Bend It Like Balkan
In a decade where European football really hit the mainstream, we have cobbled together a list of our favourite players from the Balkan region. With misty-eyed nostalgia we have trawled the bottomless pit that is YouTube to find clips of those who brought such joy to our weekends. Stand by for some Football Italia clips and a side serving of smouldering J League action.
Above all, we came up with the puntastic title of this article before deciding it was too good not to write an article to accompany it. We await a job offer from The Mirror in the not-so-distant future.
1. Dejan Savićević - FK Budućnost Podgorica, Red Star Belgrade, AC Milan, Rapid Wien
Part of Red Star's European Cup winning side of 1991 and the great Milan side of the mid 90s, Savićević is a somewhat forgotten figure but will forever be remembered by the Rossoneri for his impudent lob against Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League final. (Warning: some of the following clips will cause flashbacks of Jon Richardson quaffing espresso...)
2. Dragan Stojković - FK Radnički Niš, Red Star Belgrade, Marseille, Hellas Verona, Nagoya Grampus Eight
Those few that do remember Stojković will no doubt feel that he was a talent unfulfilled but just take a look at this video!
3. Hristo Stoichkov - FC Hebros, CSKA Sofia, Barcelona, Parma, Al Nassr, Kashiwa Reysol, Chicago Fire, DC United
Nicknamed 'El Pistolero' by Barcelona fans, this goalbanger shot to prominence in the early 90s culminating in him scooping the Golden Boot at USA '94.
4. Davor Šuker - Osijek, Dinamo Zagreb, Sevilla, Real Madrid, Arsenal, West Ham United, 1860 Munich
Another Golden Boot winner and star-name in Croatia's 1998 World Cup squad, Šuker formed a deadly partnership with another Balkan 'baller, Pedrag Mijatović, at Real Madrid. Not so successful spells at Arsenal and West Ham still can't take the shine off a stellar career. Watch his best goals here to see him making Peter Schmeichel look a bloody idiot!
5. Pedrag Mijatović - FK Budućnost Podgorica, Partizan, Valencia, Real Madrid, Fiorentina, Levante
The other half of the Real Madrid Balkan duo, Peđa, not only notched a the winner in the Champions League final of '98 but he also looks like a member of the Mafia from the 1950s in his Wikipedia photo. YouTube has let us, and Peđa, down so you'll have to make do with this mammoth 10 minute epic.
6. Siniša Mihajlović - Borovo, Vojvodina, Red Star Belgrade, Roma, Sampdoria, Lazio, Inter
No episode of Football Italia would be complete without Siniša curling in a free-kick before elbowing an opponent's head off his neck. He was also a centre-half who wore the number 11 shirt. Mad bastard. This video is named 'The Best Free Kick Taker In The World' and we don't disagree.
7. Robert Prosinečki - Dinamo Zagreb, Red Star Belgrade, Real Madrid, Oviedo, Barcelona, Sevilla, Croatia Zagreb, NK Hrvatski Dragovoljac, Standard Liège, Portsmouth, Olimija, Zagreb, Savski Marof
Divinely gifted playmaker who pulled the strings of Croatia's successful team of the late 90s. Notably playing for footballing giants Barca, Real and Portsmouth, Prosinečki was famed for his penchant for unhealthy grub and his 40 (forty) fags a day.
8. Gheorghe Hagi - SSC Farul Constanța, FC Sportul Studențesc București, FC Steaua Bucureșt, Real Madrid, Brescia, Barcelona, Galatasaray
Undisputedly the best Romanian footballer of all time. Hagi was a diminutive genius with plenty of incredible goals in those little size five boots of his.
9. Dejan Stanković - Red Star Belgrade, Lazio, Inter
Although the majority of his career was spent at Inter in the 00s, Il Drago cut his teeth at Red Star and Lazio in the late 90s. One of the more combative players on this list he has a fine collection of goals and will go down in Serie A history as the most decorated Serbian in history.
10. Zvonimir Boban - Dinamo Zagreb, Milan, Bari, Celta Vigo
Famed in Croatia for kicking a Yugoslav policeman as well as kicking a football, Boban went on to become Milan's playmaker for a decade during their most successful period ever. To top it all off, his nickname was Zorro!
So there we have it, 10 incredible talents who lit up the 90s and made the world sit up and take notice of a previously overlooked area of Europe. We might have bent the geographical rules a touch but I'm sure you'll forgive us after watching all those nutmegs above.