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Rudar stalwart Vlahović's kindred spirit

"This is not just my club, this is my family," said Montenegrin league appearance record-holder Nedeljko Vlahović as he returns to UEFA Champions League action with Rudar Pljevlja.

Nedjeljko Vlahović scored against Tre Fiori in Rudar's last UEFA Champions League campaign
Nedjeljko Vlahović scored against Tre Fiori in Rudar's last UEFA Champions League campaign ©Vijesti

Rudar Pljevlja captain Nedeljko Vlahović has promised Qarabağ a "difficult 180 minutes" in their UEFA Champions League second qualifying round tie.

Preparing for his seventh season as a Rudar player, Vlahović was involved in 2010 when the northern Montenegrin side made their only previous appearance in the formative stages of Europe's top club competition, losing 5-0 on aggregate to Litex Lovech. They make their return in Baku on Wednesday, and while the midfielder acknowledges Qarabağ are "strong favourites" to progress, he knows that nothing is decided in advance.

"What can you say about a team that played in the Europe League [group stage] last season and beat the finalists [Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 1-0], except that they are strong favourites?" Vlahović explained to UEFA.com. "It will be a pleasure to face them and we regard these two matches as a great challenge. There are no guarantees in football, so we hope to spring a surprise."

Rudar celebrate winning the title last term
Rudar celebrate winning the title last term©Vijesti

The playmaker, who led Rudar to their second league title last term, has featured in more Montenegrin top-flight matches than anybody else, 228, and is the only person to have scored in all nine First League campaigns. "I never pay attention to statistics," said Vlahović. "The only thing I know off by heart is how many trophies I have won."

That haul stands at two league championships and as many domestic cups, accounting for four of Rudar's five trophies. "I am so proud to be at this club and I am glad that people think I help the team win silverware, but the most important thing is that we win and lose together,” explained the 31-year-old. "This is not just my club, this is my family."

Vlahović moved to Rudar six years ago, bringing to an end a short spell with Budućnost Podgorica. He had made his reputation with another capital outfit, Kom Podgorica, where his performances earned him a place in the Montenegro squad taking its first steps on the international stage.

"Apart from the trophies I have won, my biggest success is being called up while at a small club like Kom," said Vlahović. "I've only got one cap [earned against Slovenia in August 2007], but it will remain with me for life. I've had chances to go abroad, but there were no offers that convinced me to leave Rudar. I have everything I need here. We are always fighting for trophies, there is a good atmosphere at the club and we have great fans. I am not sure I would have had that anywhere else."

Unsurprisingly, Vlahović intends to see out his playing days with Rudar. "I am 31 and could go on for a few more years yet. As long as the Rudar officials and coaches think I am an important member of the team, I will be at their disposal. I hope that will be until the end of my career and I can win more trophies."