Midfielder Miran Pavlin may be 38 but is still tough enough to boss around the youngsters in the Slovenian league as FC Koper, the side he represents as player and sporting director, close in on the title.
With Koper 13 points clear at the top and just five games remaining, it looks like a matter of when rather than whether the Kanarčki (Canaries) will become the fifth side to claim the title in the 19-season history of Slovenian football, following in the well-worn footsteps of NK Olimpija (who have won four titles), ND Gorica (four), NK Maribor (eight) and NK Domžale (two).
Cup winners in 2006 and 2007, Koper only avoided relegation with victory in the final game of last season, so coach Nedžad Okčič remains cautious, saying: "We are very close, but there are still 15 more points to play for. Maribor still have a chance so there will be no let-up for us. A lot of people have worked hard for this, so we want to finish it as soon as possible."
None, arguably, have worked harder than Pavlin. Okčič has led well from the touchline, Ermin Hasić has inspired in goal, the defence has been rock solid – conceding just 28 times in 31 league games – and playmaker Dare Vršič proved an inspired winter signing, but no one has left their mark on the campaign quite like Pavlin.
The 65-times capped, Kranj-born player won domestic titles with Olimpija in 1994 and 1995 before moving abroad to represent 1. FC Dynamo Dresden, SC Freiburg, Karlsruher SC, FC Porto and APOEL FC among others. He returned to Slovenia in 2005 to help NK Bezigrad go from the fifth division to the second-tier title before a fall-out with the club, since renamed NK Olimpija, last summer.
Determined to prove his class once more, he moved to Koper at the start of the season and has excelled, scoring 11 times in 28 games and exploiting his years of experience to give his side the edge. His decision to join Koper looks certain to be vindicated, with the UEFA EURO 2000 contender noting: "We have a team that deserves to win this title."
The big question remains, though, as to whether success with Koper will slake Pavlin's thirst for glory. He turns 39 in October – an age at which most outfield players have long-since called it a day – but has yet to confirm whether he will swap his boots for golf clubs in the summer. "First we have to win a title," he said. "My contract expires on 15 May. We will see."
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