The small town of Zavidovići in Eastern-central Bosnia was never mad about football. The life in this gray little town was all about the local factory Krivaja, which was the central point of the Yugoslav refinement of wood. The local club – which was also named Krivaja – spent most of their time in amateur leagues, and attracted not more than a couple of hundred supporters, drinking rakija and commenting on poor football. But, in the early seventies things started to change. On the crumbling concrete stands tired workers, all of sudden, started to recognize some of the most famous scouts in the country. They were all there just because of the one man – Sead Sušić. Talented 18-year old striker harassed the goalkeepers and famous Red Star Belgrade managed to snatch him. He moved to Belgrade, the crowd on the stands was gone again, but Sead said to the papers:
“There is one boy you should pay attention on. He is maybe better than me. My little brother Safet”.
Just over 15, Safet was already first team regular, playing in the league known by its brutal and rough defenders. His brother Sead was trying to break to Red Star first team. He had problem – he was nostalgic, not happy in the big city, and that was probably the reason why Safet decided to try his luck in FK Sarajevo. The capital of Bosnia was still near to his home, the pressure in the club was significaly less than in Belgrade or Zagreb, and that was perfect for him.
In the summer of 1973 skinny boy presented himself at Koševo stadium and began his rise. Pape, which he is nicknamed in Bosnia, played for Academy and reserves team at the start. In November they decided to give him chance, his debut came in Zenica. Just two weeks later he opened his account that will become huge at the end. FK Sarajevo was playing Proleter Zrenjanin at home – he took the ball, dribbled through two defenders, rounded the keeper and sent the ball in the back of the net. He was 18.
“I’m too young to speak with you guys”, he said in his first chat with the local journalists, “What else I could do? No one was open, I couldn’t pass, so I went for a goal. That’s it”.
His modesty was what characterized his career from the very beginning. He did not like to impose, he was in the media only when he had to, and the money and glory were not among his priorities. He enjoyed football, and that was probably the reason why he decided to stay in Sarajevo for ten years, even all the big Yugoslav clubs offered him more money. In two year time he transformed in to the leader of young FK Sarajevo team. In the next season he scored 11 in 33 matches and transformed to the leader of the young FK Sarajevo team. But then he got sick. During winter break he was diagnosed heavy arthritis and doctors warned him that his ability to walk was in danger. Playing football was not an option.
Ten months later the same doctors looked at him in wonder. Not that he walked again – he scored in his second match, against Red Star, and then four more to help his FK Sarajevo avoid the relegation in the last moment.
The worst nightmare, long break due to illness, became the turning point of his career. In October of 1977 he was called up to play for the national team. In his debut at Nep Stadium in Budapest he scored twice, and Yugoslav media saw him as successor of great Dragan Džajić. He was awarded number 11 shirt, and in the next match, Yugoslavian visit to Bucharest, he fulfilled all the expectations. Sušić scored a hat-trick and set up another goal in the match that became one of the most intense in the history of the game. Yugoslav won 6-4, and Sušić won his place in the history of the country’s football.
Sušić has suddenly grown into the biggest Yugoslav star, but he decided to stay in his humble home in Sarajevo. He didn’t want to go to the clubs of big four, and he was unable to leave the country before turning 27 due to the laws, so he decided to cope with FK Sarajevo, for which he has appeared in 244 matches and scored 96 goals.
But, as his 27th birthday was coming close, and he scored three hat-tricks in his first ten international matches including hammering world champion Argentina in 1979, he became very interesting target for European clubs. After he served obligatory Army service, it was evident that his transfer will happen soon. Internazionale Milan was the fastest – their representative came to Sarajevo and offered Sušić lots of zeros so he signed a pre-contract. But, few days later Torino representative went to see Sušić and gave him even better offer. Sušić was confused by agreement with Inter, but decided to move to Torino. The contract was signed, Torino was preparing to present their biggest acquisition, but Inter claimed that Sušić was their player. Italian FA suspended both contracts, and banned him from Italian league for a year.
It was the very last day of transfer window, and everything seemed like the end of the world for Sušić. Then PSG came. They just attained top-flight status and were looking for someone capable to make them the force in French football. And they found that one in Sušić. He moved to Paris and won their first trophy, national cup, in 1982 and then, in 1989 they won their first league title.
As he did in FK Sarajevo, and as he did in the blue shirt of the national team, this small and skinny attacking midfielder has become the biggest star and absolute leader of his team. He had a perfect dribbling, often used to go around four or five opponents with an ease, and that was praised even by opposing supporters. In his career he scored over 200 goals, but he was also known as a great assistant (he made 5 assists in one match for PSG!) and a best long passer in Yugoslav team ever.
In 2004 Sušić was awarded as the best footballer in history of Bosnia and Herzegovina and France football declared him as the best player in the history of PSG.
Safet Sušić is now the manager of Bosnia and Herzegovina national team.
Words and suggestion by @sasaibrulj.