We’ve all bought Darijo Srna on Football Manager before, haven’t we?
At one time, the Croatian right-back was one of the must-have signings on the game, and has become a firm favourite among football hipsters as a result.
Last week, he announced his decision to hang up his boots (in real life, I must add) to become the assistant manager of his beloved Shakhtar Donetsk, the club he remained loyal to for 15 years despite offers from Barcelona, Chelsea and Bayern, among others, over the years.
Srna was everything we love about football.
An exciting, marauding full-back who was deadly at set-pieces and showed genuine loyalty to the club he adored.
Signed from Hajduk Split in 2003, Srna became Shakhtar’s leading appearance-maker, won the Ukrainian Premier League 10 times and even lifted the UEFA Cup with the side in 2009 – where he was duly named Man of the Match in what was the first time a Ukrainian side won a major European competition.
Srna was at his very best 2009 and 2012 – in fact, he was widely regarded as one of the best players in the world in his position at the time – as a constant threat on the right-flank, able to score and create chances, and was dangerous from set-pieces.
The Croatian was constantly linked with some of Europe’s biggest and best clubs.
In 2009, he looked close to joining Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea as a replacement for Jose Bosingwa, and was linked again a year later before he eventually signed a new contract with Shakhtar.
Harry Redknapp was also said to be keen on signing him at Spurs, having heard good things from his fellow-countrymen Vedran Corluka, Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar.
Bayern were perhaps his biggest admirers at the time, reportedly sending scouts to watch him during Shakhtar’s successful UEFA Cup campaign in 2009.
In the end, Srna said he decided to put the interest of his family first to remain in Ukraine.
Speculation mounted again just two years ago, when La Liga giants Barcelona came calling.
Dani Alves had recently left the Nou Camp, while Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal were not quite at the level the club wanted.
34-year-old Srna was reportedly top of their shortlist, but like many others before he rejected the Catalans, telling the press: “I told the president that I would be happier to claim the domestic league title with Shakhtar than the Champions League with Barcelona.”
A level of class that’s become increasingly rare in today’s game.
But Srna didn’t end his playing days in Ukraine.
In a surprise move, he left Donetsk to join Serie A’s Cagliari last summer, sticking around for just one season to help them maintain their top-flight status.
Making 28 appearances for the Sardinian side as a 36-year-old, Srna spoke highly of the club when he left last month, saying: “It’s difficult to find the right words with which I could express the pride of being one of you at the end of my footballing journey, to have made true friends, met some great players and even greater fans.”
His move back to Shakhtar as assistant manager felt like the natural next step.
Srna’s love for the orange and blacks went beyond the pitch.
At a time when Ukraine’s political issues affected his football club, Srna was club captain when, in 2014, Shakhtar were forced to play their home games more than a thousand kilometres away in Lviv.
He took his role as skipper seriously by helping victims of the war, famously buying 20 tonnes of tangerines from farmlands in his Metkovic to feed over 23,000 school children who were affected.
Again in 2016, he gave hundreds of laptops to children in boarding schools in the region, including orphans and children with special needs.
He said: “Children are our future, and they should have a possibility to learn and develop, especially in the current difficult times”
On Football Manager, Srna led the way in terms of work-rate, teamwork, bravery and aggression, and it made him one of the game’s finest ever players.
But in real-life, he was the epitome of loyalty and class, and he could become a key figure in Shakhtar’s next era under new manager Luis Castro.
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