Bologna coach, Sinisa Mihajlovic, 50, held a press conference at the club’s Casteldebole training ground, Saturday, declaring the shock news he had been diagnosed with leukaemia, and vowed to ‘win this battle’ over the illness.
This haunting news will come as a shock to anyone who watched this great player at the height of his powers throughout the nineties and early years of the new century.
The former Yugoslav international will remain in charge of the club he took over in January, succeeding Pippi Inzaghi, and steering them away from a relegation crisis to finish the season a highly creditable 10th in Serie A.
“I know Sinisa Mihajlovic well and I know that he is a man who never gives up,” said President Joey Saputo in a statement.
“Of course, the news of his illness has shocked us. I want to let it be known that my thoughts and those of my family are with Sinisa and his loved ones.
“As Walter Sabatini said in the Press conference, Mihajlovic is and will remain Bologna’s coach. But professional issues are of secondary importance here: Sinisa has an important battle to win, and in me, Bologna FC and the whole city – a city that loves him – he can be sure to find allies ready to fight alongside him.
“No other words are needed at this time. Forza Sinisa!”
As reported in football-italia.net having not travelled with his squad to the mountains for pre-season training camp, using fever as an excuse, Mihajlovic explained, “I asked for this Press conference and also for privacy, as I was the one who wanted to tell the squad and all of you this news first.
“Unfortunately, or even fortunately, we performed some tests that showed anomalies I didn’t have four months ago.
“The toughest part was trying to hide it from my wife. I had a fever and she did not believe that was it, as she knows that wouldn’t stop me going to pre-season training. She tried to believe me... I told her that I had a fever, but we were going for another test. It showed leukaemia.
“When I got the news, it was a real blow. I sat there for days crying, your life passes by your eyes. These are not tears of fear. I respect the illness, I will face it, with chest puffed out, looking it in the eyes, the way I always have done.
“I cannot wait to go to hospital and start the fight. It is aggressive, but it is beatable. I explained that to my players too, we had a conference call with them and as is natural, I had some tears.
“I explained to them we have to attack and go to win. If we sit back and try to defend, we’ll get knocked down straight away. I have to use my tactics in this battle and I am sure, without any doubts, that I will win this battle.
“I’ll win it for my family, for my children, for all those who love me. I received 600-700 messages over the last few days, but I apologise for not responding, as I wanted to take some time to myself, to throw out all the negativity, so that I could be ready to hit back and start the battle.
“I want to thank all of Bologna, from the President to the kit staff, as they showed me this is a family and they love me, as do my players. That is important to me, because I told my players, I’ll win this battle, but I need people around me who love me. I saw that in my family, friends and colleagues.
“Nobody should pity me. I am fine. The thing that hits your emotions is sentiment. Love.
“My father died of cancer, so I always get tested regularly. If we hadn’t performed these tests, I wouldn’t have shown any symptoms for a year. None of us must think we are indestructible. All of us think it won’t happen to me, but when it does, that’s a shocking blow. Your only hope then is to anticipate, because if you discover it after two months or after a year, that makes a big difference.”
Former Montreal Impact midfielder, Blerim Dzemaili, now back at Bologna told Sky Sport Italia. “The Coach will win this battle for us too, as we feel like we are his family,”
“What he has given us over the last six months has rarely been given by any coach, especially in such a short space of time. We know what kind of person he is, how strong he is and we’ll try to transmit our strength to him too. We can’t wait until he returns.
“His collaborators are part of him and we feel as if the whole management staff were here. We made a promise to the coach and I particularly want to keep it as captain.
“It was a shock this morning, I’ll be honest, but once we spoke to him, we realized that we’ve got to just continue working like this, because he’ll be with us again very soon.
“Sinisa told us to continue working with a smile on our faces and we’ll try to do exactly as he asks. The coach showed us the way, we followed him throughout the last six months. He is a leader who can take us to achieve our objectives.
“Of course, nobody expected this to happen, but we are all close to him. Mihajlovic is like a father to us, so we’ll fight for him the way he fought for us.”
Upon news of his illness breaking, Inter tweeted: “Come on Sinisa, Inter are by your side in this battle.”
Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi has urged Mihajlovic to face cancer ‘head on’ after battling the illness twice himself.
Acerbi fought off testicular cancer twice, going on to play 149 consecutive games for Sassuolo and Lazio.
“You can’t give up, you need to be brave! These are obvious words, but they’re true,” tweeted the 31-year-old.
“Boss, face this ugly phase head-on, not caring about what you have! Live as if you had nothing and always think positive. Be brave!”
Sinisa Mihajlovic is regarded as one of the best free-kick takers of all time, was a member of the great Red Star Belgrade team which won the European Cup in 1991, and was part of the golden generation of Yugoslav players that qualified for Euro ‘92, but were prevented from taking part due to the Balkan conflict.
He went on to carve out a successful career in Italy playing for Roma, Sampdoria, Lazio and Inter and later coached Fiorentina, Milan, Sampdoria, Torino and his national team, Serbia. He is currently in his second spell as Bologna coach having previously coached the club in 2008/09.