U.S. Soccer: Kirovski has reached another crossroads

Young attacker in search of a club can leave Germany at the end of the season "I want to get out of Germany. I've been there four years and have had four different coaches, and it hasn't worked out." - Jovan Kirovski As the young man with the polemical past played 10 minutes against Iran, the rust he'd accumulated during the past few months cluttered up his touch and flaked at his feet. Jovan Kirovski didn't impress anybody in the Rose Bowl Jan. 16, and it would have been a sensation if he had. He's been banished to the training fields of Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund since August through his refusal to be loaned and the club's decision to keep him off the playing roster. "I want to get out of Germany," Kirovski said. "I've been there four years and have had four different coaches, and it hasn't worked out." Anyone who knew he once dazzled the likes of Manager Alex Ferguson while playing for Manchester United reserves and took the field for Dortmund in the European Champions League would wonder what has happened. The kid who left home at age 16 for the allure of Old Trafford is now 23 and still beset with strife. "Jovan's been showing the rust," said U.S. head coach Bruce Arena, "and a lot of that has to do with not playing for his club. He's not as sharp as he's been in the past, but that's to be expected." Although he is being paid by the club and is under contract, Dortmund hasn't listed him on rosters it submitted for competitions. The club had loaned him to Second Division club Fortuna Cologne last season. While scoring two goals in 23 matches, he repeatedly feuded with the coach, former German international goalkeeper Harald "Toni" Schumacher. Dortmund suggested another loan at the start of the 1999-2000 season. Kirovski rejected the idea. The club responded by taking him off the player rosters. He spent the first half of the season in limbo, training with the team but ineligible for any competition, be it Bundesliga or German Cup or in Europe. It has been nearly a year since he scored with a brilliant strike against Germany in Jacksonville, Fla., once again teasing fans, teammates and coaches with his exceptional skill and hunger to attack. That goal and the 3-0 U.S. win sent shock waves through German soccer, but according to Kirovski, it triggered a downward spiral that will likely sweep him out of the country.

Nosedive at Fortuna

He'd played 17 of 19 matches for Fortuna prior to the winter break of the 1998-99 season and scored twice. He joined the U.S. team in February for the match against Germany, and returned to accolades and praise in the German press for his superb goal. Schumacher reacted differently. "It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen," said Kirovski, who hadn't missed any league matches. "I still can't believe it happened." Kirovski found himself on the bench as Fortuna, which had been in eighth place at the break, started to drop. Arguments between Kirovski and Schumacher spiced up the training sessions. A $1,200 fine was levied when Schumacher said Kirovski objected to being substituted in a match against Karlsruhe in early April. Two weeks later, in the derby versus FC Cologne, Fortuna was trailing, 3-0, late in the match when Schumacher signaled Kirovski to warm up. Kirovski disputes reports he refused to enter the game. His version is Schumacher told him to sit down after he'd warmed up, then claimed Kirovski had refused to play and said he'd be fined another $10,000. A fine of $2,400 was documented. Regardless of the numbers, Kirovski and Schumacher - who had been on the Dortmund staff before taking the Fortuna job - had severed their ties. He played just six games after the break. He played for the U.S. in the Confederations Cup last summer, and upon his return to Germany made it clear to Dortmund officials he wouldn't be loaned again. "I didn't want to do that at this point in my career," he said. "I felt I'd proven I could play, had done well and that the problems with Schumacher had nothing to do with my ability."

Bosman ruling opens doors

With his club career stalemated, Kirovski plans to spend the next few months living in Southern California, where he grew up, and joining the national team for its friendlies with Chile and Tunisia and the Gold Cup and U.S. Cup tournaments. By doing so, he hopes to not only scrape off all the rust and grime that has clogged his play but also rack up enough national team games to qualify for a English league work permit. His failure to obtain a work permit four years ago prompted his move to Dortmund, but after just 20 Bundesliga games and one goal, he's anxious to give England another shot. Kirovski is no math wizard, but in the numbers game of caps and percentages, he knows the figures. "I didn't play in the World Cup, so that would have hurt me, but I played most of the games last year," he said. "So if I play the games coming up in the next few months, I'll have enough caps." One of the requirements to obtain a work permit is playing in at least 75 percent of national team games during the previous two calendar years. In 1999, Kirovski played 11 of 13 U.S. matches, a ratio that easily meets the 75 percent requirement. Agent Paul Stretford, who last month brokered the deal that sent Joe-Max Moore to Everton, is working to find Kirovski a club in England. He will be free to move under the Bosman ruling when his contract expires in June. "If a club wanted me right away, that would be great, but they'd have to pay Dortmund," said Kirovski. "It's more likely I'll have to wait until the European leagues are over and I'm out of contract." If he can't find anything in England, Kirovski believes he could find a club in a smaller league, perhaps Portugal or France or Switzerland. He says the Swiss club St. Gallen inquired about him last year. Kirovski insists MLS is not an option. League senior vice-president Ivan Gazidis said no discussions regarding Kirovski have taken place for several months. "I left home at age 16 to play professional soccer," Kirovski said, "and I still haven't accomplished what I want to accomplish. Now would not be the time to come back home to MLS." Kirovski took some sadistic pleasure in Schumacher's dismissal last December. The club hired former Austrian international Hans Krankl to replace him. The saga of Kirovski is one of ambition and petulance, of a brilliantly skilled player who tried to skip through the agonizing process of learning to be a pro. Perhaps Kirovski believed the path from reserve to superstar mandated only a pause in the way station of starter, but that stopover has stopped him dead in his tracks. "I'd say the jury is still out on Jovan, and that's why," said U.S. assistant coach Bob Bradley. "He's never played regularly for the first team at a club, any club. You need that day-to-day pressure of keeping your spot. It teaches you a lot about being a professional." by Soccer America senior editor Ridge Mahoney
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