AFC Champions League was] the worst feeling ever!” he recalled.
“To lose like that in one of the biggest game of our careers is not easy to accept but we showed a lot against a really good team.”
Damjanovic is joining what is seemingly the start of an overhaul of sorts in Nanjing with Sainty, who replaced Serbian coach Dragan Okuka with former China manager Gao Hongbo in early November and have also signed the Lebanon captain Roda Antar, who has had four very successful years at Shandong Luneng.
“I came in to help Jiangsu as much as I can and I’m sure with Roda and maybe one more new foreign signing we can have a good season,” he said.
“I heard that Jiangsu have good young players and I’m so excited to start training. I’m always chasing and pushing to be the best.”
Jiangsu Sainty finished fourth in 2011, runners-up in 2012 but a disappointing 13th in the 2013 CSL season, winning just two of their last 15 games as they scored 14 and conceded 20 in that time.
At 32, Damjanovic will be looking to still be amongst the goals and is confident the CSL will provide as good a challenge as the K-League.
“The difference [between the K-League and CSL] is smaller every year and with good foreigners in every club and the home players improving a lot, that’s very good for the Chinese league and maybe it’s time for Chinese teams to dominate in Asia,” he said.
Motivation is clearly there and while Damjanovic knows about some CSL sides, he will take none for granted.
“I faced Guangzhou Evergrande but for me every game is the same and I’m looking at every team with respect,” he said.
“They are one of the best teams in league and I showed that I can cause them a lot of problems. I’m planning to do the same in 2014.”
Beijing-based Peter Davis has followed Chinese football since 2008 and is a regular contributor to the popular Chinese football blog Wild East Football. Follow him on Twitter at @peteydavis.