“No tengo pelo en mi lengua”

“I have no hair on my tongue” – as always most things sound better in Spanish.

But this is not some strange biological phenomenon; it is a Serbian (Spanish and Italian etc.) expression to explain someone that is honest, direct and does not sugar coat his or her message.

It is Veljko Filipovic in a sentence.

CMFC English spent a very leisurely Sunday morning sitting with Veljko and drinking coffee at Rayong’s Laem Charoen beach. On a cool, breezy morning it really was a lovely place to be and a reminder of why people come to Thailand and stay.

Rayong beach life

We (Veljko, Simes Salmon and I) just talked; I took no notes; “can you wait while I finish writing?” never sounds appropriate.

Some immediate observations;

He is big – therefore sit him down quickly in a beach chair to avoid being too intimidated! He is splendidly articulate. He is super-competitive and super-confident without that coming across as arrogance. I suspect even tiddlywinks would likely be a battle!

Perhaps an old head on young shoulders – or maybe that is how so many of his generation grow up.

He also reads cmfcenglish and knows where to find me!

Born in Čačak, some 144 km south of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, Veljko was signed as a youth player by the local team, FK Borac Čačak playing in the Serbia First League – effectively their T2.

A move to Serbian Super league team Fk Javor Matis based in Ivanjica, was cut short by Covid.

But Serbia was too confining. Veljko wanted to see the world.  And sport would be the key that would open those doors.

Basketball was an option and the national squad beckoned. But football offered the chance of playing overseas. A number of Korean players in the Serbian League were encouraging and helped to find him a Korean agent with experience and contacts across Asia.

His parents, who sound like good people, knew and supported his ambitions. His Dad played football; his sister plays volleyball and he has a football playing cousin with a coaching certificate who reviews Veljko’s games with a critical eye!

For most foreign players Thailand is where you come towards the end of your career – and that suits Thai teams that are looking for experience and a playing record.

But Veljko arrived here when he was twenty years old. He has not looked back.

Korean T3 was the first suggestion; until his agent talked with Ayutthaya of Thai League 2. Ho Lee and Milan Bubalo, who were then at Ayutthaya, shared the same agent.

It was Veljko’s first time in Asia – the biggest challenge was not homesickness, but breathing through the heat and humidity. As a player who relies on his pace and stamina this was a real issue. It took some weeks to acclimatize.

Veljko made his debut for Ayutthaya, and received his first Thai yellow card, at Sisaket on 27 September 2020 when the season restarted after a Covid enforced break of over six months.

Ayutthaya had made the worst possible start to the season and were bottom of the League when the season stopped after four games. After the restart by mid-season they were sixth and finished 2020/2021 in 8th place.

Their performance of that season was a win in Doi Saket against Chiang Mai United in late November. It was the only game that Chiang Mai lost at home all season – a 1-0 win for the visitors and everyone present (me included) was talking about Veljko after the game. He had arrived in Thai football.

It was also Veljko’s first match up with the Dutch forward, Melvin de Leeuw. Now firm friends their contests are a match within a match.

At the end of the season he left Ayutthaya and signed a two year contract with Bangkok Glass – albeit to come and play for T2 Chiang Mai FC.

My 2021/2022 League preview noted that “Veljko Filipovic looks the pick of the new (CMFC) squad. At 1.97 he looks like a granite mountain and was outstanding for Ayutthaya in their 1-0 win on the road at Chiang Mai (Doi Saket) United.”

The 2021/2022 season home opener was coincidentally against Rayong on 4 September 2021  – when 9 man Chiang Mai held on for a 2-1 win – the match report noting that “the game ended with the calmly impressive Veljko still managing a late gallop down the pitch ending an impressive and organized debut.”

So far he has made 48 league appearances for CMFC scoring six times in the league.

The 2021/22 season at CMFC was difficult; there were coaching and player changes. The club sliding to a 14th place finish on the back of just 3 points from the last 9 games.

Remaining at CMFC for 2022/23 made Veljko the club’s most experienced foreign player; a role that he has taken to as a mentor and as a spokesperson for the players. You want Veljko in your corner because you know he will look out for you. Santos and Brinner discovered that in the home game against Uthai Thani in mid-January.

He enjoys the freedom and individuality of the Thai League – though recognizes the occasional selfishness that comes with that style. It has also likely been the source of differences of opinion between player and coach; both it is fair to say have adapted their style to accommodate eachother. Their mutual respect is clear.

Veljko is a modern attacking centre half; if he does push forward he has the pace to recover. Five league goals last season meant that for some weeks he was the club’s leading scorer. This season the opportunities and goals have nearly dried up – other than the 89th minute winner at home to Trat, a goal that is worth revisiting:

“Unstoppable. 89 minutes gone. The scores tied. Veljko Filipovic was a man on a mission.

His header from Im ChangKyoon’s corner was met with a terrific save from Suppawat, in the Trat goal. The ball was cleared but only back to Im on the left side. His curling cross back into the area was met with a second towering header from Filipovic this time beating Suppawat.

Celebration time. Off came the Filipovic shirt as he ran to the home bench. A mixture of relief and unadulterated joy.”

Goals like that need a regular supply of good crosses – balls that are hit high into the area where Veljko has the height and power to terrify any goalkeeper. Im ChangKyoon has been the player to provide those crosses and the two enjoy playing together.

Veljko also has an encyclopedic memory of every game he played and goal scored – just don’t ask him to give you directions!

As part of the goalkeepers’ union it was also good to hear him singing the praises of Fahas Bilanglod as a future Thailand international. No pressure!

It is very unlikely that CMFC will be able to keep Veljko for another season; he loves Chiang Mai; he loves the Nimman lifestyle. But often our career choices necessitate moving for the opportunity rather than the location or lifestyle; and it is easier to do that as a single twenty-something.

Someone from T1 needs to sign him. Just as a hint to our friends down the road – Lamphun is close to Chiang Mai and the owner is intent on building a club for the long term. It would be a massive loss if he were to leave Thailand though there are clearly opportunities elsewhere in Asia.

Whether on or off the football pitch Veljko is a 100% competitor; a thoroughly decent guy with no time for nonsense; including from amateur reporters.

One of my takeaways from the morning is how players and spectators (even those who think they understand the sport) can see games, and even individual performances, so differently.

When things go wrong he is not the guy who will be sitting meekly in the corner – he will rage when he should. That is what leaders do – they pick their moments.

Staying injury free he has at least another decade of football. Then what? “I want to open a restaurant” was the surprise reply. It will likely have a pool table, a darts board and a quality wine list.