Traditional powerhouse, Happy Valley, took a while to regain their position in the top flight of Hong Kong football and after a few years adrift, they are back amongst the leading lights. One of the main reasons, they secured promotion from the first division were the goals and assists from their attacking midfielder, Mahir Karić.
Karić, who hails from Sarajevo in Bosnia, is now key to Happy Valley and their fight to maintain their status in the premier league. When he was a young player in Sarajevo, the humble and grounded Karić would never have imagined that he would end up in Hong Kong, yet here he is and he is happy to be here, seizing the opportunities afforded to him.
In an exclusive interview, Karić explained his journey to Hong Kong, his biggest fan, how Happy Valley hope to fare for the remainder of the season and why Bosnia making the 2014 World Cup finals was such a huge moment for his nation.
Firstly, Karić explained how he ended up in Hong Kong and how Google helped him make his decision along with some sound advice from a South China legend.
“Alen Bajkuša lead me to Hong Kong as I had some clubs interested and he said, he would bring me to Hong Kong. To be honest, I never thought I would move to Hong Kong and play football here. As for me and some other guys from my country, Bosnia and others places like Serbia, Croatia in the Balkans; it is a dream to go to a European league and play there even in a lower league in Italy, Germany or France or something like that.
To receive an offer, like me at 26 years old, you accept it and I was looking at the situation of playing in Hong Kong. For me, it was time for a new experience and to try another culture where everything will be new so I moved forward so here I am.”
The world is now smaller in a sense and when researching Happy Valley, it was the use of Google which helped him make a final decision as he learnt about the club and its history.
“When Alen Bajkuša called me and told me, during a call, about potentially moving to Happy Valley; at that time, I did not know about Happy Valley but I went to Google and found them and he told me that Happy Valley were one of the most popular clubs in Hong Kong with a big history. After that, I read about the club and I knew it to be true.”
Karić made a huge impression in the first division as he helped lead a very young team to the title with his drive and determination.
“In my opinion, it is a big difference between the first division and the premier league but the pitches (in the 1st Division) are different as many of them are artificial grass surfaces and normally, I played on natural grass and in stadiums. It was a new experience and there is a big difference as in the premier league, opponents are different and there are a lot of different players and overseas players especially from Happy Valley, we have a lot of young players in the team and a lot of older overseas players who try and help the younger players.”
Karić and players like Miovic are the more experienced heads at Happy Valley and despite a shaky start in the premier league, the team have adjusted now and will only improve.
“I am now 27 and Igor Miovic is 30-something and we have a lot of experience in football and we have a lot of young players who are 17 or 18 years old and we often try and explain and help them along as they are playing for the first time in the premier league and in serious competition but we try and help and I think we have improved overall as a team when I compare us to pre-season level.”
Happy Valley have realistic targets for the rest of the season. They are off the pace for the title and will seek to secure their position in the league and aim for a cup final.
“We are not like R&F or Kitchee who are fighting for the title, we have a chance to experience the premier league as a newly-promoted Happy Valley at this moment in time so the target is to stay in the Premier League. We will also try and get to a cup final which is a real target as we will always try and win the games and try and be better and better and we try and stay in the premier league.”
Happy Valley have a solid fan base and even in the lower leagues, some fans used to come and support them. Karić’s number-one fan was his wife, Mrs. Karić, who used to go to all the games to support her husband and still does.
“Yes, my wife actually is a keen fan and she is there for every game and she supports us very well. There were about 20 to 30 people per game in the first division and for me, it was a good experience in the 1st division. The fans had a good relationship with the club and others coaches and fans were interested in the players and their careers. After some of the games, the fans often wanted some pictures and autographs”
Karić has scored many goals while in Hong Kong and his favourite goals was his first in the premier league as it signalled his arrival.
“In the Premier league, I have scored two or three times. Maybe my goal against Pegasus (was the best) as it was my first goal in the premier league in Hong Kong so it was a good moment and emotional. In the first division, I scored a lot of goals and gave assists to help Happy Valley gain promotion so it was good for the team. There were a lot of good moments to help Happy Valley to get promoted.”
Karić respects all his opponents and all teams as the league is now highly competitive. He cites Kitchee as a team he is fully aware of and admires their style of play.
“We played against Kitchee, it was the first game and it was at Mong Kok Stadium and I think for me, it might have been one of the hardest games. I think it would be Kitchee as they always try and play football and create chances. Kitchee try and play football and there have a lot of good players.”
Bosnia is a young nation that rose from incredibly tough times and yet, it has forged many talented teams and athletes. He cites the persistence and mentality of the people as one of the reasons for this huge array of talent from such a small nation and he believes that Bosnia qualifying for the 2014 World Cup was such an important moment for him and all Bosnians.
“For me, it was a great moment, it was a golden moment as never before had we played in a big tournament. After that I moment, I remember a lot of people were in the street celebrating. We achieved world cup qualification and we celebrated and we enjoyed watching Bosnia at the World Cup. Amongst the Balkan’s nations, maybe our biggest quality is our mentality, as we always try and win. We always try and stand up and go forward. We are a small nation and there is a lot of talented people in many different sports, it is a mindset thing. We have Ivica Zubac, Dzanan Musa, Jusuf Nurkic and Bojan Bogdanovic in the NBA and Damir Džumhur who is the Tennis ATP.”
Happy to work hard, incredibly humble and ready to give more than what is expected; expect Karić to keep pushing his own boundaries and setting the standard for others to follow.