Dejan Stankovic is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in the history of Serbian football. The winner of five Serie A titles with Lazio and Inter Milan, the 31-year-old is Radomir Antic’s captain. Renowned for his intelligence, passing and long-range shooting, the midfielder has been an international for over 12 years, and appeared at France 1998 and Germany 2006.
Born into a footballing family in 1978, Stankovic started out in the youth ranks of local team Teleoptik until, aged 14, he was signed by Crvena Zvezda. His big chance came in the 1994/95 season when the Belgrade giants, depleted by injuries, handed the thn-16-year-old a first-team chance. He impressed on his debut against Beograd and played another six games en route to the league title. A star had been born.
Heading into the 1997/98 campaign, Crvena made Stankovic, then only 19, the youngest-ever captain in their illustrious history. He responded to the additional responsibility in style, thriving throughout the campaign despite his employers’ failure to clinch silverware.
Stankovic was blatantly destined for greater heights, and at the end of the term he joined Lazio for £7.5m. In total, he scored 30 goals in 85 league matches for Crvena and helped them win three Yugoslavian Cups.
Stankovic immediately endeared himself to the Biancoceleste faithful by scoring on his debut against Piacenza, and he formed a hugely productive central midfield tandem with Pavel Nedved. Together, they inspired the Rome outfit become Italian top-flight champions in 2000.
Stankovic was a firm fans’ favourite at Lazio, but the club were experiencing financial problems and, therefore, decided to cash in on him in February 2004. Inter Milan and Juventus both wanted Il Dragone (The Dragon), who chose a Nerazzurri squad coached by his former team-mate Roberto Mancini.
Later that month, Stankovic scored a stunning goal direct from a corner against AC Milan. Although it could not prevent Inter suffering a 3-2 defeat, it was the first in a sequence of memorable strikes from the Serbian in the Milan derby. The Serbian’s best season was arguably 2006/07, when his distribution and goals helped I Nerazzurri defend their crown, while he also excelled in 2008/09, scoring stunning goals and winning his fourth Scudetto as an Inter player.
Stankovic scored two goals on his international debut in 1998, helping Yugoslavia beat Korea Republic 3-1 in the process, and was part of their squad at that year’s FIFA World Cup. He then represented Serbia and Montenegro at Germany 2006, which ended in first-phase elimination.
Stankovic performed a crucial function in Serbia’s qualification for South Africa 2010. As captain, he turned out in eight of their preliminaries and was hailed by his coach Radomir Antic for his sterling contribution.