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First team

Begovic – It’s been a crazy year

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Lining up in the Azerbaijan Premier League, striding out at the San Siro and now back with the Cherries in the Championship, the last 12 months have been eventful for Asmir Begovic.

The goalkeeper has played the last three matches back in Bournemouth, keeping clean sheets against Crystal Palace and Norwich City as he looks to make the space between the sticks at Vitality Stadium his own again.

His return to the first team in Dorset comes after a four-month loan spell at Qarabag FK in Azerbaijan last season, where Begovic was part of the side’s title-winning campaign, before a February loan switch to Italian giants AC Milan.

Begovic sat down with afcb.co.uk at the club’s training base, starting out by explaining how it all got started.

Let's talk through the last season or so, it’s been a bit unusual…

It’s been a bit of a crazy year. Last summer went the way it went, it was a bit of a strange situation but it ended up with me being loaned out to Qarabag for four months until January.

That was actually one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, such an amazing experience playing for a really nice club and I was able to help them in the league, the cup and we had six Europa League games which were fantastic experiences.

It was a really full-on four months, lots of games, which I really enjoyed, and even more enjoying the experience of being there, being in Baku with the different culture, meeting some really cool people who are now friends.

You’re well travelled anyway, but what was Azerbaijan and Baku like to live and work in?

Yeah, really cool. Very good people and culture and a really nice place to live. It was really safe, I still keep in regular contact with a lot of people I met out there and I think I’m much better for the whole experience.

Qarabag went on to win the league last year, did they send you a medal?

Yes, I got a medal! We won the league, even though it got called off because of Covid, just like everything else. It would have been nice to do the double, we got to the semi-finals of the cup, that would have been even better. It was nice to be a part of the side winning the league again.

With tensions in the region again at the moment between Azerbaijan and Armenia, were you affected by any of that while you were over there?

No, Qarabag is a region in Azerbaijan that’s away from Baku but the club’s now based in the capital so we never felt any of that. In terms of our safety and everything like that Baku was good and up to scratch.

Now there is conflict and of course you never wish that on anyone, hopefully it’s something that gets resolved pretty soon.

You returned after the new year and were soon signing for AC Milan, how did that come about?

I came back from Qarabag and was free to go out again, I was looking at different options and that was an amazing option that came up. There were people there that wanted me, trusted me and wanted me to go and contribute within the club.

That was a huge honour for me and one of the highlights of my career to play for a club of that stature, with the legends, the history and traditions and to be trusted by Paolo Maldini, Zvonimir Boban and those sorts of people.

That’s the thing, you never know in football, I went to Qarabag and had a really good spell and then that came off the back of that, a move like that was pretty huge for me.

You have plenty of experience with big clubs, but what was it like walking through the doors at AC Milan on your first day?

It was special. It’s difficult to describe to be honest, you have to feel it and live it. It’s a special place from the day you get there, what the club means to the city and the country and even all around the world.

You don’t quite grasp it until you’re part of it and really understand how far it goes. The people welcomed me with open arms, couldn’t have looked after me better during my time there and it was just an all-around fantastic experience.

Stepping out to play at such a famous cathedral of football, what was that like?

I played at the San Siro and I was part of the derby earlier in the year. It’s an iconic place to play football, a special place and when we had fans it was fantastic. Even when we didn’t we always felt the fans were close to us, that bond between the club and fans is huge and the fanbase is just massive all around the world.

It’s a special place, the San Siro, as is the Milanello, the training ground, is one of the best in the world. As a club, everything is there for them to be really successful.

Then Covid came, lockdown came, how was that for you and where were you based during that time?

Everything was okay, things in Italy got shut down pretty quickly and I was able to come home back to the UK. I spent a good six weeks at home before we were able to get back to work with training and finishing off the season.

It was unexpected but nice to spend time with my family and kids, something that probably hadn’t been in the script. We had some real quality family time and then it was time to finish the season and we had an unbelievable run going 13 games unbeaten.

Lockdown was an interesting experience, but one I looked at in a positive way and we made the most of it as a family.

What was the summer like with your return to Bournemouth and staking a claim back here?

It was obviously a difficult season for Bournemouth last year, I wasn’t part of it so I can’t say too much about what actually happened but ultimately my loan deal finished and I was waiting to see what the situation was like here at the club and whether I was part of the plans.

There were obviously some changes here and I was shown pretty quickly that I was part of the plans and could compete for the starting spot and help this team be successful.

For me there were no other questions, I’m committed to the cause and hopefully now we can have a successful season, turn things around and get back to where we need to get to.

Did you ever think your time here was at an end?

Possibly, there are decisions that are out of your hands sometimes. I’ve never had any issues with anyone here at the club and I have always wanted to be a part of it. Things are good at the moment, we’re trying to look up and be positive and have a good season.

You got your chance against Crystal Palace, kept a clean sheet – but then had that unexpected minute or so where you missed a penalty but then saved one to send us through…

It was a crazy night. We played really well, deserved to go through in regular time and then it went to penalties and it became quite spicy.

That was fun, because it ended in a good way. Overall I think we’ve been pretty good, pretty steady in the first few games and we can build off that going forwards.

You said you’d never taken a penalty before, have you practiced any since?

I will try to keep my penalty taking to a minimum! I’d never taken one before, never really practiced it, you don’t expect to need to. I tried to hit the target and unfortunately Wayne Hennessey made a good save.

Your penalty wasn’t too bad, if you’re not sure just hit it hard, right?

Yeah, I didn’t want to out think the room, there wasn’t too much strategy that went into that, it was a decent hit, I got it on target – better than Wayne’s anyway!

You’ve returned fairly seamlessly to the first team, how has it been for you?

There have been changes here but overall I know the people and we have good relationships from the past so it’s not been too big of an upheaval.

It takes a couple of games, we didn’t have a big pre-season and had an international break, it was always going to take those couple of games to get the cohesion back, now it’s going pretty well, pretty smooth and we just want to keep this thing rolling.

What do you make of the Championship and how we can do our best to do well in it this season?

It’s arguably the most difficult league in the world because it’s so competitive with so many games and so many good teams. I don’t think there’s much between one and 24, it’s a very equal league.

I believe in our squad, we’ve got a really good squad, got quality and as in most leagues we need to build a solid foundation, be tough to beat, be solid and if we can do that we can build from there.

I think we can always score goals and cause other teams problems and that will be a really good recipe for success. So, a good start but still a really long way to go.

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