From the reserves to the Jupiler Pro League. This summer, Boris Popović took the plunge joining Cercle Bruges, after being spotted by the Belgian side’s staff at the Academy. The former AS Monaco reserve central defender, the Serbian U21 international seized the opportunity to grow and accumulate playing time in Belgium.
Successful integration into the professional world
Very involved since then, he has already accumulated 15 appearances in the league (13 starts) and scored two goals with the Groen-Zwart, wants to continue to “gain experience”. Perfectly integrated into the Bruges “family” with his former partner from the Monegasque training center, Edgaras Utkus, Boris has agreed to tell us about his experience.
Hello Boris. How has your arrival at Cercle with Edgaras been going?
Frankly, very well. Edgaras and I have known each other for four years, since we came up together at the Academy. We arrived in June, during the preseason. Things immediately went well with the team, who have welcomed us very well. We were put at ease straight away.
In de Franse krant @Nice_Matin is vandaag een dubbelinterview te lezen met Edgaras Utkus en Boris Popovic. Het duo praat er uitgebreid over hoe Cercle een belangrijke rol speelt in hun ontwikkeling en evolutie als voetballer. 🟢⚫️
— Cercle Brugge (@cercleofficial) February 15, 2022
What convinced you to go to Bruges?
The Cercle staff came in May at the end of last season for three training sessions and a friendly match. There was also a meeting to introduce us a bit to the club. I was immediately convinced to go there. This presentation only confirmed my desire to come here. I did not think at that time that I was going to have so much playing time, but I was sure that it was a chance to be seized.
The successful moves of Giulian, Harrisson and Strahinja in particular, did they play in your decision?
This might have been an additional motivation. I said to myself: “Why not follow them?”. Especially Giulian! When I arrived at AS Monaco, he was already at the Club. So I thought it was my turn to take my chance. I spoke about it with Strahinja (Pavlović) who I know well, and he told me that it was great here. Having playing time for a young person like me in the Belgian top flight is really something great.
Moreover, Cercle Bruges is one of the European Top 10 clubs in terms of the youngest average age of its players…
It’s a club that trusts in its young players, you can feel that right away. We have one of the youngest teams in Belgium. It is important for us to gain experience and maturity, to take on very good clubs and big teams. Once again, having playing time in the Belgian first division is a plus for us.
What are the characteristics of the Jupiler Pro League, in your opinion?
With Edgaras, we realized right away that it is a more direct attacking stye here. It is also a more physical league than Ligue 1 I think. Inevitably there is a time of adaptation, but it is only our work that will make the difference at this level.
As a defender, how do you manage to face up against such a direct game?
(Smiles) We work on it a lot in training, so we know how to defend and how to attack. Of course there are difficult situations to manage, but that’s football, and so it’s not a problem. We adapt. You have to know how to manage transitions and stay well organized in defense, not to concede chances. We always try to have an extra player at the back, to close down the flanks and the spaces between the lines.
— Cercle Brugge (@cercleofficial) July 30, 2021
How do you rate your season so far?
At the beginning, it was a bit difficult because I played very little. I am playing in the same position as Edgaras, who was the starter at the time, I was very happy for him. I continued to work on my side to be able to seize my chance at the right time. So when he had his little injury, I showed the coach that I was ready to play and to succeed on the pitch. I try to continue on this momentum and help the team as much as possible.
How do you explain this radical change in the team’s results?
We changed our system of play and our style, switching to much higher pressing on the pitch and throughout the match. We have a common objective now, it is to finish in the top eight, and play in the play-offs. It would be great and very important for the club and the players. We will do everything to achieve this, and in any case, we are working hard.
Cercle has turned a lot of situations around this season. Is this a sign that this team has a big goal in mind?
We have a very tight-knit team, and we proved it with a series of eight wins in the last nine games before Oostende. We are like a family here, we all help each other. I think it’s a very important thing, because on the pitch, nobody gives up. I am convinced that we can still do great things at the end of the season.
Wie scoorde de CAPS Fuel Card Goal of July-August? 🤔 #FueledByCAPS 🟢⚫️
𝙑𝙤𝙩𝙚 𝙣𝙤𝙬 via onze website! 🗳 pic.twitter.com/nXZ5uv4fdK
— Cercle Brugge (@cercleofficial) September 4, 2021
Personally, you have already scored two goals this season from set pieces. Edgaras has three. Is this one of your strengths?
We work a lot on these phases of the game in training, and we have to say that we have very good takers (smile)! So of course it’s easier for us. My goal is above all to help the team, but if I can score other goals, that’s even better.
You have already been selected for the Serbia U21s. Is it a goal for you to play for your country again?
Of course! As a player, one is always aiming higher. For the moment, I am mainly concentrating on my club performances with Cercle. If I’m good, the rest will come. So yeah, it’s in the back of my mind. Defending the colors of my country of origin is a source of great pride. Strahinja qualified with the senior side for the World Cup, which is something huge. It would be a dream to be able to play in such a competition with the international team. But we are still far doing that (smiles)!
— boris popovic (@boris_popovic) August 31, 2021
Do you give any advice to Dejan (Kuzmanovic), who plays with the AS Monaco U19s?
Yes of course. Like any player, I tell him to work, to stay focused every day in training. you have to always believe in yourself, despite what’s happening. For me, for example, COVID-19 was very difficult. But you must never give up, even if things are difficult. If you have a goal in mind, you have to do everything to achieve it.
How did you experience it yourself?
Frankly, it was very hard. Leaving and then coming back to the training centre, training but not having a match at the weekend, not knowing when the competition will resume… It was difficult, but we said to ourselves that with the work, we were going to get by. And at the end of last season, this possibility of coming to Cercle Brugge presented itself to me. I grabbed it.
To come back to the athletes, which player from the current squad has impressed you?
Everyone is very good and has their own qualities. But I would say Rabbi Matondo is a really great player. He is very fast and he is a good finisher, very technical. There is also our number 10, Dino Hotic, who has a hell of a foot, a big workrate and good technique. There are lots of talented players here.
🤔 Somers, Hotic, Popovic, Denkey, Matondo of Kanouté: wie gaat in januari lopen met de trofee van CAPS Fuel Card Goal of the Month?
— Cercle Brugge (@cercleofficial) February 3, 2022
What does AS Monaco represent for you?
The Club gave me my chance and I thank them for that. I had four superb years there, where I played in the UEFA Youth League, which was a very good experience, as someone who came from Tours FC. AS Monaco is a great stage of my early career, I will never forget it.
How is life in Bruges?
The weather is very different from that of Monaco (smiles), but I feel very good here! It is a city that reminds me of my birthplace, Tours. There is the old town of Bruges which is very beautiful, and has many places to visit.
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Finally, what do you wish for in the future?
For the moment I am focused on this season, to finish it well. Then, my goal is to gain as much experience as possible, to continue to play matches and the rest will come by itself. The most important thing is always to be focused on the present.
* Photos: Cercle Bruges / Photo News