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International Eagles: Sasa Curcic's Crazy Career

17 June 2018

Throughout the World Cup, we will be taking a look at former Palace internationals and their careers before, during and after their time in SE25. With Serbia in action today, we look at the Eagles' first representative from that country.

Sasa Curcic was only at Palace for just over a year, but he certainly made an impression on and off the field at Selhurst Park.

At the time of his arrival late in the 1997/98 campaign, he fitted perfectly into the chaotic nature of the club. Big name players were snapped up on vast wages bankrolled by Mark Goldberg ahead of his proposed takeover, with the Eagles being managed from everyone from Steve Coppell and Mark Goldberg to Attilio Lombardo and Ron Noades.

But perhaps no-one typified the madness like Curcic. An enigma blessed with the ability to change a game in an instant, he showed glimpses of that in red and blue to become a cult hero during a difficult time for supporters. The feeling was mutual.

"Every goal I scored I celebrated with the fans - I played for them." he told Palace TV in 2016. "I was a crowd pleaser; everywhere I went the fans loved me. I wasn't very good for a team because I was such a strong individual, but I played football for the fans."

Curcic had arrived in England in 1995 when Bolton Wanderers paid a club record £1.5 million for a player who had won his first Yugoslavia cap in 1991 against Brazil whilst still playing for OFK Beograd as a 19-year-old, however constant falling outs with coaches saw his international career amount to a paltry 14 caps across seven years.

After impressing in Lancashire, Aston Villa came calling in August 1996 and paid £4 million for his services, but he failed to make an impact. "Leaving Bolton was a mistake," he said. "I changed clubs twice in a very fast time, and when I came to Villa I struggled to adapt.

"Unfortunately, I couldn't find myself and I lost one-and-a-half years, and then Palace came and saved me. It was unbelievable for me - I just played football there. They helped me get back on the football map and I was reborn."

Curcic would feature 26 times for Palace and score six goals, but his time at Selhurst Park coincided with the NATO bombing of his hometown of Belgrade during the Kosovo conflict, where his family still lived.

Attempting to raise awareness, Curcic demonstrated around the Selhurst pitch ahead of a game with Bradford City in March 1999, and would also regularly protest outside Downing Street. However, when his campaign began affecting his attendance at training, he was moved on by a cash-strapped Palace and his career was never the same again.

Looking back on that moment, he said: "It cost me dearly. I lost my contract and millions because I breached my contract as I didn't go to training and it was stupid.

"I would have loved to stay at Palace but there were big problems and the club went bankrupt, but I loved it - there is something special with that club."

Curcic's affinity with the Eagles though does have a happy ending. He is now a coach with the Palace academy, aiming to leave a more effective legacy by sharing the secrets behind his sublime skills, and hopefully ensuring that SE25 will be lit up by some more Serbian magic in the years to come.

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