Once dubbed the ‘German Messi’, Marko Marin has found his home at boyhood club Red Star Belgrade.
Marin’s European odyssey has taken him to Borussia Monchengladbach, Werder Bremen, Premier League giants Chelsea, Sevilla, Fiorentina, Anderlecht, Trabzonspor and Olympiacos.
Now, in Belgrade – less than a three-hour drive from where Marin was born in the Bosnian city of Gradiska – the 30-year-old attacker is playing a key role in restoring the global reputation of 1991 European Cup champions Red Star, having disappeared off the radar.
“Even more for me, with my childhood club because I’m a fan from a kid,” Marin, a league winner with Red Star and Olympiacos, told Omnisport as he reflected on Red Star’s Champions League qualification. “To play Champions League with them is even more special. It’s a very nice experience to bring the Champions League back to Serbia after so many years.”
Born in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Bosnian Serb parents in 1989, Marin – a Europa League winner with Chelsea (2013) and Sevilla (2014) moved to Germany at the age of two and 16 international caps for his new country followed.
Marin waited for calls from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia but they were not forthcoming as he opted for Germany – he was rewarded with a spot in Joachim Low’s 2010 World Cup squad after impressing for Bremen.
While he represented Die Mannschaft, Marin’s love for Serbian powerhouse Red Star – who snapped a 26-year drought from Europe’s premier club competition last term – runs deep and a second successive season of Champions League football means a lot to the club captain.
“It’s different because you play with more passion for the club,” Marin said when asked about the satisfaction of qualifying. “You always give everything for the club you represent because it’s your job and love football. But it’s different if you play for the club you really loved as a kid.
“We have many players in the team like this. The foreign players maybe give us more quality but the main group of the team and the strength – when you grow up as a Red Star fan, many of them trained in the youth team. It’s a bit different to play Champions League for Chelsea or Werder Bremen for example.”
“After every game, Belgrade and Serbia is so happy and even kids outside of the country,” he said. “I grew up in Germany and I was a fan of Red Star and when I went with my friends to school, you would always talk and I said that I’m a Red Star fan but they didn’t really know. But now, Red Star are playing in the biggest competition in Europe. You make Red Star big again. They’re getting used to it. This is a motivation.
“For sure this season, we will make some good games. Even qualifying for the group stage is a big, big success. If you compare with Manchester City, Barcelona or Real Madrid, their aim is to win the Champions League… ours is to qualify first.”
Marin arrived at Red Star from Greek giants Olympiacos prior to the side’s 2018-19 Champions League group-stage campaign involving eventual champions Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli.
One of the game’s most promising talents a decade ago, Marin’s switch from Piraeus to Belgrade last year barely made the news outside of Serbia. What could have been is a question often asked about the Bosnian-born German. But what does he think about his career?
“It’s a fantastic career,” Marin replied. “I played in nearly every big league for the biggest teams. When I was at Bremen, we played for the title and in the Champions League. At Chelsea, I don’t have to explain how big this team is and Sevilla.
“Maybe it could be better, for sure. There are some reasons. Maybe I wasn’t patient enough in some situations. Injuries didn’t help to make it even bigger. But I wouldn’t have this experience with Red Star if this didn’t happen. I’m very happy with my career. To feel this what I feel at the moment, it’s the best part of my career.”
Marin, who joined Chelsea on a five-year deal from Bremen in 2012, added: “Who knows what would’ve happened if I stayed longer in Germany? The experience to play for Chelsea was amazing. To play alongside the best players, the professionals. [Frank] Lampard, [John] Terry – these leaders. How they train every day and the passion and quality. I saw this for the first time in Chelsea. I played before with very good players but that was another level.”
Fast forward to this season and Marin’s Red Star are preparing to welcome Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, 2019 Champions League runners-up Tottenham and Olympiacos to Rajko Mitic Stadium – also known as the Marakana – in Group B.
Red Star will be relying on their fanatical and daunting home support in the Serbian capital, where Liverpool lost 2-0 in November – one of four defeats for last season’s champions in the 2018-19 competition – as Vladan Milojevic’s men eye a third-place finish.
“It’s difficult for teams coming here because they don’t know, they can’t expect this,” Marin said. “Before last season’s game against Liverpool in the news conference I said you will see it’s completely different. I know Anfield is amazing with a big crowd, but it’s totally different to what they experienced in Belgrade. You cannot explain it.
“They go to warm-up and the stadium is already full. We were waiting to come out of this big, long tunnel that you don’t have anywhere in the world. Then you go out and the stadium is exploding. It’s not easy for visiting teams. We play 11 against 11 but when they feel this atmosphere, it’s different.
“I hope we can challenge for third place. I’m not sure if would be a surprise if we take some points because people know us and how difficult it is to play at Marakana. Our strength is team work and it’s even more so at home. Of course we have quality but the biggest strength is teamwork.”
And what about the ‘German Messi’ tag? “I couldn’t change this. It didn’t come from me. We all know there’s only one Messi and no one is even near him. It wasn’t big pressure because I don’t think they took it seriously when they compared me to Messi. He is the number one. [Cristiano] Ronaldo is another type of player. Maybe they see it as my ability maybe in one-on-one situations. I take it as a compliment but it’s not a real comparison.”
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