Slavisa Jokanovic readily acknowledges his two years at Chelsea weren’t the best of his playing career – but they proved to be extremely important when it came to his management career.
Jokanovic joined Chelsea from Deportivo in 2000 as Claudio Ranieri’s first signing at Stamford Bridge, but while Ranieri would win the hearts of Blues supporters, Jokanovic never did.
Playing in the Premier League for the first time at the age of 31 was always going to be difficult, and Jokanovic admits he was past his best by the time he arrived in west London, but he enjoyed his time there regardless.
“Claudio was the coach when I first signed because he knew me from the Spanish league,” Jokanovic says. “He was an important coach in my career.
“He was always positive and always available for support. He is one of the many coaches that I worked with and with Claudio you can learn many things from working with him.
“I enjoyed my time being part of the team. I played over 50 games in all competitions. It wasn’t my best years because when I arrived at Chelsea, I was 31 and physically it was complicated for me.
“But I enjoyed the city and football club. It wasn’t the best part of my career because I wasn’t at my highest level, but this experience helped me for when I started my coaching career in England, as I didn’t need as much time to adapt. I always like to remember the positives.”
And while Chelsea fans may not have got to witness the best of Jokanovic, the 64-cap Yugoslavia international enjoyed success in his homeland in the early part of his career and won La Liga with Deportivo before moving to Stamford Bridge.
“We had a really complete squad with 22 players of huge quality,” Jokanovic says. “We played with Roy Makaay at the front and Mauro Silva in the middle, you can add any of the other players and you knew that this team was going to play well.
“Roy Makaay was really good. He was really fast; he could finish we both feet and he was a perfect finisher. If you had Turu Flores or Pauleta or Djalmina next to him, then it was a really powerful part of Depor’s offensive team. Makaay was special, but he was around really good players.
“Javier Irureta was the coach and I was his choice. He brought me to Depor and it was a great experience. We won one of the best European leagues and I played over 20 games.
“I really enjoyed this period, but after this step I changed country and moved to Chelsea. I started my English adventure.”
Yet despite playing in La Liga and the Premier League, Jokanovic says the biggest game he ever played in was the Partizan v Red Star Belgrade derby.
“When I played for Partizan Belgrade there started to be a war around our country,” Jokanovic remembers. “But I was a really young man at this time and I’m not a political man. I wasn’t thinking about politics at this age. I was only 22/23 years old.
“I was really enjoying my profession and I had the opportunity to play for one of the biggest clubs in the ex-Yugoslavia.
“I played for one of the biggest clubs in my football career. The derby against Red Star saw us play in a stadium of 55,000 people. War is one thing, but I really enjoying my young profession. I was proud to play for one of the biggest clubs in my part of the world.
“The derby is always special. I was a supporter, I played for Partizan Belgrade, I coached Partizan Belgrade and now I’m a supporter once again.
“We can talk about the quality, whether it was better or not, but always around the pitch there was a great atmosphere. It was probably the biggest football game that I played or coached in my life.”
By Paul Wilkes