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Asmir Begovic was never likely to accept the situation Bournemouth found themselves in as the clock ticked down on their hopes of promotion back to the Premier League.
The Bosnian-born goalkeeper's route to the top has hardly been orthodox, and he caused quite a stir with his antics in the Championship play-off semi-final second leg against Brentford, after twice falling to the floor in what many perceived as play acting – including once with his own teammate.
But despite criticism for his gamesmanship, Begovic insists he was only doing what any player would do in the same position.
“Of course you try and do whatever you can to win a football match so for me that was my only goal,” he said, in an exclusive interview with Mirror Football. “Unfortunately we couldn’t get it over the line – that was very disappointing, but everything else [the criticism] is water off a duck’s back.”
it was a big campaign for the Cherries’ No.1, after being reinstated between the sticks having spent the nine months prior out on loan, to then finish runner-up in the club's Player of the Season vote.
"Yeah that was a fix, I should have won that thing," he teased, before quickly backtracking. "Joking. Arnie [Arnaut Danjuma] was fantastic.
Asmir Begovic clashes with Brentford stars during the Championship playoff semi-final
(Image: Action Images via Reuters)
“Individually I enjoyed the season, I was able to play 50 plus games and contribute a lot and for me that’s obviously always an important thing and I really enjoyed my football again.
“From a collective point of view it was obviously disappointing that we didn’t achieve our ultimate goal of promotion at the end which we set out to do.
“We should have done more in that first leg to kill the game off.
“The second game becomes difficult when we had a great start then we have an incredibly harsh penalty decision go against us when the ball gets nicked off his knee onto his hand there’s not much you can really do. And then we get a red card and it’s an uphill battle.”
Bournemouth lost out as Brentford eventually went on to win promotion, but the south coast club will have learnt plenty from what Begovic described as a “turbulent season”.
Jason Tindall started the campaign as manager after taking over from Eddie Howe, but it was Jonathan Woodgate who ended the season in interim charge, though with no promises of landing the gig full-time.
“We hit a bad patch in January and it was difficult to see a manager lose his job for that reason," Begovic recalled.
“Jonathan comes in and all things considered, under the circumstances he took over in, I think he did a really good job.
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“He’s a really good person first and foremost, obviously a young manager but not that you’d have known it.
“I think everyone in the dressing room really liked him and it would be good to see him be successful.”
At 33, Begovic has become no stranger to a change in manager, having played under three in two seasons at his last permanent club Chelsea.
Speaking of Tindall’s dismissal, he added: “It’s crazy because at that time you don’t think about it, you’re really just focused on the next game, when results are going against you you just focus on how you can improve things day to day and get that next result and hopefully kick on form there.
“I remember waking up the day after the Sheffield Wednesday game and my phone is full of messages: manager gone. You don’t see it coming, it was a shock to everyone. “But then when you think back at it, a team in our position, lost four in a row, that’s just not good enough and ultimately it’s a cruel business at times.”
It was that same cut-throat nature of football which cost Jose Mourinho – the man who took Begovic to Chelsea in 2015 – his last three jobs in football.
Despite reports of player unrest at Stamford Bridge, Begovic insists Mourinho’s bitter exit was a surprise, and he still looks back at their time working together fondly.
“I really enjoyed it in the fact that I learned a lot. For me, going from Stoke to Chelsea was the big move and for him to bring me there is something I’m always going to be very grateful to him for.
Getting his hands on the Premier League trophy at Chelsea
(Image: CameraSport via Getty Images)
“His tactical knowledge of the game was brilliant. We went into certain games knowing we were never going to lose.”
Asked why he felt Mourinho’s last three managerial stints (at Chelsea, Man Utd and Tottenham respectively) haven’t worked out, he replied: “It’s weird. I look at United, he did some really good things there, the team grew, they brought in some good players. And then you have a short space of time where results go against you and you’re out and that’s I think the biggest change in football now: you really don’t have the time to work your way through a bad patch.
“As soon as you hit a bad patch it’s over and I think [that happened] even with Spurs. That’s whats tricky now and I don’t think it’s always a reflection on the manager more a sign of the times.”
Begovic too has had his own moments where his role has changed suddenly – having been surplus to requirements at the Vitality Stadium at the start of the 2019/20 season.
“Bournemouth decided to go in a different direction and you’re on the outside looking in. It happens very fast. You may not even understand why or how, these decisions get made in football and I was looking at a couple of years where I wasn’t going to feature or be part of anything and I never really like to be in that position.”
But what was initially a concern for his future soon turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as he took in a spell in Azerbaijan, then the San Siro.
“The best circumstance at that time for me was to go on loan and I got the chance at Qarabag. I didn’t have that much time to think about it but I thought new experience, let’s go see what it’s all about and where it takes me.
“I had an unbelievable few months, the people there were very welcoming and just as a life experience as well it couldn’t have been better and that puts you right back in the shop window.
“The next thing you know AC Milan come calling and you have some pretty incredible people on the phone asking you to join them, Paolo Maldini explaining what they were trying to do with the team, which then becomes another no brainer.
Begovic describes his brief time at AC Milan as one of the highlights of his career
(Image: NurPhoto/PA Images)
“To go there, obviously Covid hit, but for me that was one of the highlights if not the highlight of my club career, to play and represent a club like that every day, to play and see the magnitude of the club, the history, what it means to people.
“I had an unbelievable year, it almost made me reborn in a way because I really found that love for football again, I really enjoyed it.
“It was difficult from a private family point of view, having to travel quite a bit, but you come out the other side I think a better person.”
While in Milan, Begovic had the pleasure of sharing a dressing room with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who he described as a “phenomenal guy” who “tried to set the standard every day”.
That stood him in good stead for the role he would play at Bournemouth on his return, as one of the club’s elder statesmen, and he plans to lead by example for another crack at returning to the big time.
“I’ve got one year left [on his Bournemouth contract] and that’s my main focus to make sure I come back in shape and give this thing another really good go, contribute as much as possible, have another good season and hopefully as a group we achieve what we’re trying to achieve.
“I have no doubt we’ll be in a position to challenge again and hopefully go one better.”
While his last couple of seasons have been unpredictable, nothing comes close to the journey Begovic went on when he was forced to flee war-torn Bosnia as a refugee at the age of four.
After spending six years in Germany, he and his family then had to seek asylum again, finding their way to “a different life” in Canada.
It’s in many ways remarkable that Begovic was able to overcome his difficult early years to go on to become a professional footballer.
He explained: “One thing I always had was football as my outlet, and whether I knew the language or didn’t, once you get on the football pitch with other kids a lot of other stuff goes out the window: who you are, what you are, it doesn’t really matter.
“That’s why I’m really grateful to the game and how I try to give back in a different way.
“Football always has a really good way of bringing people together, helping in difficult times and I just think it’s such a powerful tool.”
It’s those experiences which Begovic is now trying to channel to help others in a similar situation as he dedicates much of his time way from the field into his role as ambassador for the United Nations (UN).
“It’s a difficult, fragile position for people to be in. Pretty much every time it’s not by choice.
“There are over 80million people fleeing from their homes so those sort of numbers are incredibly stark and alarming and the worse thing is it’s growing. You throw a pandemic on top of that and it becomes an even more fragile position.
“The UN do some really good work, trying to look after these people all over the world and I think the more support we can give them it’s the least we can do.
“We’re trying to raise awareness for the good work that they do, and if i can share my personal journey and what I’ve been through as a youngster, that gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to be able to help and give back as much as possible.”
His work for the UN has seen him involved with schemes alongside the likes of Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies and Hollywood actor Ben Stiller.
“To have them on board and being part of it is really fantastic and step by step we can raise a lot more awareness, make change and get those numbers decreased and look after as many people as possible.”
Begovic has also started his own goalkeeping academy – with three centres now set up in Bosnia, Germany and Surrey in the UK, but insists he is still fully focused on many more years in the game.
“I try not to look too far ahead, when we talk about my journey the last two-three years I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams how that turned out, so that’s taught me really to just look for the next thing.
“I’m passionate about the game and playing, and touch wood, if I’m lucky with injuries, I can still play for a while yet.”
What did you make of Begovic's playoff semi-final performance? Have your say below.