When Milenko Acimovic signed for Tottenham Hotspur from Red Star Belgrade in 2002, he became only the second Slovenian footballer (after Barnsley’s Ales Krizan) to play in the Premier League. Andy Greeves catches up with the former Slovenia international player who played 17 league matches for us between 2004 and 2005 and also made 74 appearances for his country between 1998 and 2007, scoring 13 goals.
You became well known to managers across world football following your performances at Euro 2000 and the 2002 FIFA World Cup. How much did you enjoy playing in these tournaments?
Milenko: "In both cases, Slovenia was making its first appearance in those competitions in 2000 and 2002 respectively, so it was a very proud moment for the players. Playing in such big tournaments is what every footballer aspires to do and I loved competing at the highest level. I scored against Paraguay in the 2002 World Cup, which is something I will always remember, though sadly the team lost 3-1."
You signed for Tottenham Hotspur from Red Star Belgrade after the World Cup in 2002. How do you look back on your time at White Hart Lane?
Milenko: "It was a massive step for me going from the Serbian League to the Premier League and perhaps looking back, I might have been better to play somewhere like France for a little while before making such a big move. That would have been a natural step up from the Serbian League but not as tough as the Premier League."
"It was a difficult time for me at Tottenham, as far as never really feeling I did myself justice on the pitch. Tottenham is a massive club that has always had excellent players and you can’t afford to play too many games to an average standard as someone will quickly replace you in the line-up. That is what happened to me."
What was Glenn Hoddle like as a manager and how did you get on with your Spurs team mates?
Milenko: "Glenn Hoddle was a good manager and I am so grateful to him that he gave me such a big break by signing me for Spurs. My regret is that I wasn’t able to repay the faith he put in me by producing the performances both he and I would have hoped for."
"The players were welcoming and I quickly made some good friends at Spurs, a few of whom I still keep in touch with. It wouldn’t be fair to single out only a few individuals in terms of who my best friends were. I got on with everyone there."
You moved from Spurs to Lille in 2004 where you famously scored for the French club against Manchester United in the Champions League. What do you remember of that moment?
Milenko: "Scoring the goal against Manchester United in the Champions League (in a 1-0 victory for Lille against the Red Devils on November 2, 2005) was one of the biggest highlights of my career. Playing against Manchester United in the Champions League is a special moment in itself but to beat them and score the winning goal is incredible. Hopefully that goal showed fans in England a little bit more in terms of what I could do as a footballer. I didn’t play enough or score for Tottenham, but at least I played against Manchester United and scored."
What have you been up to since your retired from playing in 2010?
Milenko: "I was out of football for around six months, having retired from playing at Austria Vienna when the opportunity came for me to return to Slovenia and become Director of Football at NK Olimpija Ljubljana. They are a very big club in Slovenia and finished second to NK Maribor in the Prva Liga (Slovenian top division) last season. The job is obviously very different to playing, but I’m enjoying being involved in football again. In the long term, I would like to become a manager but I don’t want to rush anything and am taking things a step at a time."
Finally, what challenge do you feel fellow Slovenian club NK Maribor will be for Spurs this evening?
Milenko: "At the moment, NK Maribor are the best club in Slovenia and as well as the trophies they have won, they have gained a lot of plaudits for the style of football they play. The match at Tottenham will go a long way to determining whether NK Maribor can make it into the knock-out stages of the Europa League. On paper, most people will fancy a Tottenham win, but it will not be an easy game for them at all and anything can happen in football.
"Maribor have put in a number of good performances in the Europa League this season, especially against Panathinaikos in the first group game. They have a number of international players and a very good side from back to front. I wouldn’t like to single anyone out, as far as being a danger man. All I can reiterate is that it will be a hard game for Spurs."