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*Milenko Q

Posted on 20 September 2002  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

Question and answer feature from Spurs Monthly with the man on the spot being exciting Slovenian recruit Milenko Acimovic.

LIFE IN LONDON
How have you settled in to living in England?

"Life is very different for me and my family now. Tottenham is a big club and London is a very big city, but it is not a problem.

"The welcome I have received has been the biggest pleasure for me. The other players talk to me as if I have been here for three or four years and Glenn Hoddle has been very helpful. When I first signed for Tottenham, people in my country said to me that it will be very hard for me to play in England, the game is very tough and there are many strong players. But I said 'no, I have made the right decision'.

"For me, the English Premiership is the best league in the world. There is so much interest in the game over here, in the newspapers, on the television, and it is very special for me to be here.''

Was it a hard decision to uproot your young family and move from Belgrade to London?
"We lived away from home in Belgrade for four years, so moving is not a problem for us. My wife Lea speaks very good English, she is excited to be over here, living in a different culture, so I am sure we will be very happy.

"I have only been to England once before, when Red Star Belgrade played against Leicester City in the UEFA Cup. I didn't get the chance to see London, though, so I am looking forward to finding out more about the city. Once we have a car, it will be easier to get around, although I am told it would not be wise to drive in the centre of London - we must get a taxi instead!

"One thing is for sure, it will be very different to living in Belgrade. Fifteen years ago, Belgrade was a beautiful city, but the war has had a big effect on everything. There is a lot of crime, many people carry guns and you can never feel completely safe.

"The main problem is that people in Belgrade are either very rich or very poor. There is no in-between, so that creates a bad atmosphere and means there is a lot of danger.''

Have your family joined you over here yet?
"Everything is organised now. I have a very nice house in Chigwell and I am actually having a Mercedes car deliverered, so I will be very happy when that arrives! My wife is now here with our three-month old daughter, Klara, which of course makes me happy, so it is all fine.

"Klara was actually born on the day that I signed for Tottenham. Lea wasn't due to have the baby for another week or two, so I thought it would be okay to fly to England to complete the transfer. When I arrived in London I went to bed at around 11pm and turned my mobile phone off. I met John Alexander and the Tottenham directors at 8am the next morning, so didn't bother to turn my phone on again until I came out of the meeting at around 11am.

"As soon as I switched it on, I had many, many messages telling me that my wife was in hospital and had given birth to our daughter! I could not believe it - there had been no signal that the baby might arrive early. Again, Tottenham were very good to me, they allowed me to complete my medical on the same day and I flew back to see my wife and new baby the next morning.

"So that day will always be very memorable for me - I became a Tottenham Hotspur player and also became a father!"

RED STAR RESPECT
You spent four years at Red Star Belgrade, the team you supported as a boy growing up in Slovenia. What kind of experience was it at Yugoslavia's biggest club?

"As a young boy I was a big fan of Red Star. It was when they were one of Europe's top teams and won the European Cup against Marseille in 1991. They had players like Darko Pancev, Dragan Stoikovic and Robert Prosinecki and I loved to watch the attacking football that they played.

"When I got the chance to join Red Star at the age of 18, it was an easy decision to make. I had followed them for so long and it was a dream to become a player there. Sadly, things never turned out as I would have liked them to. In recent years, the club has been selling their best players too early.

"Every time we started to play well as a team, the President would sell the best two or three players to make some more money. Red Star had many fantastic young players - the best young players in Yugoslavia - but as soon as they had impressed for a short while in the first team, they would be sold abroad.

"It upset me because I wanted to be part of a Red Star team that was successful in Europe and who could try to repeat the achievements of the 1990 team, but that was never going to be possible when the best players were sold.''

You will soon find out what it is like to play in the North London derby, but the Belgrade derby between Red Star and Partizan is, by all accounts, a rather more hostile clash. Was it as bad as stories suggest?
"Playing in the Belgrade derby against Partizan was not a nice experience. It starts when you travel to the stadium on the coach, and you see a lot of blood on the streets. Around 1,000 Red Star fans meet up with around 1,000 Partizan fans and the fighting begins. The police are there, but there is nothing they can do and it often gets very nasty. People are hitting each other with baseball bats, occasionally people are killed after being stabbed, and this is all before the game has even started.

"None of the players enjoy playing in the derby, because so much is at stake. If you make a mistake that loses the game for your team, then it is probably best that you leave Belgrade straight away. The games normally finish 0-0 or 1-1, because players are too frightened to make a mistake and it is often a case of nine players defending, hitting long balls to a striker on his own.

"If Red Star lose a match against Partizan, the fans are distraught. Even if the game finishes at 8pm, they will sit in their cars behind the stadium all night long, crying for hours. The next day at the training ground, everyone is silent with their heads down and the cleaning ladies walk around crying while doing their work. It stays like that for a week until the next game.

"If we won, it was the complete opposite, like a party. More often than not, though, the game ended as a draw because neither team wanted to go through the pain of losing."

You are close friends with Goran Bunjevcevic, having played together with him at Red Star. How pleased are you to join up with him again?
"Goran is a wonderful person and him being here was a big part of my decision to sign for Tottenham. He was my captain at Red Star Belgrade and so I still look up to him as a leader. He has helped me a lot since I moved here and his wife spends a lot of time with my wife. I am thankful for his support and I am very happy that we have the chance to play together again."

WORLD CUP WOE
While the failures of France, Argentina and Italy grabbed the main headlines at the World Cup finals, Slovenia also endured a controversial exit. What went wrong for you in the Far East?

"The World Cup was very disappointing for our country. We lost every game, our star player Zahovic threatened to walk out and the coach, Katanec left, so it was a terrible time for Slovenian football. Instead of talking about the football at the World Cup, the newspapers in our country were all writing about the problems and for 24 hours a day it was all about Katanec and Zahovic.

"The only bright moment for me came when I scored my first World Cup finals goal against Paraguay in our final game. It was a very special moment for me and it gave the country some pleasure after the trouble we had been through.''

Has the national team set-up undergone drastic changes because of the events in Japan and South Korea?
"The national team is very different now. In the friendly against Italy recently we had seven new players - only four were remaining from the World Cup. The new coach is Prasnikar, who also coaches the top club side in Slovenia, Maribor, and Zahovic is still playing, so we do have a good team.

"We are looking forward to the European Championship qualifying matches now. We are in a group with France, and I think everyone knows that they are the favourites to win, but we must be confident about the future and put the World Cup behind us."

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
How have you found your early experiences of English football so far?

"When I played my first game for the club against Stevenage, I thought afterwards: 'Okay, that is my first game for Tottenham, I can relax now and it will be easier.'
"Then I played at White Hart Lane for the first time, against Celtic, and I thought: 'No, THAT was my first real game for Tottenham, that is what it will be like from now on.' Then I played against Everton for five minutes as a substitute and I realised straight away that none of those friendly matches are anything compared to playing in the Premiership. The pace was so much faster and I just thought to myself: 'This is the real thing!'

"I will never forget those five minutes - I had never experienced anything like it, but I enjoyed it and I am confident that I can be a success in English football."

Many creative foreign players find it hard to adapt to the physical nature of English football - are you fully prepared for that side of the game?
"I am not hiding from anything, I know that I will have to work on my physical ability, because you have to run for 90 minutes in the Premiership. I want to become stronger and I understand that I may have to change my game on some occasions. In Europe, you have time to stop the ball and move forward with it at your feet, but here you have much less time on the ball and it is important to pass it quickly.

"I have been working on this in training and I am sure I can adapt. The training is excellent with Glenn Hoddle, I am enjoying it very much and every day I learn something new. I think it is very good that the manager is still a fantastic player himself and can demonstrate what he wants from the players. I have a lot of respect for him.''

What did Glenn Hoddle say to you that persuaded you to believe that Tottenham are the club to build your future at?
"Glenn did not have to say much to me when I first arrived - it did not take me long to decide that I wanted to sign for Tottenham. We speak a lot more now and I know exactly what he wants from me this season.

"I am very ambitious. My first aim is to score a goal for the team - that is something I am dreaming about and I hope it happens soon. But more importantly, I want to help Tottenham achieve good results throughout the season and finish in a good position in the table. Of course, the main thing is that I play. I want to prove that Glenn Hoddle was right to sign me and to have the fans appreciate what I do for the team."