Duric third time lucky in citizenship application
He scored 24 goals in 53 games for Singapore but ironically, Aleksandar Duric was not from FAS' Foreign Talent scheme. He even had his citizenship application rejected - twice. In these exclusive excerpts of his autobiography BEYOND BORDERS, the Bosnian-born striker recounts his arrival in 1999 and how a chance interview helped him secure the pink IC in 2007 and launch his international career.
1 CITIZENSHIP APPLICATION REJECTED - TWICE
Life could not have been much better in 2007.
Things were going brilliantly on the football field and I was loving my responsibilities as a father to my fast-growing kids.
I was a permanent resident (PR), but I desperately wanted full citizenship.
As far as I was concerned, Singapore was home to me and my family.
Apart from my home town of Doboj (in Bosnia), I had never lived in the same place for so long and Singapore now held a very special place in my heart.
I was aware that if I was to gain Singapore citizenship, it would mean that (my son) Alessandro would be obliged to do national service when he turned 18.
To the surprise of many of my friends, especially those from western countries, I have always been fine with this. I see the time I spent in the Yugoslav army as a major character-building stage of my life.
Some foreign footballers had no trouble gaining citizenship, thanks to the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) Foreign Talent Scheme.
But this avenue wasn't open to me. At 37, I was too old, there was no way the FAS was going to help me.
This left me with no other option but to apply for citizenship the normal way, by filling out all the forms and going down to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for interviews.
I recall the surprise of the MOM official. The gentleman was a football fan and recognised me straightaway. He couldn't believe that I was willing to sacrifice my Australian citizenship.
He joked with me: "Mr Duric, are you sure you want to give up your Australian passport? Usually it is Singaporeans who are desperate to become citizens of Australia, not the other way around!"
I knew that he was just messing around, and I understood that what I was doing was pretty unusual, but I still told him not to think that the grass is always greener on the other side.
Australia is a great country, of course, but Singapore has much to offer too... Unfortunately, my declaration of love for Singapore didn't get me very far.
A couple of weeks later, I received the answer in the mail. It was a short letter, it said something like, "Thank you very much for your application, Mr Duric, but it has been unsuccessful".
I tried again a couple of months later, with the same result. It was demoralising.
2 THIRD-TIME LUCKY
Then, one day in June, a reporter from The Straits Times approached me to do an interview for a feature in the Sunday Times issue.
The angle of the piece was on immigration, and the reporter wanted to know my thoughts as a foreigner living and working in Singapore.
The article, titled "Don't Call Me Foreigner", came out in the Sunday Times on July 1, 2007.
The piece was very well-received. It created a lot of buzz online and stirred debate in the coffee shops.
A few days later, I received a phone call from a senior official at the MOM.
He told me he had come across my interview while reading the Sunday Times over breakfast.
He added that he had looked through my files and he encouraged me to apply again.
He was going to personally keep an eye out for my application and was certain that I wouldn't be disappointed again.
It was an incredible stroke of luck.
The letter finally arrived in September 2007. It was good news, the best possible news. I was now a proud Singapore citizen.
I had lived such a nomadic life, running from my homeland and jumping from country to country.
Now a Singaporean, it was technically possible for me to be called up to the national team. To be honest, I had never really given much thought to it before.
Sure, some people remarked about it from time to time, but that ship had sailed. I was too old.
By the time I became a citizen, I was already 37 years old, an age when most pro players have already retired from playing altogether.
In any case, the FAS had never offered to help with my citizenship application, nor even enquired about it. I clearly wasn't on their radar. Or so I thought.
It was a huge shock, then, when the SAFFC general manager, Lieutenant-Colonel Kok Wai Leong called me into his office on Nov 1 to tell me I had been called up to the Singapore national team.
I stared at the letter in front of me, barely registering what was happening.
I had received my citizenship only a month before, and now I was being called up to the national football team? Surreal.
For any sportsman, it is the highest honour to be asked to represent your country.
I raced home to tell (my wife) Natasha and straight after that I called (my brother) Milan in Bosnia to tell him too.
He told me he was proud of me, and that he was sure our parents were too, wherever they were now.
3 SCORING ON MY SINGAPORE DEBUT
I was joining the squad for a two-legged tie against Tajikistan, in the second round of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
Raddy Avramovic was the head coach at the time, a Serb who had played as a goalkeeper for Yugoslavia.
I don't think our shared Yugoslavian heritage played any part in his decision; he just thought I was good enough to do a job for the team, regardless of my advancing age.
The first game was to be played on Nov 9, and I couldn't wait to get started.
I had a week to dwell on my call-up prior to meeting up with the squad for the game, and there were some issues surrounding it that weren't all positive.
With the football team, the FAS Foreign Talent Scheme saw more misses than hits.
I couldn't wait for my chance to prove to the fans how much I cared about Singapore by playing my heart out on the field. I would show them how much it meant to me to represent the country.
As someone completely new to the national team set-up, I was also playing catch-up on team tactics and set-pieces, so the best I was hoping for was a decent run-out from the substitutes' bench.
Raddy came to me the night before the game, just after the team had eaten dinner.
"Aleks, I'm still working out my tactics for tomorrow, but are you ready to play?"
I was surprised, but of course I told him yes, I was ready.
Raddy said, "Good, I need you to start. Sorry to throw you in straight away but I know I can count on you. Just do what you've been doing all season and you'll be fine."
We were staying in the Amara Hotel that night, and as comfortable as the suites are there, I barely managed to sleep a wink.
My international debut turned out to be quite a memorable one.
We beat Tajikistan 2-0 and I scored both goals within the first 30 minutes.
I must have covered every blade of grass on that old pitch in Kallang that night.
I ran like I was 18 years old again. I may have scored twice but I could have scored five.
Still, two on a debut wasn't bad for an old man.