When Dania arrived at Lezama, about a year ago, he had just turned sixteen and was one of the most outstanding players in the youth ranks of the Ukrainian club Dnipro. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he was welcomed by Athletic Club, at the request of the European Club Association (ECA), in a program that sought to ensure that young players from Ukrainian clubs did not miss the train of the training cycle because of the war . Originally from Zaporizhia, where his parents had a farm, Dania was the first to arrive at the residence of the Bilbao team. Integrated into one of the youth teams, he stood out for his discipline and good work from day one.
When he had been in Bilbao for a couple of months, he suffered a small fibrillar tear that kept him from training. Despite the coach’s and doctors’ recommendations, Dania continued to train every evening. When there was no one left in Lezama, he controlled, dribbled and shot on goal alone. One day his coach asked me to talk to him, since I was one of the people who treated him and I had a very good relationship with him. It must stop, he insisted, or the fibrillar rupture will worsen. When I explained the matter to her, Dania, who followed the news of the war on the Internet and spoke every day with his parents, shook her head and replied: “It’s just that when I play I don’t think.”
Listening to him, my mind traveled to Sarajevo.
Predrag Pasic was a lanky Serbian winger whose exquisite left foot made him a favorite with FK Sarajevo fans in the early 1980s. He was the captain of the team when in 1985 they won their second Yugoslav league, partly thanks to his goals. He then played three seasons in Germany, but after his withdrawal he returned to the city that he loved and loved him, Sarajevo. In 1993, a year after the Yugoslav war broke out, Pasic invested everything he had in creating a soccer school where children could play during the worst siege a city has suffered in the modern era. He placed her in a sports center next to the Skenderija bridge, which the little ones sometimes had to cross under the bullets of Serbian snipers. Even so, two hundred showed up the first day, after a call made by Pasic on a clandestine radio. The school, called Bubamara, remained open throughout the war and for many years afterward, serving as a refuge for hundreds of Muslim, Serb and Croat children, who played together while the horror unfolded outside.
When I met Pasic, in 2015, he was smoking a pack and a half of blonde cigarettes a day. He confessed to me that it was a vice that he acquired during the war years. I was trying to quit smoking. We share a guilty cigarette while we walk talking through the courts of the Olympic stadium in Sarajevo, a few hours before the Children’s Athletic Club played a triangular game there against the Bubamara school and the Belgrade Partizan. In the same place where thirty years before he had raised the cup to heaven in front of forty thousand happy fans, Pasic told me how proud he was always of his city and of his people. I asked him what he felt when he came across those children he cared for during the war today. He smiled and told me that shortly after the peace was signed, a European journalist who was doing a report in Sarajevo asked one of his children for a memory of the war. He told him about the day he scored a great goal for the entire squad. Then the reporter insisted: he wanted a souvenir from the war. And the boy settled: “Yes, yes, that happened during the war!”
“That day I knew I had made it,” Pasic told me, stubbing out his cigarette butt.
A couple of weeks ago Dania scored a great goal for the squad with the Ukrainian U17 team. I hope he gets it too.
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