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There’s A Monk In The Temple Tonight

February 28, 2011

Kezman arrives in Hong Kong

The Coolpoint Ventilation First Division (or Hong Kong’s top division if you prefer) is currently led by the “Home-made Hotspurs”, Kitchee, with Hong Kong’s equivalent of Manchester United, South China trailing them by just a solitary point. A glance at South China’s first team provides a few surprising names: wearing the number 12 shirt is former Manchester United and Newcastle United midfielder Nicky Butt but perhaps a more surprising name wears the number 38 shirt: a colourful character in the shape of Serbian striker Mateja Kezman.

Kezman being at Hong Kong’s most successful ever club is more surprising than Butt’s primarily due to age and career path. Nicky Butt’s career was in steady decline and at the age of 36, a move where he’ll be handsomely rewarded financially while playing first-team football would appear as a no-brainer. In contrast, Mateja Kezman is 31 years old and while he’s failed to refind his best form in recent times, there is little doubt that he remains a natural goalscorer. Kezman’s agent claimed that the striker had received many offers from far and wide but chose Hong Kong as his next destination due to the ambitious project the club was undertaking. Agents regularly state that their clients are attracting interest but could it be possible that this was the only offer on the table for the Serbian striker?

The past few seasons of his career to date have been nothing short of forgettable. Despite a brief initial run of form for Fenerbahce where he became the most expensive acquisition in the club’s history after signing from Atletico Madrid, his spell in Turkey came to an end and he found himself initially on loan before sealing a permanent switch to perennial French underachievers Paris SG. Unfortunately for Kezman, the arrival of Antonio Kombouare shortly after as head coach of the Parisian side saw his opportunities limited and after a short spell on loan to Zenit St. Petersburg, his contract would be cancelled last November. Kezman remained without a club until January where the Shaolin Temple as the club are known announced his addition to their squad. While not a usual move for a Serbian to make, Kezman’s arrival, while high profile, didn’t break new ground in terms of a Serbian plying his trade for the Hong Kong outfit (he is the 5th, the most recent being lower league globetrotting midfielder Zeljko Gavrilovic who plied his trade for South China some 10 years ago). It raises questions as to what Kezman did for the 2 months as a free agent and the interest in the striker that his agent spoke of.

Mateja Kezman’s goalscoring exploits for first Partizan Belgrade and then for PSV Eindhoven cannot be ignored but subsequent disappointing tenures at Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Fenerbahce and Paris SG have rubbed the shine off his market value. If it was just a case of failing to adapt to cultures then that may be understood but Kezman’s general attitude has come into question on multiple occasions amid accusations of laziness on the training field and a perceived lack of commitment to the cause. Maybe it’s because it’s because he’s so busy spending most of his time “thinking about God”. His desire to become a monk following the curtain call of his playing career is well-known and puts him up there in the deeply and indeed overtly religious stakes alongside the likes of ageless Nigerian Taribo West and closer to home, Burton centre-back and born-again Christian Darren Moore. Maybe that’s why he’s moved to South China. Translators do make mistakes and a Shaolin Temple may have been mistaken for a monastery.

Hong Kong Stadium: the home of South China

As for how he’s currently faring for his new team, he has got off the mark and scored his 1st goal for the club, against current league leaders Kitchee in a League cup semi-final, in turn helping his side reach the final where they would be biding to win the cup for the 3rd time in the clubs history. It seems the opportunity to scale the heights promised after his record-breaking exploits in the Netherlands has passed the Serbian frontman by but there is enough time left for him to leave a big impression whether in Asia or back in Europe. The question is does Kezman care enough for the game or is his head turned to skies in anticipation of something other than an opportunity to put a football in the back of a net?

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