Name: Miodrag Krivokapić
DOB: 6 September 1959 (age 54)
POB: Nikšić, FPR Yugoslavia (Montenegro)
Position: Centre back, left-back, defensive midfield, sweeper
Clubs: Sutjeska Nikšić, Red Star Belgrade, Dundee United, Motherwell, Raith Rovers, Hamilton Academical
International Caps: Five (Yugoslavia)
The career of Miodrag Krivokapic is one which every import into Scotland would be lucky to have. He endeared himself to two sets of supporters over an eight year period and routinely attracted praise for his performances. The laid back continental style that he brought to the park didn’t fit in with what was happening around him, but his elegance and ability made it work. Comfortable at bringing the ball out from the back and launching attacks, we can only wonder how revered he would have been had he played in a more enlightened age.
The Montenegrin arrived at Tannadice in the summer of 1998 for a fee reported to be around £200,000. The defender had starred for Red Star Belgrade over five years, helping the Serbian club to two Yugoslavian league titles over that time and gaining five international caps in the process. United already had the stellar defensive partnership of Paul Hegarty and David Narey, but the pair were getting on in years, with Hegarty turning 34 and Narey reaching 32 years of age that summer. While their performances were still solid it was clear that their best was now firmly behind them and manager Jim McLean wanted to look towards the future.
Krivokapic played 22 games in all competitions during his first season – deputising for either of the regular central pairing or filling in at left back when required – as the club improved upon their previous season’s placing to finish fourth. Immediately the supporters recognised the new boy as similar to one of the players he may be replacing. Like Narey, Krivokapic oozed confidence and class whenever he stepped onto the field and played the game as if was a leisurely stroll rather than a high octane competition. They liked what they saw.
The following season would be the time for Hegarty to move aside and for Krivokapic to take over. Or so the defender thought. Hegarty did indeed find his time as a player dwindling down but Krivokapic wasn’t necessarily the man to take his place. Once again McLean went to the continent and brought back Freddy van der Hoorn from The Netherlands. With Narey’s time also ticking down it certainly made sense from the manager’s point of view, but for long periods Krivokapic was on the outside looking in with van der Hoorn making more appearances than him over the course of 1989-90.
Even though he wasn’t always guaranteed a start the player still enjoyed the full support of the Tannadice crowd who saw him as a true cult hero figure, and his performances stayed consistent to the extent that McLean still wanted to keep him motivated knowing that he represented the future. 1990-91 was finally the time when McLean turned to Krivokapic and made him a first choice player in the United side.
Unfortunately, it would coincide with injuries problems creeping into the defender’s career. He missed a large part of the season’s beginning where United ripped off a sequence of six wins from their opening eight games to lead the league. The squad was a mixture of dependable veterans and an abundance of young talent coming through the ranks, including Billy McKinlay, Christian Dailly, Darren Jackson and Duncan Ferguson. Krivokapic was ably deputised by Brian Welsh, but following a draw at Celtic Park the team were stunned at home against St Johnstone and the more experienced player was immediately returned to the starting XI. In a win over Motherwell, Krivokapic was man of the match and United stayed top of the table. A 2-1 victory at Ibrox the following week had people believing that the club could challenge for their first title since the 1982-83 triumph. Those hopes were slowly dispersed over the next seven league games. Having failed to win in three they picked themselves up with an impressive 3-1 victory over Celtic, only to go another three matches without a win. Rangers had been dominant over that stretch and it was enough to extinguish their chances.
There was still the Scottish Cup final to look forward to after they defeated St Johnstone in the semi. In the other tie, Celtic had been upset by mid-table Motherwell and it represented the best possible chance for Jim McLean to get over his Scottish Cup hoodoo and complete the hat-trick of trophies he would have brought to United for the first time in their history. The match was dubbed “The Family Final” due to the fact that Jim squared off against his younger brother Tommy, and is often recalled as the greatest Scottish cup final in the modern era. Motherwell took the lead through Iain Ferguson before Davie Bowman equalised after half-time. Goals from Phil O’Donnell and Iain Angus gave ‘Well a seemingly comfortable lead, only for Michael O’Neill and a Darren Jackson injury-time equaliser to send the contest into extra-time. With every player running on fumes, Stevie Kirk won the match for Motherwell with a header in the first half, and United’s long wait for a Scottish Cup triumph was put on hold once more.
Krivokapic and van der Hoorn had been members of the back four guilty of conceding four goals in a cup final, but there was little doubt that it was a wide open match that would have required some incredible defending to keep the scoreline down. United were happy with their centre back pairing and wanted it to remain for the following season, meaning they would have to extend the Montenegrin’s contract. The negotiations were not straight-forward.
The message from both parties was simple: Krivokapic wanted more money or be allowed to leave for another club; United were offering him all that they could and would demand a transfer fee if they could not agree a deal. Remember, this was the time before the Bosman ruling and the registration of a player needed to be bought even if he was out of contract (should the player’s current club demand it). Hearts were one side interested in acquiring Krivokapic but were put off by United’s £350,000 asking price. It was a large sum for a player who would turn 32 a couple of months into the season and who didn’t want to play for United any more. In the slagging match that ensued, McLean revealed that the player wanted £800 a week and a £8,000 signing bonus. Pittance by today’s standards but a significant sum in the early nineties. Krivokapic, in retaliation, sought legal action against the club, claiming they were unrealistic in their valuation. The final result was that the player did not play a minute of football in the 1991-92 campaign, where United would finish fourth once again. It seems inconceivable now, but he wasn’t even the only player in Scotland to do so that term. Ally Maxwell refused to sign a new deal at Motherwell and only began playing again once Rangers agreed to pay the ransom fee to release the captor.
In the end he had no choice, he returned to the United squad and signed a new deal up until the end of the following season. It would be November before a chance with the first team arrived, but when it did he grasped it with both hands; playing excellently in a 1-1 draw with Celtic that had many supporters feeling like he’d never went away. But, of course, he had been gone, and for a long time as well. An 18 month lay-off for a footballer in his thirties can only have one consequence: a receding of his abilities. Krivokapic did ok when given the chance but, in April, United finally decided to grant him the decision he’d been looking for two years prior; they would allow him to leave for free. That decision incensed Ivan Golac when the new manager, a former Yugoslavian international himself, arrived in the summer, claiming that he “would have built his team around Krivokapic”.
Motherwell may not have taken it to that extent, but they reaped the benefits from their new acquisition. He made an immediate impression with a eye-catching performance in his debut, a 2-2 draw with Celtic on the opening day. The Hoops weren’t the force they are today but it was still a fine result for a Motherwell side which had battled relegation the previous season. Reflecting back, Motherwell fans would see it as a point dropped (two points for a win in those days) as they then went on an incredible run to start the campaign, winning five of their first seven league games and sitting top of the table after a 2-0 win over Hearts. Following that last match, Phil O’Donnell made a point to praise their new defender, saying that he had really helped “tighten things up at the back”.
Inevitably, Motherwell’s results deteriorated from the title-winning form of those early months, but not to the extent their detractors had expected. They proved themselves to be a team capable of fighting it out at the top end of the table and battled with Aberdeen, Celtic and Hibs in the search for second place. Even a confidence shaking run of three defeats in four games to Rangers, Celtic and Hibs couldn’t derail their season, and they responded with a run of eight unbeaten which included exacting some revenge on Celtic in the Scottish Cup third round.
With the season coming to a close, the team travelled to Easter Road for a crucial game in the hunt for Europe. Out of the chasing teams, Hibs was the only one Motherwell had not defeated so far that season. They were leading 1-0 when Krivokapic popped up to double the advantage, scoring only his second goal since arriving in Scotland and embarking on an epic goal celebration where he deliriously tore down the park towards the jubilant away end. They followed up the win with victories over Rangers and Kilmarnock, securing a place in Europe for the following season. All that was left was the distinction of finishing ahead of Aberdeen in second place. Somehow, the team took their eye off the ball and registered only one league point from the final three matches, culminating in a 0-1 defeat at home to St Johnstone on the final day which almost saved their opponents from, what seemed, certain relegation. Still, Europe had been achieved and it was no doubt a tremendous year for everyone involved.
McLean, his stock at its highest, decided it was time to leave Fir Park after ten years in charge and take the vacant manager’s role at Hearts. Alex McLeish, fresh out of playing, was hired to be the man that replaced him. Unlike his predecessor he didn’t rate the defender and Krivokapic played only sporadically over the next two seasons as Motherwell finished second before a huge downturn in form saw them finish eighth the following year.
When the defender did feature he was still able to perform at the highest level and this retained the interest of a number of First Division clubs who were eager to sign him once his contract expired at the end of the 1995-96 season. Raith Rovers won the battle and he started the following year as a member of their back four. It soon became apparent, however, that his legs had long gone and Rovers fans old enough to have saw him play still remember him as an immobile dud. Hamilton took a chance the following year but it’s clear his playing days were done. He retired at the end of the 1997-98 season.
Where is he now? Krivokapic moved into coaching immediately after his retirement with spells as reserve coach of Hamilton and a four-game stint as caretaker manager of Motherwell. He returned to Scotland in 2008 to become a youth coach with Celtic. A role he has kept since.
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