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Why Serbia loves 'the magic Dragan'

Described by the great Pelé as a "wizard", winger Dragan Džajić played a starring role for FK Crvena zvezda and Yugoslavia in the 1960s and 70s.

Serbia's Golden Player, Dragan Džajić
Serbia's Golden Player, Dragan Džajić ©Getty Images

To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. The Football Association of Serbia and Montenegro - now the Football Association of Serbia - chose Dragan Džajić as their Golden Player.

Dragan Džajić is a footballing icon in Serbia. A poll taken in the last decade showed that 97 per cent of the population remembered the name of the former FK Crvena zvezda and Yugoslavia player. That legacy is no surprise. Džajić was a brilliant left winger who gilded a Crvena zvezda career spanning 590 games and 287 goals by winning five league titles and four Yugoslavian Cups.

Born on 30 May 1946 in the small town of Ub, 60 kilometres outside Belgrade, he was plucked from the relative obscurity of his local club, FK Jedinstvo, by Crvena zvezda coach Miljan Miljanić. Though just 17, he was soon handed his senior debut in a first division match against FK Budućnost Podgorica, which ended in a goalless draw. Miljanić's faith was certainly rewarded over the following years.

Džajić might have started out as a left-back, but it was further up the flank that he made his impact. As Crvena zvezda's resident No11, he proved an expert dribbler whose sweet left foot provided countless goals for team-mate Jovan Aćimović – and his right wasn't bad either. Džajić earned reward for his brilliance with championship medals in 1964, 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1973, while he lifted the cup in 1964, 1968, 1970 and 1971.

European Champion Clubs' Cup success very nearly came his way too. In the 1970/71 season, Crvena zvezda reached the semi-finals where they beat Panathinaikos FC 4-1 in the first leg in Belgrade. Džajić was suspended for the return in Athens, however, which the Greek team won 3-0 to go through on away goals.

In 1975, Džajić finally took up the offer of a move abroad, joining French side SC Bastia, where he made 80 appearances over two years. He then returned home to Crvena zvezda for a swansong season which concluded with a match against FK Velež in Mostar in 1978.

His reputation was not limited to the former Yugoslavia, however. Džajić played 85 internationals, scoring 24 goals, between 1964 and a farewell appearance against Argentina in 1979. He participated in the UEFA European Championship final tournaments in 1968 and 1976 and also the 1974 FIFA World Cup. Indeed, he was his country's most-capped player until Savo Milošević finally overtook him in October 2004.

Perhaps his finest moment came in the European Championship of 1968, where his superb late lob brought Yugoslavia a 1-0 semi-final win against England in Florence. That goal also earned the headline "Džajić the magic Dragan" in the British press. His team subsequently lost the final to Italy, but Pelé had seen enough to say: "Džajić is the Balkan miracle – a real wizard. I'm just sorry he's not Brazilian because I've never seen such a natural footballer." Pace, skill, intelligence: he had the lot.

Džajić was no less influential a figure after he stopped playing. As technical director of Crvena zvezda – and, from 1998-2004, club president – he was key to their continued success, including their victory in the European Cup in 1990/91. Now retired and living in Belgrade, he is not sure he would have the same impact if he were a player today.

"It was a different kind of football back then," he said. "The game was fairer and today it is much more difficult to dribble. But I was lucky to play for Zvezda. They were a very strong club in a first-class league – one of the top five in Europe at the time. The stadiums were always full and every match was a huge challenge. But I always felt an inner strength, particularly when going towards the opposition goal. I loved it."

Last updated: 3 February 2011