Samir Nurkovic

Kick Off - - INSIDE -

What makes the Kaizer Chiefs striker such an in­stant hit in the Premier Soc­cer League and how did he end up at Na­turena?

Kaizer Chiefs striker Samir Nurkovic has al­ways given his all, work­ing as a waiter and cut­ting wood in forests dur­ing win­ter in years gone by in Ser­bia, as he works to­wards build­ing a new house for his par­ents. So there was no way he was go­ing to give less than 100 per­cent when coach Ernest Mid­den­dorp brought him in on a free trans­fer from a Sec­ond Di­vi­sion club in Slo­vakia, where he was play­ing in front of 100 fans. KICK OFF’s Love­more Moyo in­ves­ti­gates.

Ser­bian striker Samir Nurkovic has proven to be the best sign­ing that Kaizer Chiefs have made since Ernst Mid­den­dorp took over as the coach. He ar­rived as an un­known who had played al­most all his foot­ball in Slo­vakia and his sign­ing prompted just about all lo­cal fans to search for his name on Google. On face value, what came out the re­search was not ap­peal­ing as he had strug­gled to last longer than a year at any of the eight clubs he had been with since he started play­ing first team foot­ball in July 2011.

How­ever, he has re­ally made the best of time at Chiefs, quickly es­tab­lish­ing him­self as the main striker.

Nurkovic knows how to hunt when the sit­u­a­tion de­mands and never gets tired of search­ing for an open­ing, be it with his head or his feet. For a striker to have played from start to fin­ish in all but just two games for Chiefs this sea­son shows how much en­ergy he has and how much trust he has earned. The 28-year-old has missed just three games – he was in­jured in two and then sus­pended in the other.

He has been av­er­ag­ing a goal in ev­ery sec­ond match that he has played with 12 goals in 24 ap­pear­ances, and has proven to be a tra­di­tional num­ber nine who is use­ful both in the air and the ground.

If Chiefs can hold on at the top to win the league, they will have Nurkovic to thank, con­sid­er­ing the kind of con­tri­bu­tion he has made.

“I was sur­prised that a player of his qual­i­ties was play­ing in the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion in Slo­vakia when we started work­ing to­gether,” says his Ger­man-born Croat agent Da­jan Si­mac.

“But then since he wasn’t an 18-year-old any­more, it was hard to find him a se­ri­ous club with am­bi­tion in Europe, so I said to him: ‘You have to leave Europe be­cause Europe is over for you, so let us try some­thing to­tally new’.”

‘Mid­den­dorp brave to take a player from Sec­ond Di­vi­sion’

Si­mac him­self is a re­tired foot­baller who played in Ger­many, Hun­gary, Turkey, Ser­bia and Croa­tia, where he has now set­tled since he hung up his boots.

“We were lucky that Ernst had a huge part in him end­ing up at Chiefs be­cause he be­lieved that Samir can help him. I think it was also brave of Ernst to take a player from the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion in Slo­vakia and I am pretty sure a lot of peo­ple in South Africa thought, ‘how the hell will a striker from the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion in Slo­vakia be of help to Chiefs?’.

“I know Ernst via a friend who has al­ways been in con­tact with him and who told me that Ernst is look­ing for a striker. I didn’t know Ernst per­son­ally be­fore then be­cause I had only played against teams that he coached and the first con­tact I got from him was when he said I am in­ter­ested in your player. I was re­ally sur­prised,” re­veals Si­mac.

“I told Samir right away that this is a club with a lot of fans that plays in big sta­di­ums and it is ei­ther with your qual­ity the fans will sup­port you to­wards suc­ceed­ing or you will be scared and after half a year you are back home.

“When a player has never played in front of up to 90 000 fans, they some­times get scared. For­tu­nately, Samir is the kind of guy that if you be­lieve in him, he al­ways wants to pay back. He wants to be the best striker in the league and win ti­tles, so that he proves that he is some­one in foot­ball be­cause in all these years he was un­der­rated and that is why his ca­reer has been a strange one.

“Can you imag­ine that just one year ago he was play­ing in front of 100 peo­ple at times be­cause no­body cares about the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion in Slo­vakia. Even the


peo­ple of Slo­vakia don’t care about the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion.

“Now he has come to Chiefs and be­come a star. He ap­pre­ci­ates ev­ery­thing that he now has, which is why even when I went with him to the mall while I was in South Africa, he had time to take pic­tures with all the fans one by one.

“By way of be­hav­iour, he is my best client and I am sure that he can be­come the best striker in the league, which is what he wants,” he says.

The three-year deal that Nurkovic signed didn’t need much of a ne­go­ti­a­tion con­sid­er­ing that he ar­rived on a free trans­fer after hav­ing been with KFC Kor­mano.

“The con­tract at Chiefs is ob­vi­ously bet­ter than what he was on in Slo­vakia. He is not amongst the high earn­ers at the club be­cause when he joined, we were not in a sit­u­a­tion to be de­mand­ing.

“I un­der­stood the doubts around him and ques­tions about whether he would help im­prove the team, but he ar­rived on a free trans­fer on a low salary mean­ing the risk was low. It was brave from Ernst to take him be­cause this was a player mov­ing to a club where the fan pres­sure and me­dia fo­cus is 100 times higher.

“As a no­body you must show that you are a guy who can make the dif­fer­ence,” points out his rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

What seems to set Nurkovic on a path to suc­cess is his char­ac­ter, which is the rea­son why he ad­justed so quick, Si­mac adds.

“I couldn’t even imag­ine that he would do it so fast. I was scared that time would run out and the club would in the end say they don’t have pa­tience any­more with him be­cause this is Kaizer Chiefs and they want to win the league, so they can­not wait for him to adapt, which is nor­mal in this busi­ness.

“But then his char­ac­ter … I will never forg get when we got to the air­port and I re­minded him about the need to take care of his mon ey be­cause he is not on a big con­tract. I told h im not to spend his money on trash and I was sur­prised when he said he won’t be­cause h e wants to build his par­ents a new house.

“He told me that all the money that he will w earn in his first year will be for the house. I work with a lot of play­ers, but I have never had h a player tell me this. I was charmed.

“In the past, when he got in­jured, he wou uld work in his father’s restau­rant as a waiter an d then in the win­ter he went to the for­est to c cut trees. He ca­su­ally told me that even though h it was hard work it was good train­ing for both body and mind.

“When I was in South Africa, I saw just how much peo­ple are com­fort­able with him and how he is also at ease with them, and I was like, ‘this is un­be­liev­able for some­one who has been here for a short time’.

“When he ar­rived at Chiefs, I asked Ernst to take care of him [phys­i­cally] be­cause he has no bal­ance when he is work­ing. He works too much and that was why he got in­jured in the past.

“When I was at his house in South Africa he went to the gym for one and a half hours, two days be­fore the game and he told me that he had to hurry up be­cause I was there other­wise he would have taken three hours.

“When I am talk­ing to him about busi­ness he al­ways says ‘we’ in­stead of ‘I’, like a lot of the

other play­ers.

He is not a guy who will cheat you. He is a very easy guy from next door,” ex­plains Si­mac.

Such is the way that Nurkovic has fallen in love with South Africa that he has even en­quired about play­ing for Bafana Bafana.

“The coun­try is so beau­ti­ful that

Samir thinks it won’t be bad for him to stay on in the coun­try even when his ca­reer is done. He is so in love with the coun­try that while I was vis­it­ing him in Novem­ber, he even asked me to en­quire about if he has any chance to play for Bafana Bafana be­cause if there was, he would do it right now.

“I then had a chat with Bobby [Mo­taung] who told me that he must live in the coun­try for five years un­til he can get a South African pass­port. We didn’t go deep into the mat­ter but that re­mains a dream of his. That is how much he ap­pre­ci­ates the coun­try after only such a short time liv­ing there,” he notes.

Ser­bian-PSL con­nec­tion

South Africa has for long been more pop­u­lar l wi ith Ser­bian coaches than it has been with play­ers, with just three foot­ballers, Obren Cuc ck­ovic, Zdravko Dje­kic and De­jan Bo­gunovic c, from the south eastern Euro­pean coun­try h hav­ing played in the coun­try.

The play­ers didn’t leave much of an im mpres­sion in do­mes­tic foot­ball. Cuck kovic is not even a name that many wou ld re­mem­ber as he played just one gam me for Moroka Swal­lows dur­ing the 2014 4/ 15 sea­son, while Bo­gunovic had a brief f spell with Mar­itzburg United in the 2006 6/ 07 sea­son. Dje­kic was at Wit­bank Aces.

It is coac ches that have been aplenty from Zo­ran Pesi c, Kosta Papic, Ve­selin Jelu­sic, Mi­lutin Sre edo­je­vic, Vladislav Heric, Vladimir Ver­me­zovi c, Zo­ran Filipovic, Du­san Kondic, Moma Med dic and Zlatko Krm­potic.


Heric has been the long­est Ser­bian serv­ing in do­mes­tic foot­ball hav­ing been with 14 clubs lo­cally – mostly in the NFD – in as many years.

“What I like about him is that he was quick to re­alise all the weak­nesses of the de­fend­ers that we have here in the PSL and has used it to good ef­fect,” Heric says, who al­ready knew about Nurkovic prior to his ar­rival in South Africa.

“He has re­alised how and when to get into the box. His po­si­tion­ing in the box is mar­vel­lous whether he is cre­at­ing a goal or scor­ing one him­self.

“I was told that he was rec­om­mended by Par­ti­zan Bel­grade to go to Slo­vakia. You must un­der­stand that it is dif­fi­cult for strik­ers to per­form at ev­ery club that they go to. If a striker does well at one club it doesn’t mean that he will do well ev­ery­where he goes.

“I knew Nurkovic is a good striker and I was told about him some two to three years ago by a good friend of mine who knows his coach in Slo­vakia. I didn’t know him in per­son but just heard about him.

“I think he has started very well for some­one who is only in his first sea­son in the

PSL. We don’t know what will hap­pen with him in the fu­ture but what I know is that he men­tally very strong. I be­lieve that he will find a way of main­tain­ing his form after the coro­n­avirus-en­forced break,” says Heric.

Yes­ter­year Chiefs for­ward Fees Moloi feels credit should be given to Mid­den­dorp and all that have made Nurkovic the suc­cess that he has be­come.

Truth is that the eas­i­est op­tion would have been to dis­miss the Ser­bian based on what was avail­able about him on the in­ter­net.

“When you are a coach, you pro­file your play­ers when you go out and scout them, and then again when you now have them so that you are in­formed about you are go­ing to play,” says Moloi.

“Nurkovic’s record at Chiefs now shows that he was a right re­cruit­ment. His pro­fil­ing now shows that he can play with his team­mates be­cause for him to score, he has to com­bine with the mid­field­ers, which is a tick.

“Can he play with­out the ball and cre­ate space for his team­mates? It is an­other tick. The ev­i­dence is now there that his fel­low mid­field­ers un­der­stood him quick and he also a adapted to the sys­tem used quickly enough, e which is why he has scored goals the t way he has done.

“So, credit to the coach and again credit to t his team­mates be­cause it takes time to un­der­stand a player and for that player to un­der­stand other play­ers. The coach can iden­tify i [a tar­get], which is half the job, but will w he fit in with the rest of his team­mates?

“I give him the credit for un­der­stand­ing the t sys­tem be­cause I never knew the guy. Foot­ball has taught us that you must never judge j what you don’t know, and this guy is an a ex­am­ple,” he adds.

Fel­low Ser­bian coach Moma Medic ad­mits that t he had never heard of the Chiefs striker prior p to his ar­rival at the club, but has been im­pressed i by what he has seen.

Medic is a for­mer Or­lando Pi­rates as­sis­tant coach c who was most re­cently with Royal Ea­gles and Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhand­ila.

“Nurkovic grew up there at a time when I was al­ready out of the coun­try but what I have seen is how well he has per­formed up to now. What he did or was do­ing be­fore doesn’t mat­ter be­cause what counts is what he is do­ing now and at this mo­ment he is play­ing very well and has helped Chiefs get to be where they are.

“I don’t know him per­son­ally and only met him once at a ho­tel and we spoke for a short time. In him I have seen a player who is good in the air and can also play on the ground.

“He looks very ed­u­cated tac­ti­cally and is phys­i­cally very strong, with the plus be­ing that he knows how to score the goals. He is al­ways dan­ger­ous in the box and there are few play­ers in the coun­try who can play when de­fend­ing as well, if the coach asks that of him. What mat­ters most is that he un­der­stands foot­ball.

“Though I don’t know him from his time in Ser­bia and had never heard of him, what mat­ters is that since he came to South Africa he has been scor­ing so ev­ery­body who plays against Chiefs now thinks about how they will stop Nurkovic, which means he is do­ing a good job,” says Medic, adding that Nurkovic is now known back home.

“Some peo­ple here in Ser­bia have now taken no­tice of his name be­cause he is play­ing for Kaizer Chiefs. After all this world has be­come so small that when some­body scores goals any­where in the world, ev­ery­one will know.

“The time of not know­ing play­ers is in the past now. There is no way that there can be a good player in South Africa, and no­body knows about him in the rest of the world,” Medic says.


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