Along with former Manchester United midfielder Nicky Butt, Mateja Kezman recently completed a four-month spell at South China, competing in Hong Kong’s domestic league and at continental level in the AFC Cup. While the 32-year-old striker was unable to help one of Asia’s most successful clubs to yet another title, the season did finish with silverware as Kezman scored an extra-time winner to earn South China victory in the Hong Kong FA Cup final.
Regardless of what the future holds, Kezman can look back with pride on a football odyssey that has taken him to eight countries and a dozen clubs. After leaving his native Serbia, Kezman turned out in the colours of, among others, PSV Eindhoven, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Fenerbahce, Paris Saint-Germain and Zenit St Petersburg. A colourful international career also provided memorable moments, the highlight of which a historic goal that ensured Serbia and Montenegro’s participation at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
Kezman’s goalscoring prowess has taken him to some of Europe’s great cities, but the prolific Serbian marksman says his recent stint in Hong Kong has left him ‘improving as a person’. The man nicknamed Batman during a phenomenally successful four-year period in the Netherlands recently spoke to FIFA.com about his career highlights, experiences in Asia and the joy that football has offered.
FIFA.com: How was your experience in Hong Kong, both on and off the field?
Mateja Kezman: Of course the standard of the league is not so strong, but people try really hard and the club overall constantly works hard to improve. It is definitely a good league to play in, with great stadiums. Also, the way of life is very different and there is much to do and many people that you can meet. There are people from all around the world because it is an international city. Nicky Butt and I enjoyed a really good time together and I was very happy to accept the offer to go to Hong Kong. It was a new and completely different experience from Europe.
What kind of reception did you receive?
It was great. Of course English football is very well supported in Hong Kong and so the fans know me, especially from my time in Chelsea as well as my other clubs. They are very happy to see you (international players) and they are very enthusiastic about that. The crowds also now have increased to the likes of 12, 15 or 20 thousand. As players, we did lots of promotional work, but it was a good experience, with everyone pushing in the same direction. I’m happy to be a good ambassador for the club and for football, and it’s enjoyable because the people like to listen and like to learn.
Did your experience differ from what you expected?
I had been to Hong Kong twice before with the national team so I knew what to expect off the field. The city is amazing, clean and safe, and there is something for everybody. It is one of the best places I have been to. I have been lucky enough to experience living in Holland, Paris, London, Madrid, and elsewhere, but Hong Kong is truly one of the best.
What was behind your thoughts in moving somewhere so different?
Living in Europe, and then coming to Hong Kong, is a completely different experience. I like to see things in life if I have the opportunity, so that was another reason to go to Hong Kong. I feel myself improving as a person and improving in other ways. In the future perhaps I will go to USA or the Middle East to experience life there, so we will see what the future brings.
What do you make of Asian football and the hunger for the game?
I have to say people generally are pushing hard (to improve the game). Asian people generally like to work hard and they are keen to learn and to listen. There’s not much ego like in Europe, where sometimes people think they are too smart and think they know everything. People in Hong Kong are not afraid to ask questions and they try to learn and there is a strong sense to improve which is nice to see. Asian football has a big, big future for sure.
What club experiences did you enjoy the most?
I think all clubs have been special for me and each has provided a different experience because there were different cultures with each. I’m happy because I can speak five languages and I have met so many different people. Holland was my first country abroad so it feels like my second home having spent four years there and I made lots of friends. England was fantastic because the Premier League is completely different to anything else in every respect. For me, the best football in Europe is in England.
Then there was Madrid, which is a most beautiful city. I have many friends there and it’s a city that maybe I can live in after football. Two years in Paris too of course was great. I learned French and met many people. So I feel when I look back football has left me a complete person because I have met so many cultures and people.
What career highlights particularly stand out for you?
There are a couple of moments. To reach the 2006 World Cup was amazing and personally because I scored a couple of important goals. We beat Bosnia 1-0 in the last game in Belgrade and after many years we reached the World Cup. I scored the goal and the tension in that game was huge. Also signing for Chelsea was of course a career highlight, being such a huge club. There have been so many highlights.