There are clichés, tired phrases and sayings that are regularly over-used in football. But Sasa Curcic’s Villa career genuinely warrants some of them. “Unprecedented failure”, “flop”…or the lesser coined “Serbian George Best”. The latter was amazingly not invented purely for this piece, nor said in jest.
Curcic arrived at Aston Villa having exploded onto the Premier League scene with eye catching performances in a then struggling Bolton team. His stay at Villa was an unmitigated, colossal failure. In time this appears largely owing to sex, drugs and an infamous double decker bus. In this edition of ‘Spotlight’ we will learn all about Sasa Curcic.
The Serbian international (14 caps, 1 goal) arrived in England for a little over £1m, joining newly promoted Bolton Wanderers. He immediately caught the eye with displays of mesmerising, powerful runs coupled against raw natural talent and the ability to terrify defences. He would most accurately be referred to as a “box-to-box” player, with his goalscoring record negligible and his defensive contributions non-existent. However, in an era where Villa were about as exciting as Mark Draper, the club saw fit to part with £4m and £12,000 per week for his services.
At the time this looked very much like a step in the right direction, adding some vibrancy and drive to a Villa side looking to build itself into a competitive unit. However, things never really got going for Curcic as he was deployed in a role amidst a crowded centre midfield which contained the aforementioned Draper and combative force of Ian Taylor. A fixed position never sat well for the usually free role the Serbian had enjoyed previously and also, perhaps just as importantly, he was expected to adhere to the house rules.
By Christmas of his first season Curcic was publicly stating his regret at moving to Villa and effectively ostracised himself by calling to be sold at the soonest opportunity. Villa had a loose cannon on their hands once more – and frustratingly one who they could do little to control or get to perform as we knew he could on the pitch. And whilst nobody wants to be locked in a cupboard between match days, Villa’s inability to make the relationship work was telling.
This was simply because the player’s eccentricity and exuberant lifestyle left little to be desired. Indeed, if had he exerted half of the amount of energy into making his move to Villa work as he did with his social affairs, he could well be remembered more fondly.
For Curcic – under the influence of hopefully nothing more than the aforementioned eccentricity – purchased a double decker bus. The infamous purchase became known as the “party bus” and was no doubt the scene for many interesting an evening for Sasa and pals. You cannot, as they say, make this stuff up. Amusing an anecdote as this was and is – it does nothing to endear you to a club manager (Brian Little) who has invested heavily in your talents but is yet to see them repaid.
The club and Curcic tried to make things work – and the player had a steadier spell in the second half of his first season – but despite withdrawing his transfer request, he still found himself on the market for a number of reasons. Consistency, attitude and off the field issues were mounting. Owing a double decker party bus did little to help matters.
And with Villa required to play Curcic or risk him being ineligible due to employment laws, time was also against him as well as favour within the club as a whole. However, not being one to be forced out of Britain on a technicality – good old Sasa soon married his Birmingham fiancée to gain the required nationality. This was also critical to securing a move to another Premier League club – even if the new Mrs Curcic was carrying another mans child. [source]
The second and final season saw Curcic once more lambast then manager Brian Little in the press. His time was short – and with the right paperwork, new wife, baby and emotional baggage – Sasa Curcic’s Villa career ended.
It came as little surprise that Villa offloaded 26 year old Curcic to Crystal Palace for £1m (a loss of £3), likely to the great relief in the boardroom at the time. He joined the then bottom club on a three year deal describing the move as a “dream”. Villa fans were – to say the least, disappointed by his failure, but more-so bemused by his actions than anything else. A sigh of relief certainly could be heard following his exit.
Parting quotes from Curcic:
“When I was there, I saw idiotic management and a chairman who cares only about money, not people. I couldn’t work for people like that. ”
The strange behaviour didn’t stop there.
During his Palace career NATO attacks on Curcic’s home city of Belgrade prompted him to protest in London – notably parading around the pitch at Selhurst Park and holding a vigil at Downing Street. Indeed, Curcic and other prominent Serbian players around the world essentially went on strike – and stated they would quit if the war continued. The clubs were understanding and the FA excused Curcic’s absence – despite some murmurings of player sanctions for politicising the game from UEFA.
Quoted at the time Sasa said:
‘I don’t think I will ever recover. I may never play again, which will be a big shame, but I need all my spirit to fight this situation.’
The puzzle of his ability, set against darker off the field problems, were again emphasised after an effective cameo appearance in a well earned draw against Watford in November 1998. Despite terrifying defences, turning in a MOTM performance and being the driving force off the bench, then manager Terry Venables simply stated of Curcic that: “It’s between me and him why he’s not playing 90 minutes.” [source]
Off the field issues, political freedom fighting….. and going missing for some plastic surgery on his nose. Is there no end? Oh yes, he did a spot of National Service as well in between contracts. Shooting at people, like you do.
A brief nine game stint in America’s Major League Soccer followed in 1999, whereupon arrival Sasa promptly had his card marked for stating he wished to become the “Dennis Rodman of MLS”. His antics to date could certainly draw comparison, but his stay was brief and a complete non-event. Despite this Curcic described himself as the “happiest man alive” and attributed this to his until then unknown Buddist beliefs [Source]. His career was succinctly defined as “talented but temperamental” by the NY Times, which is pretty much on the money.
Following his departure from the MLS’ Metrostars, Curcic continued and played for Motherwell (5 appearances). Further controversy emerged when quotes attributed to Curcic were posted in a Spanish magazine stating he would give up the game for sex. He reportedly said:
“I would not sign for another club, not even for $10m.
“But if they offered me 15 women from all around the world it would be different.
“I would satisfy them all like they have never been satisfied before.
“I can’t achieve an orgasm by looking at a team-mate but it would be different with Cindy Crawford.” [source:Guardian Aug 2011]
With that in mind Curcic was snapped up for the “long term” at Motherwell at just 28 – but this career move came to nothing and soon evaporated as quickly as early promise had grown. Surprised at this point? Thought not.
Finally, out of footballing options (failed trial at Tranmere Rovers) and having exhausted any goodwill left in the game for him he returned home to Serbia. He officially retired from football at lower division minnows in his native Serbia; FC Obelic (Belgrade). Aged just 30.
Life after football?
Not content with the above – Curcic entered the Serbian Big Brother reality TV series – and despite constant depression and talk of leaving every day, won the show and the 50,000 (EURO) prize fund.
One wonders, where we might come across Sasa Curcic next.