Josip Iličić: After the depression, he is now experiencing his European Championship fairytale

Josip Iličić: After the depression, he is now experiencing his European Championship fairytale
Josip Iličić: After the depression, he is now experiencing his European Championship fairytale

He was considered a key player, a guaranteed goal scorer and Slovenia’s star player, then Josip Iličić fell into depression and could no longer play. Now he is back and wants to write European Championship history with the Slovenians.

The Slovenians are in the round of 16, a small miracle. But what is even more of a miracle is that Josip Iličić played a key role in their entry. A man who is celebrating a resurrection at this European Championship and is touching the hearts of even his opponents.

It had been almost 1,000 days since Iličić last played for the Slovenian national team in a competitive match when he came on as a substitute in the final group match against England. 75 minutes had already been played, the Three Lions had already advanced, the Slovenians were in fighting mode. On this evening in Cologne, the Reprezentanca were aiming for nothing less than making history. They were already close to making it to the knockout phase for the first time ever in a major tournament. And when things got really tight at the end and the draw threatened to turn into a defeat, Josip Iličić of all people came to the rescue.

Josip Iličić disappeared

For a while, it didn’t look like Josip Iličić would ever play for his country again, or even play for a club again. Iličić played in the Italian Serie A for a long time, was a force there, and was considered a guaranteed goal scorer – then the corona pandemic came. In Bergamo, where the Slovenian was playing at the time, the outbreak became a nightmare, where the virus was particularly bad. The images of the convoys transporting the bodies went around the world and burned themselves into his mind.

This time hit Iličić hard. In 2020, he became depressed and fell into a dark hole. He could not forget what he had experienced and seen, and could no longer play football. Two breaks did not change that. In the summer of 2022, the consequence was termination of his contract. The Slovenian said goodbye to his club Atalanta Bergamo with visible emotion. “These are things that go beyond football. Our heads are a jungle,” said Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini at the time.

The “Grand Master of Kranj”, as Iličić was once called, disappeared and was briefly without a club. But instead of hanging up his football boots, he fought, found a new professional home at NK Maribor and returned to his former strength. Now, at 36 years of age, he is once again one of the top players in his country.

Iličić celebrates his comeback on the big stage

At this European Championship, Iličić is now celebrating a comeback on the big stage. This does not go unnoticed by the competition. During the game against England, it was Declan Rice who paid respect to Ilicic with a thumbs up when he was substituted. “He told me that he respects me a lot,” Iličić told Sky Italia after the game. “That was nice to hear. My story is known all over the world.”

On Monday evening against Portugal, the Slovenians could continue their European Championship fairytale. A difficult task – but Iličić has experience with such things.

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Source: Stern

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