Vedad Ibisevic admits he is not much of a baseball fan, even though the team from his adopted hometown, St. Louis, was again in the World Series.
“I’m not a huge fan,” Ibisevic, the Stuttgart and Bosnia-Herzegovina striker, said in a telephone interview from Germany. “Of course, I became a bit of a Cardinals fan and I do follow the news, even from Germany.”
The World Series will be long over when Ibisevic and his Bosnia teammates step onto the field at Busch Stadium on Nov. 18 for an international friendly against Lionel Messi and Argentina. Ibisevic will be a kind of returning hero to the 50,000 Bosnians who settled in the St. Louis area after fleeing the war in the Balkans in the 1990s.
Earlier in October, Ibisevic, 29, scored the only goal in a game at Lithuania, a tap-in that sent Bosnia to next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil. It will be the country’s first trip to the tournament since the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
“I really can’t believe that we made it,” Ibisevic said. “Definitely a dream coming true for me and the whole team. It took a little time to sink in. When we arrived back in Sarajevo, the people were in the streets and all so happy. The people didn’t really have many occasions over the last 20 years to celebrate anything. They kind of forgot what it was like. It was a great atmosphere and just a big party.”
Ibisevic and his family left Bosnia in 2000, settling first in Switzerland, and he signed with F.C. Baden. But visa issues forced them to move again, this time to St. Louis. Anna Crosslin, the president and chief executive of the International Institute of St. Louis, told the website The Atlantic Cities that the United States State Department contracts with local agencies around the country in an effort to resettle refugees. There now are more Bosnians per capita in the St. Louis area than anywhere else outside Bosnia. (Similar efforts have led to Akron, Ohio, becoming home to people from Myanmar and the Minneapolis-St. Paul area becoming home to Hmong from Cambodia and refugees from the war in Somalia.)
Arriving in St. Louis at age 16, Ibisevic played soccer at Roosevelt High School and later at St. Louis University, where he scored 18 goals, had 4 assists and was named the N.C.A.A.’s freshman of the year in 2003, his only year playing for the Billikens. He spent time training with the Premier Development League amateur teams in St. Louis and Chicago.
“I still have a lot of friends there,” Ibisevic said. “They all have jobs and we are a happy family. In the beginning, soccer was difficult to find, but once I started playing club and high school, it was always fun. It was difficult in the beginning, yes. I’m still proud of what I achieved. It was fun for me, and I met some great people. It was an interesting and good experience.”
Spotted by Paris Saint-Germain’s Bosnian manager at the time, Ibisevic saw little playing time and was sent on loan to Dijon. In 2006, he was transferred to Alemannia Aachen of the 2. Bundesliga, then moved to Hoffenheim of the Bundesliga, where he was a teammate of the current United States internationals Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams. He left Hoffenheim in January 2012 and signed with Stuttgart.
Before his first match with Bosnia, in March 2007, a maelstrom of Internet rumor, opinion and chatter reached a fever pitch as fans wondered why Ibisevic had been allowed to get away from the United States national team, as had another striker, Giuseppe Rossi, who grew up in New Jersey but decided to play for his father’s native Italy.
The problem was that Ibisevic was (and is) not a United States citizen and only recently obtained a green card. And unlike earlier years, when U.S. Soccer officials were able to get players on a fast track to citizenship (see David Regis), the rules now require people to wait five years after obtaining a green card before they can become citizens. That would have precluded Ibisevic from playing internationally for the United States until recently, which would have meant wasting the prime years of his soccer career. (Andy Najar, a native of Honduras who grew up in the United States, faced similar hurdles. There was similar chatter about his choice to play internationally for Honduras, a moot point because he is not a citizen. If he had chosen to wait, he would have had to decline each invitation from Honduras, and even then, there would be no guarantee of a spot on the United States roster.)
“At the time, playing for Bosnia was my only possibility to show my talent because I really didn’t have any other way,” Ibisevic said. “My target all my life was to be a professional. I had a chance to play for a Bosnia youth team and knew that for every game, different scouts from Europe would be watching. In the end, I think it was right for me.”
After Stuttgart’s Nov. 11 game at Freiburg, Ibisevic will join the Bosnia team in St. Louis, where, he said, he will need about 50 tickets for family and friends.
“I usually go back only in the summer or on the Bundesliga’s winter break, and I just enjoy the people and my family,” he said. “I get not to think about soccer and just try to have a normal life, being with friends. No one recognizes me or cares what I’m doing. This part I enjoy.
“Now I am going back to St. Louis, and it’s crazy how it came about. I’m going to play against one of the best teams in the world. I am looking forward to this game in St. Louis, where I spent a couple of great years of my life.”
SOURCE: New York Times
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