News Singapore Premier League • March 14, 2019

Zehrudin Mehmedović, the Serbian wonderkid looking to make waves at Tampines


SINGAPORE, 14 MARCH 2019 – He once appeared to have the world at his feet and was regarded as one of football’s best young players.

Before the age of 17, Zehrudin Mehmedović had made his professional debut, starred for Serbia’s Under-17s and caught the eye of Manchester City, Roma, Arsenal, PSV, Red Bull Salzburg and Vitesse Arnhem.

The attacking midfielder, who signed a youth contract with Serbian SuperLiga side Čukarički at 15, looked set for a career at the top and was dubbed the new Dragan Stojkovic.

The wonderkid’s trajectory could have soared but for club owner Dragan Obradović, who refused to let him leave on the cheap.

“He was asking for big money from these clubs,” Mehmedović told the Singapore Premier League (SPL) website. “He did not really want to talk to them and simply rejected all the offers.

“Roma and Salzburg were satisfied with me and wanted to offer contracts but it did not happen for me. Of course, this was sad for me. These chances come once in a lifetime; if you don’t take them, they are gone.”

His stock still continued to rise as he was named by The Guardian in their October 2015 list of the top 50 talents in world football, sharing the roster with the likes of Christian Pulisic, Martin Ødegaard, Ianis Hagi, Manuel Locatelli, Dayot Upamecano and Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Before that, Mehmedović had already made history by becoming Čukarički’s youngest ever debutant and the second-youngest in Serbia’s top flight by coming on as a late substitute in a 2-0 loss to powerhouses Partizan Belgrade in May 2014.

“It was a really proud moment for me at such a young age to be able to play against one of the biggest clubs in Serbia and to come up against ex-national player and legend Saša Ilić,” he recalled.

The Novi Pazar native, who picked up football at seven and left for Belgrade at 15, also led the club to the U-18s title and featured for the U-19s in the 2016-17 UEFA Youth League.
Photo: Tampines Rovers

With the Serbian U-17s, he played alongside current Eintracht Frankfurt forward Luka Jović and goalkeeper Vanja Milinković-Savić, who was on Manchester United’s books as a youngster.

Mehmedović scored against Finland and Azerbaijan in the UEFA U-17 Championship qualifiers and Elite Round respectively, though the young Serbs agonisingly missed out on qualifying for the final tournament.

But a breakthrough to the big time never arrived, despite him signing a professional contract with Čukarički at the end of 2015.

First-team opportunities were limited and Mehmedović decided to leave the club in July 2017 upon the expiry of his contract for fellow top-flight club Mladost Lučani. But things did not work out there, leading to a move to third-tier outfit Radnički Novi Beograd in February last year, where his career path took a dramatic turn.

Back home on holiday at the end of 2018, Tampines Rovers assistant coach Fahrudin Mustafic was offered the opportunity to look at Mehmedović and liked what he saw.

After a “good conversation”, the youngster took the plunge and headed to Singapore for a shot at resurrecting his career.

“After finding more information and thinking it through, I thought this was the best offer I had on the table at this particular moment, so I decided to come here and try,” he said.

Just a week after arriving, the trialist secured a contract with the Stags after impressing with his skill and finesse, and was unveiled as a new signing alongside compatriot Mirza Delimeđjac in January.

Two months on, Mehmedović has already turned heads with some promising displays. The 1.67m attacker, who models his game after Andrés Iniesta, marked his debut with a goal against Yangon United in an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup win.

He then scored once and made an assist in a 5-1 thrashing of Hougang United on his SPL debut after coming on as a substitute, and has featured in all four of Tampines’ matches so far.

Off the pitch, Mehmedović, who turns 21 tomorrow, stays with Delimeđjac in an apartment near Our Tampines Hub and is adjusting well to life here.

“Football is Serbia is much more physical but apart from that, it’s similar to Singapore’s,” he said. “Everyone at the club has welcomed me well and I am starting to pick up English to communicate better with my teammates.

“It’s not a surprise that we have started the season well because we’ve trained very well in pre-season. The team is focused on playing attractive football which suits my style.”

Mustafic, who is assisting Stags first-team coach Gavin Lee after retiring last year, believes there is much more to come from the new recruit.

“When I saw him play for the first few times, I knew this could be a good player to help our team,” the 37-year-old said.

“He’s getting better with every game… and we are happy to see him working so hard. Hopefully at the end of the season, he can be personally happy with what he achieves here and we as a club can be equally happy with him.”

Tampines captain Shahdan Sulaiman, whose wife works as a teacher and is giving English lessons to the two Serbs, added: “He’s technically very good, comfortable on the ball and can be tricky in one-on-one situations. He’s easy to work with as he provides a passing option for me (in midfield). He rarely loses possession and does a lot of work defensively too; the only thing that he needs to improve now is probably his English!”

His contract only runs until the end of this season but Mehmedović is already looking beyond that and has not ruled out following in the footsteps of Mustafic – who made a similar journey from Novi Pazar to Singapore in 2002 and eventually became a Singapore legend after obtaining citizenship under the Foreign Talent Scheme.

“For the moment, I just want to focus on what I can do for the team and show my capabilities,” he said. “But yes, I’m happy here so far and I will definitely consider playing for Singapore if an opportunity comes in the future.”

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