Many overseas footballers have graced Norway’s premier division over the years but not many have made a lasting impact on the league nor the clubs they have played for. There are only a small number of elite foreign players who can be mentioned in the same breath of domestic heroes such as Frode Johnsen, Morten Berre and John Carew.
One of the biggest personalities in Norwegian football over the past 10 years has been Bojan Zajic. Having moved to Norway in 2007 aged 26 to join Valerenga, Zajic immediately impressed with his amazing technical ability and how he was able to control matches from the middle of the pitch. The Serbian maestro became something of a cult hero for Valerenga before leaving the side in 2013 after 6 years with the club.
Zajic spent 9 seasons in the Norwegian top tier with both Valerenga and Sarpsborg 08 before dropping down a level aged 35 to join OBOS Ligaen promotion hopefuls Sandnes Ulf. I spoke to Zajic about his career so far and what the future may hold for the former Serbian international.
‘Norway is my second home now. I have spent 10 fantastic years here, people and fans have accepted me wherever I have played and my family loves living here.’ said Zajic.
Having grown up in the troubled nation of Serbia during the 1980’s, making it as a professional footballer was never going to be easy. Zajic, however, made a name for himself in the academy of Krusevac based side FK Napredak and went on to make 70 league appearances for the club between 1998 and 2001. During this time, Zajic enjoyed a promotion with his side back to the Serbian top tier, before playing in the ‘Yugoslav Cup Final’ in 2000 against Red Star Belgrade. This was to be considered as FK Napredak’s greatest domestic achievement.
‘I have a lot of nice memories from my childhood in Serbia. It was of course difficult living in that period for a few reasons and training for football was hard.
I think these challenges helped to motivate me to become a professional footballer though. I wanted to be a success and make the most of my life!’
Bojan left his first club Napredak in 2001 to join FK Obilic, a big step up for a then 20 year old Zajic. After 5 years with the side, the midfielder made arguably the biggest move of his career by signing a 4 year deal with Serbian behemoths Partizan Belgrade. Despite only playing with the side for a year of his contract, it seems Zajic still has fond memories of playing with the former Serbian champions.
‘One of the best players I have ever played with was Steven Jovetic, of Partizan Beograd.’
Zajic began his love affair in 2007 when he joined Valerenga in the summer transfer window. The Serbian’s career in Norway started in earnest in 2008 during his first full season with the side under the rule of new boss Martin Andresen.
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Bojan Zajic playing for Valerenga against Liverpool in 2013. Photo: Digitalsport
‘When I played for Valerenga I had my biggest success as a footballer by winning the NM Cupen in 2008 under Martin Andresen. I have to pick him as the best coach I have had in my career so far.
His style of management was amazing. His talent of analyzing opponents and developing tactics was very good. I really hope he will come back into football someday because I think Norwegian football needs him right now. With Valerenga I also played with Moa (Abdellaoue) who was a great player.’
Fast forward to the present day and Zajic is about to enter his second season with OBOS Ligaen promotion hopefuls Sandnes Ulf. After a relatively disappointing 2016 season which saw the side miss out on promotion to the Eliteserien, the club now knows that promotion in 2017 is almost a necessity.
‘Our ambition this year is for sure to earn promotion to the Eliteserien. I am really optimistic because we have a very good team, and a great mix between younger and more experienced players.
I expect players like Kent Eriksen, Roy Miljeteig, Nicolai Geertsen and Jorgen Olsen to impress. Then we have younger players such as Andreas Dybevik, Axel Kryger and Mads Nielsen who are able to show their massive talents.’
As for Zajic, at 36 years old he seems to have no plans to hang up his boots just yet and suggests he has unfinished business with Sandnes.
‘Honestly, for myself I expect to set an example for the younger players in the squad with my experience. I train really hard and I still feel great and ready for the new season. I definitely want to finish my career as an Eliteserien player with Sandnes Ulf. I want to play as long as I can as i still enjoy it!
My plan is to live in Norway after I retire because as I said I really enjoy living here. I want to use the experience I have gained to help out the new generation of footballers.
I am already now working as a ‘Spilerutvikler’ for the 13-14 talents and helping Bengt Saeternes with the A team. Bengt was one of the main reasons I joined Sandnes as I knew he was very ambitious as a player (Zajic & Saeternes were teammates for Valerenga) and even more ambitious now as a coach. One day, when i decide to retire as a player, I can see myself going into coaching.’
At 36 years old, Bojan Zajic still has a lot to offer Norwegian football. He is still arguably the most technically gifted player in the OBOS Ligaen and even though his legs won’t allow the speed of foot that once made him one of the top Eliteserien footballers, the Serbian can still change games at this level when he is on song.
Should Sandnes achieve promotion this season, it will be a nice send off for Zajic to play once more in Norway’s top division before embarking on a probable coaching career. There is no doubt that one of Norway’s most famous foreign footballers will have an amazing amount of footballing knowledge to impart on the next generation of young Norwegian talents.