A night in the stars, such can we designate the evening experienced by Josip Iličić on March 10, 2020. Then the spearhead of an exceptional Atalanta team (4th in Serie A), he made short work of the Valencia CF to qualify the Dea for the quarter-finals of the competition when it was only the first participation of the Transalpins. Scorer in the first leg in a big 4-1 victory, he carried his team in the return match with a 4-3 victory on the lawn of the Spanish club. « Gigantic », “Ilicylon”, there was no shortage of superlatives to qualify the Slovenian’s XXL performance. After the meeting he was ambitious and wanted to do everything to continue this epic as long as possible: “When I said I was older, but also better, it was true and I don’t want to stop, I want to continue, I’m having fun. We are no longer a surprise, we are doing great things and we want to continue. The goal is to show that we want to keep playing the way we do, we never want to stop. We want to grow day by day and have fun in what we do. It is not so easy to reach this level, it is a path that has been going on for years. Symbolizing this impressive Atalanta, the former Palermo and Fiorentina – who scored 21 goals and 9 offerings in 29 matches – did not know it yet, but this sublime night was the beginning of the end for him.
In a planet where the Covid-19 pandemic has hit particularly hard, especially in Italy, Josip Iličić has lived through a huge nightmare. Born in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1988 and losing his father – victim of an assassination by a neighbor of Serbian origin – 7 months after being born, the attacker lived through the war from an early age. Bergamo being the Italian epicenter of the health crisis, the sirens of military trucks carrying coffins particularly affected it. While some personal rumors were also mentioned at the time, the end result was depression on the part of the Prijedor native. “The more the days pass, the more difficult it becomes to bring him back to Lisbon. He will miss Mbappé at PSG, but Ilicic is fundamental for us. It’s as if Dybala were missing at Juve, Immobile at Lazio or Lukaku at Inter. We are looking for other balances without a player with his characteristics and we are adapting with Pasalic, Gomez, Malinovskyi. explained his coach before facing Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Playing only 5 post-Covid games during the 2019-2020 season, Josip Iličić nevertheless returned and resumed an interesting level during the 2020/2021 financial year.
A moving end to the story at Atalanta
Starting slowly before coming back strong in winter, the Slovenian had 7 goals and 11 offers in 38 matches and seemed to have put an end to this complicated passage in his life. However, the disease that is depression is not something tangible and can return at any time. During the 2021/2022 season (4 goals and 5 offerings in 24 matches), he plunged again in early January. “It’s not easy for me to talk about this situation. We will always be at Josip’s side, it’s something that goes beyond football. We have known each other for many years, we have spent many happy times together. I can say that he is a normal and positive person, but our mind is a real jungle. It’s hard for psychologists to figure out what’s going on, so imagine for us. Doctors don’t give us answers and I can’t give any either, it’s a very sensitive subject. I just hope he can come back and find some joy playing football. » explained Gian Piero Gasperini, always very attentive to the health of his foal Finally returning to the pitch for the last meeting of the season against Empoli (1-0 defeat), he said goodbye to the Bergamo club after 5 great years where he was accompanied in difficulties.
— Lega Serie A (@SerieA_EN) September 1, 2022
Confident for the future, he dropped this: “I’ll never forget the years in Bergamo, I don’t know where I’ll go, now I’m taking a break. My goal is to continue playing at a high level. After the bad period, my life started again.” It was therefore in an innocuous way that he bounced back five months later on the side of Maribor. A club where he spent briefly in 2010 before joining Palermo and which offers him a more intimate setting. A choice assumed by Josip Iličić who had explained the reasons as reported Sky Italia : “I needed to go home, I filled up on foreign countries. It’s a special day for me. A person plays football to experience these emotions. That’s why I’m back. Without this club, I would not have had a career like this and it’s not over yet: it’s only the second part of my career. Moreover, he did not deny himself anything when approaching a new chapter in his career. : “my mental and physical conditions? It’s hard to answer, I can’t say when I’ll be at my best. I knew there was only one club I would return to in Slovenia, and that was Maribor. »
A successful first in Maribor
“As far as fitness is concerned, I believe and hope to get back into the right rhythm as soon as possible. I need my time. I’m going to start from scratch here. Now I’m a new player who wants to achieve something, much like I started 12 years ago. Return to the Slovenian national team? If I’m able, if they need me…I’m always open to anything, I like to help” he continued. Absent for a while with an Achilles tendon problem, he made his big debut this Sunday, November 6 against Mura. Before the meeting, the opposing coach Damir Čontala had also valued his arrival: “For Slovenian football, it is really something extraordinary that such a footballer has returned home. I hope there will be more such cases. We all know what kind of player Josip Iličić is, what kind of reputation he has built in Europe. His arrival contributes to raising the quality of the league and its visibility, which we all wish immensely.
— Sport TV Slovenia (@SportTVSlovenia) November 6, 2022
While his team is in 6th place out of 10 and is having a complicated start to the season, Josip Iličić has made his talent speak for itself. Coming on in the 77th minute of a game down 4-1, the 34-year-old showed he was still technically fit. Physically it was more complicated, however, since he gained a few pounds during his six-month period without playing. But that was secondary, for it was a festive evening in Maribor. Provoking on the right of the surface, he obtained a penalty at the end of the match which he transformed in the wake of a heavy strike under the crossbar. His coach Damir Krznar was not surprised to see him already decisive for his first match: “I think he showed what kind of great player he is. I think it will be very useful for us. Especially when he will still do a few training sessions with our physical trainer. After having lived through very complicated moments, Josip Iličić seems to be slowly regaining his feelings and his love for football. The opportunity to write a beautiful end of career and to forget definitively a disease which can affect anyone and at any time. Josip Iličić thus stands as a true symbol of fighting spirit.