footy weekends -Kyoto & Brighton-

Football life

No ice please
Kyoto Sanga FC’s Serbian defender talks about his transition to the world of Japanese football

「コオリナシ デ オネガイシマス」

Red Star and Nagoya Grampus fame, mentored by Dragan Stojković(Former Nagoya Grampus boss), and now the backbone of J2 club Kyoto Sanga FC’s back line. Serbian born, Milos Bajalica, more fondly and well known as ‘Baki’, has kept his Serbian style of play throughout his long career in Asia. Very rarely does a ball get past him, and he is not afraid to take the ball to the front and flex his shooting skills. On match days, the number 20 maintains a stern and serious exterior, but like a switch, reverts back to his off the pitch laid back cheeky self. He is often seen in training teasing his team mates, and laughing around with the younger fans at team events. How has this popular Serbian player changed during his time in Japan? How does Japanese football live up to his previous career in Europe? And what did he really think about that free kick?!

ドラガン・ストイコビッチ(元名古屋グランパス監督)に師事し、レッドスター・ベオグラードと名古屋グランパスで活躍、現在はJ2の舞台で戦う京都サンガF.C.の守りの要である、セルビア出身のミロシュ・バヤリッツァ選手、通称バキは、アジアでの経験が長いながらも彼特有のセルビアンスタイルを特徴にプレイを見せます。彼がボールを保持するとそれを奪われることは珍しく、そして恐れることなく果敢にボールを前へ運び、チャンスと見るやシュートを放っていきます。試合になると、背番号20の男の表情はとても厳しくシリアスさを保っていますが、一度ピッチを離れるとそれはスイッチが切り替わったかのように、厳しかった表情は笑顔に変わり、トレーニング中や地域の小学校などで行われる地域活動では、チームメイトやファンの子どもたちと頻繁にじゃれ合う姿を見せるといった人懐っこい一面を見せます。この人気者のセルビア人選手は、日本でプレイをする間にどのような変化をしていったのか?彼のヨーロッパでの経験は、どのように日本のフットボールを盛り上げるのか?また、イギリスの各メディアが” CRAZIEST FREE KICK”と呼んだ、あのアウェイ横浜FC戦で石櫃選手がゴールを決めたフリーキックについて、どう思っているのか?などを伺いました。

Holder of the number 20 shirt, an unusually high number for an international player in Japan, where clubs tend to give overseas players the lower numbers. Baki has made that number his own since being given it when he turned professional, and made sure it was his again here, requesting it well in advance of his arrival at Sanga.

During Baki’s time in Japan, he has acted as a kind of ambassador for J League, encouraging people from back home to come over and watch games, and even calling up players to come over and play. Like Piksi (Dragan Stojković), Baki has become a convert to the ways of Japanese football, and believes in its potential to impress hardened European fans and players. “My Serbian friend visited and watched a game. He couldn’t believe it was only second division, as the quality of play was so high, especially compared with the Serbian SuperLiga.” He admits though that it’s hard for any club in the second division to get attention from fans and players, but he wants Sanga to be more well known. “I agree with my friend, but unfortunately not many people in Europe know this, or about J2.” But he is convinced that the new stadium, due to be built within the next 3 years, will be a big game changer for Sanga in their ability to attract fans to the games. “Once the new stadium is built, a new generation will begin, with new opportunities.”



When asked about that free kick, Baki’s face grins. It caused a frenzy in international media, and was described as an incredible, clever, but cheeky free kick. The 6 person line up, with 4 step overs, dummied the wall and keeper perfectly, resulting in the second goal of the game and a win away against Yokohama FC. Surprises like this on the pitch don’t appear to be the Serbian defender’s cup of tea, as he recaps the build up to the moment shrugging his shoulders. He admits that it was a good thing in the end as it delivered a good result, but it’s not something he likes to be a part of. After the game, he received a flood of phone calls and emails from his friends back home in Serbia asking “What was that?”. “They had never seen anything like it in Europe. But after all this time in Asia, I understand that this type of thing happens. But yes, it was a big surprise!” he laughs.


After 8 years of playing professional football in Asia, with a stint in China between Nagoya and Sanga, Baki fully admits that he has calmed down a lot during his time here. He puts this change down to the good atmosphere of Japanese football. “It is calm here, so I have calmed down.” He describes the atmosphere in Europe as carrying a lot more tension. “Every 2 or 3 weeks there are some problems, a fight. In Europe, sometimes the younger players don’t respect the older players, but in Japan they have to respect them, which is a good thing.”

Like most people who work abroad, Baki has experienced some moments of culture shock as he adjusted to Japanese football, saying that it took quite a few years to get settled and accept how different it was here. “Every year has been difficult. In the first year, I was nervous and worried all the time, everyday, every game. But after 3, 4 years I began to calm down. When I was constantly nervous all the time, I would often get headaches and need to take sleeping tablets. But now I have no stress.” So what was it that caused the stress? “In European clubs, everybody just thinks about the result. Winning. You have to win the game. But in Japan, it is very important not to be negative towards the players. It is not always necessary to win. We play here for support. But in Europe it is only important to win games. Players worry about getting injured, and they give 100% just to win the game. As soon as the game is finished, it’s back to training. If they win, they are happy. But in Japan, if you win or lose, when I look at the players here, they have the same look on their faces. Losing is OK, because this is part of football, and the players still give 100% here.” Baki credits Japanese football players as thinking beyond the money they can get from their club, and their loyalty to the sport. “In Asia, football is like a normal job, a job for life. After their playing career is finished they become coaches or managers, working at the club. But European players often just move around searching for more money.” Baki obviously has great respect for his colleagues here, but says that when he was in Nagoya at first, this ‘calmness’ and way of thinking stressed him out. “Everyone is playing, winning or losing, they are still smiling. But I was unnerved by this, until I accepted that this is the Japanese way.”

“In Serbia, and Europe, everyone is always shouting, picking up water bottles, crushing them with their hand and throwing them down on the floor, the coaches shouting at the players, the players shouting at each other. The supporters, the coaches, the club staff, everyone is always shouting. But in Japan, no one shouts. Once I played in England, and someone fouled me. I showed my pain, and was told to be quiet and get back up. When I had the ball, people were shouting at me telling me I was playing wrong. But in Japan, everyone is calm. It is so different.”

Japan has taught Baki a calmer side of football, and as he has adjusted to the cultural differences within his profession, he seems at ease and content with his life in the J League. There is one thing though that does make him look back to his European football days with fondness. Japanese coaches are often keen to expose their younger players to more hours of training to give them more time with the ball. For experienced players such as Baki though, he feels that European clubs are less intense. “In Europe, training is only about 1 hour maximum most days, but here training is often 2 hours. Too many meetings and training sessions make the players tired. But the new coach is good, not too many meetings or sessions!” He laughs cheekily.





Although Baki is content in the calmer surroundings of Japanese football, before he arrived here he had enjoyed a successful career in the Serbian SuperLiga too. Baki talks very openly and realistically about the current situation back home. “The situation is not good now. Serbia didn’t make it to the last World Cup, and even the European Cup is a difficult qualification now. Serbia has many good individual players, but they don’t play so well as a team. We have Kolarov (Manchester City), Ivanović (Chelsea), excellent players, but they are not so good as a team. The Serbian league, is getting worse every year, because the past 15 years have been politically unstable, and there have been too many changes within the past 3, 4 years. Hopefully once the political situation improves, in 4, 5 years the football situation will get better too.” Baki also explains that lack of money is part of the downfall of Serbian football. Of course any league in the world demands financial strength, but as Baki says “in European football, money is especially important to compete. If you don’t have money you can’t compete. Look at Manchester City and Chelsea. They have money, so they play well.”

Football is Serbia’s first sport, however, it is suffering due to a lack of domestic support by the fans as well. “The problem is that not many supporters go to the stadiums to watch games, because the league isn’t so good and neither are the grounds. In Japan, all the stadiums and grounds are good quality. Japan got a lot of new stadiums for the World Cup, but Serbia has had nothing for the past 10 years.” He looks despondent but accepting of this. There is a new national stadium in the pipeline, but with the current situation it is understandable that it might take time for the Serbian FA to achieve this step forward. Before the war, Baki has memories of full 50,000 seater stadiums and quality games to watch. “It was like England. But after the war started, the league dropped, and it’s getting worse and worse every year. People think ‘Oh it’s cold today, I have a TV, so I’ll just watch the game at home where it’s warm.’ Watching a game at home is a better quality experience than going all the way to the stadium.”


Like most professional footballers, Baki spent many hours outside playing football in the streets as a child, every chance he had. “I started playing when I was about 9 or 10. After training, I went back outside again, into the park or the street, to kick a ball about. My mother and father used to beg me to come back inside to do my homework. ‘Please come inside and study something!’ they would say. I said, ‘OK, OK, OK.’ And then after 5 minutes I would go back outside again, and my mother would shout ‘No, no, no, you aren’t finished yet!’”

For someone who says that he didn’t study as a child, he has a natural ability with learning languages. Part of working overseas is getting to grips with the language. If you observe Baki during training sessions, he is always laughing and bantering with his team mates in Japanese, giving the younger players some advice, and on the pitch during game time, he communicates well. It is no mere feat for an international player to adapt so well, even though he admits it was a struggle, to adapt to a new way of life and a new language. And it is something that not all players accomplish when they make the move. So how has he managed to accomplish so much? “I understand everything about football in Japanese. Sometimes I ask the club interpreter what certain words mean, but when the coach speaks in training, I know what he is saying. I don’t really know how I have learnt Japanese, I just listen.” As the club interpreter, Mr Okamoto, points out, “When someone is so advanced in a career such as football, they already have the content, so they can infer a lot of what is said to them and make the connections. An easy example is, ’migi’ means ‘right’, and ‘hidari’ means ‘left’.” Baki gives a further example “I was watching a game once when I didn’t play, and saw a defender dribbling. The players around him were yelling at him to be careful, ‘watch out’ in Japanese. So I quickly guessed that ‘Yabai, yabai, yabai’ means ‘danger’. There are some things you just pick up naturally.” He laughs.

ほとんどのプロフットボーラーがそうであるように、バキも子どもの頃は、しょっちゅう外でボールを蹴っている子だったようです。「フットボールをはじめたのは9,10歳くらいかな。練習が終わって家に帰っても、また外に出かけて、公園やストリートでボールを蹴ってたね。そうすると、母と父は、家でちゃんと宿題をするようにと僕に言うんだ。”勉強しなさい!”と彼らは言うんだけど、”はいはい、わかったよ。”と返事して、すぐまた外に出ようとして、そして母が”だめだめ、まだ終わっていないよ!”と。何回もそれを繰り返してたね 笑。」


He also credits Piksi with helping him with his English and Japanese skills. “Piksi also helped me to learn some important Japanese words when I was still trying to settle down here. One day I asked him, ‘Piksi, how do you ask for a drink with no ice?’ In Japan they put ice in everything, all the time. In Serbia we have ice too, but only in June, July, August, not December or January. It’s already cold! But now I am OK, it’s no problem, because Piksi taught me ‘kórinashi’, ‘no ice’. That was a big help to me!”

No matter what part of his career Baki talks about, it is not long before he expresses his gratefulness for Piksi, and describes him as the person who opened the door to Asian football for him. It is Piksi that he credits with overcoming the stress of the switch to Japan, who always told him “This is how it works in Japan. This is the Japanese style.” Baki recollects observing Piksi during pre-match and half-time talks, reflecting how calm he was. “Piksi just spoke a little, without shouting. I asked him ‘Why are you like this?’ and as always he reminded me that ‘This is Japan’ and I had to accept this.”

It was Piksi that brought Baki to Japan. “Piksi was always saying that Japan was a good place to be. I wanted to know why he thought that. I knew he was a serious man, and I trusted his opinion, so I had to come and try it for myself. He wouldn’t say it was good if it wasn’t good. So I came here, and I liked it.” Baki credits Piksi with a lot of the success in his career. “It was Piksi that got me into Red Star, and then into Nagoya. And because I had played at Nagoya, it was easy for me to transfer to China, where they welcomed me and I got in quite a few games. So when I came to Sanga, they were happy about this, and they liked that I had played under Piksi, who was a good player himself. He has helped me so much, and I have learnt the most from him. Managers change almost every year in Serbia, and you learn just a few things from all of them, but from Piksi, I learnt the most.”


自分のキャリアについて話すとき、バキはまず、ピクシーへの感謝を忘れません。ピクシーと知り合えたことで、フットボーラーとしてアジアでのキャリアを積むことができたとバキは信じています。また、ピクシーがいたおかげで、日本でプレイする中で抱えるストレスを乗り越えることが出来たと言います。「ここは日本だよ, そんなもんだよ。これは日本のスタイルだよ。」と、ピクシーがよく言ったようです。試合前とハーフタイムでのピクシーの話し方をバキ選手が思い出し、「ピクシーは叫ばず、ちょっとしか話さないんだ。彼に聞いたよ、”どうしてそんなに落ち着いているの?”。彼の答えはいつも同じだったね。”ここは日本だから。”それを受け入れなければならないものだなと考えたよ。」


Whilst Baki has the upmost respect for his mentor, he puts his family on the same pedestal. “Family is very important.” Baki’s wife, who he met at his previous club in Serbia, and has been by his side throughout his career in Asia, is often seen at the stadium watching his games. “My wife is like my own personal coach.” he laughs. Having worked in the football profession for a long time as well, and with other professional football players in the family, she knows a lot about the game. “She always tells me when I don’t play well. She also says things like ‘So-and-so didn’t play well today. Too much dribbling.’ ” From this season, it won’t only be his wife who gives him a rundown of how his game went. He looks excited that his soon to be 6 month old daughter will be coming to the stadium, and watching her dad’s performance from the stands too. “I am surrounded by football in my family.” He laughs and jokingly buries his head in his hands as he says “Sometimes I think to myself ‘enough, enough!’”


By footy weekends,Kyoto&Brighton 23rd,March,2015

聞き手 footy weekends,Kyoto&Brighton 2015.2.23

Kyoto Sanga F.C. / 協力 京都サンガF.C.

A special interview
Hiroshi IMAI Kyoto SANAG F.C. President / 京都サンガF.C.社長インタビュー

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