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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - A huge smile lights up the face of Aleksandar Mitrovic as he lovingly calls Vuk Rasovic his footballing father.
But on Friday night in the Roshn Saudi League nothing will stop the Al-Hilal striker trying to break the heart of the man who gave him his professional debut for Teleoptik, an affiliate club of Partizan Belgrade, in 2012.
The following year Rasovic and Mitrovic helped guide Partizan to the Serbian SuperLiga title, and while the duo then went their separate ways, the bond remains.
“I always say to him, he’s a little bit shy, but I always say to him he’s my father of football. He’s the guy that brought me up and gave me a chance to come from the youth and who believed in me,” Mitrovic said.
“He’s a very important person to me, not only in football but in my life. He was like a father to me and still is.”
The duo have both enjoyed success since they left Serbian club football. For Mitrovic — his nation’s record goalscorer with 57 from 87 caps — Belgium, England and now Saudi Arabia called.
Be it at Anderlecht, Newcastle United, Fulham or Al-Hilal, goals have followed the 29-year-old, who has netted 24 times in 25 games for the Riyadh club since signing in the summer.
He is a huge part of the reason Al-Hilal, unbeaten this season, top the league by seven points from Al-Nassr and why club manager Jorge Jesus dubbed him “merciless.”
For Rasovic, who has played in Bulgaria, Russia and the US and coached in Belarus and UAE among other places, his most successful achievement is guiding Al-Fayha to the King’s Cup in 2022. Victory in a penalty shootout over Al-Hilal, which marked a wonderful conclusion to the Serbian manager’s first season in the city of Al-Majma’ah, earned the club their first major trophy.
Rasovic, who turns 51 on Wednesday, is equally fond of Mitrovic, but ahead of such an important game for Al-Fayha is understandably keener to focus on his club than reminisce.
Al-Fayha sit 11th in the league going into the game, which kicks off at 6 p.m. on Friday at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium in Riyadh.
But seeing his fellow Serbians — midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic moved to Al-Hilal from Lazio in the summer — succeeding does give Rasovic, who led Al-Fayha to AFC Asian Champions League football this season, great satisfaction.
“It is very good to see Serbians doing well in Saudi Arabian football,” he said. “We are trying to show our country in a good light. Mitro and Sergej, they are keeping Hilal on top, especially Mitro, and I wish them all the best. But not against us.”
This is not the first time Al-Hilal and Al-Fayha have gone head-to-head this season. On Aug. 19, just before Mitrovic’s introduction to Saudi football, the teams drew 1-1 at the King Fahd International Stadium, with goals from Abdullah Al-Hamdan for the hosts and former Rangers striker Fashion Sakala for the visitors.
“They played the game before I came. I saw them draw here, so hopefully we will win the game this time,” Mitrovic said.
“It will be nice to play against (Rasovic) … he’s a great coach and it’s going to be a nice game. Hopefully we will win.”
When asked how he planned to stop Mitrovic from scoring, Rasovic said: “Wait till the game and you will see.”
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