As you will doubtless deduce from his name and appearance, Dzenan Radoncic is not one of Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC’s homegrown players. Nor, however, is he your average Montenegrin.
That much became clear after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Al-Wahda Sports Club, when the former Partizan Belgrade striker began holding court with the Korean journalists, conversing fluently and firing off jokes – all in the questioners’ native tongue. It was an impressive display, and yet not in any way surprising to those who know him best. Indeed, so integrated has Radoncic become in Korean life that he is currently pursuing an ambition of becoming the first foreign-born player to represent the Taeguk Warriors.
As he explained to FIFA.com: “I’ve spent most of my career in Korea – seven years now - and it’s a great country. It’s my home now, and I’m very proud to be representing this club and the country of Korea here in UAE. It’s my wish, my dream, to become Korean and put myself in contention for the Korean national team. No foreigner has ever played for Korea Republic, so it would be a great achievement to be the first one.”
International football may be his long-term aim, but it is pressing club business that is currently uppermost in his thoughts. Seongnam are, after all, currently limbering up for the biggest match of their history: tomorrow’s FIFA Club World Cup semi-final against the mighty F.C. Internazionale Milano.
“It’s very exciting, of course,” was Radoncic's view of the Abu Dhabi showdown. “We were thinking about Inter even before our first game against Al Wahda to be completely honest. And we believe we can beat them. We’re here as Asian champions and we want to break the tradition of only European and South American teams winning this competition.”
Reaching the final has been the Asian champions’ ambitious aim from the outset and, for Radoncic, only achieving that goal will make up for one that got away. The 27-year-old was, after all, conspicuous by his absence from the Seongnam side that contested the AFC Champions League final, with a suspension forcing him to watch the 3-1 victory over Zob Ahan from the stands. The memory still rankles.
“I felt like my whole world crashed down,” he recalled. “I guess it was just my destiny to miss the final. But I cried, of course. It was my first time playing in the Champions League, we had reached the final, but I couldn’t play. It was very disappointing for me but you have to learn from every experience, good and bad. And I’ve learned my lesson.”
The Seongnam No10 is not the only striker heading into tomorrow’s semi-final smarting from a recent suspension. Samuel Eto’s three-game domestic ban has left the Cameroonian powerless to stop Internazionale’s recent slump, and Radoncic fully expects the Italians to be lifted by his return. Nonetheless, while a huge admirer of his fellow centre-forward, the Seongnam star is focusing only on showcasing his own talents – and entrusting shackling Eto’o to Sasa Ognenovksi.
“Eto’o’s a wonderful player,” he enthused. “It’s almost difficult to find words to describe a player like him. But we have Asia’s player of the year (Ognenovski) to go up against him, so I’m not too worried. We’ll just leave Eto’o to Sasa.
"Personally, I just want to do my best and show the whole world who I actually am. Not many people outside Korea know me, so I want to show my best performances on this fantastic stage. I’m getting to the peak of my career, so I just want to play and try to win some more trophies. The best is yet to come.”