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Ilicic, the ‘Ballon d’Or’ who has returned from the ‘dark side’: “I was afraid of falling asleep and not waking up”

Life has not made it easy for Josip Ilicic (Prijedor, Bosnia Herzegovina; 1-29-1988). His father died in the Balkan War. His mother, his brother and he, however, fled to Slovenia. “I didn’t know what the word dad was, my schoolmates explained it to me,” confess.

His enormous talent contrasts with his mental fragilitywhich led him to consider retirement as a ‘kid’. The sudden death of Davide Astori, When he played for Fiorentina, it marked him forever. To make matters worse, lymphadenitis – inflammation of the lymph nodes – made him fear the worst: “I was afraid of going to sleep and not waking up again.”

I was afraid of going to sleep and not waking up again.

Josip Ilicic

However, Gian Piero Gasperini, already at Atalanta, brought out his best version.With his four goals against Valencia (3-4) In the round of 16 second leg of the 2019-20 Champions League ‘it hit its ceiling’. “Josip was among the best players in Europe. He could have won the Ballon d’Or…but during the pandemic he began to feel symptoms. “He wasn’t well and he couldn’t stand being away from his family,” recalled the coach of ‘La Dea’ on ‘Radio Serie A’.

Bergamo became the epicenter of COVID-19 in Europe and Ilicic’s smile and desire to play football evaporated. “He had coronavirus and suffered a lot, he fell into depression. There comes a moment when your head explodes”he qualified the ‘Papa’ Gómez.

He couldn’t even play in the quarterfinals against PSG. “A week before the game, I went to see him in the hospital and I was shocked. He had lost more than ten kilos, I picked him up like a doll and told him: ‘Josip, come with us… Entering human heads is like entering a jungle. “Not even the doctors have an explanation,” remember Gasperini.

I went to see him in the hospital and I was shocked. He had lost more than ten kilos, I picked him up like a doll and told him: ‘Josip, come with us…

Gian Piero Gasperini

“My goal is to continue playing at the highest level”

He played again, and scored, in the Champions League, against Liverpool and Manchester United… but he was never the same again. until, in 2022, he permanently left Atalanta: “My goal is to continue playing at a high level. Once I got over the bad period, my life started again,” she promised.

Ilicic reappeared with Maribor quite overweight. In fact, he had to undergo a special training plan: “I needed to come home. I was tired of being abroad and in Slovenia there was only one club I could play for. “This isn’t over yet: it’s just the second part of my career.”

Ilicic’s return from hell with a goal included although it was a very dubious penalty

‘Jojo’, as he is nicknamed, left a warning for sailors in ‘selection code’: “I’m open to anything, I like to help.” It took a while, but at 36 years old, after scoring nine goals and distributing 12 assists this season will be in the Eurocup.

“I knew I would make it, that I would get up. I knew where the problems were.”. “I corrected what I should have, especially regarding my physical condition,” he boasts.

I knew I would make it, that I would get up. I knew where the problems were

Josip Ilicic

After 933 days -he played his last game against Cyprus in November 2021- Ilicic reappeared in the friendly against Armenia (2-1)… and he only needed four minutes to score the winning goal. “Football is karma and football has rewarded him. Let’s not make a circus now, he is not here for past merits. She has been training at a very high level for 14 days. “I see him happy, having fun,” says the coach. Matjaz Cake.

The former Atalanta player, who has 17 goals in 81 international appearancesassumes his new role with Slovenia: “Every player wants to participate in a European Championship, but, in the first place, there are the boys who qualified. I thank the coach for giving me the opportunity to fulfill my dream. It means a lot to me after so long. The second part of the course was very good and this call is the finishing touch.”



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Davide Piano

An experienced journalist with an insatiable curiosity for global affairs on newshubpro

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