Matt Butler: ‘Crazy’ tiger who tried to help a new country roar – and was sacked

View from the sofa: Storyville, BBC4

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The Independent Online

Selfishness plays a part in elite sport. The nature of it dictates that participants spend a large amount of their time doing things only for themselves. Those long hours practising free-kicks aren’t for anyone else’s benefit outside the realms of the team in question.

And Lizzy Yarnold, the skeleton gold medallist, admitted last week that she had missed her sister’s last five birthdays in her quest for Olympic glory.

Among all this self-centredness, altruism can emerge of course. Footballers promote charities. Yarnold went on record to state her wishes to inspire the next generation.

You could always go a little more extreme, like Samantha Gash, the Australian ultra runner, who wanted more purpose to her training than just running unfathomable distances.

She and Mimi Anderson, a multiple world record-holding British ultra runner, decided to do some good with their chosen sport. In September they will run around 50 miles a day for over a month along the Freedom Trail across South Africa to raise money for a business to provide sanitary products for South African girls. They will certainly have an impact far beyond the bubble of sport.

The well-travelled Serbian football coach Zoran Djordjevic no doubt had few high- falutin’ ideas of changing others’ lives for the better when he took the job of managing the national team of the brand-new country of South Sudan.

His and the team’s story was told in the latest edition of Storyville, the excellent BBC documentary series. At the beginning he made his motivations clear: “I have always been called a tiger. A tiger eats, he wins. I have been champion many times; I like to win, to motivate people to win.”

He came across as intermittently arrogant, obscene and plain eccentric – as shown when he bought a sheep as a mascot, naming it Champion. The players were as bemused as the poor animal, but one thought it a great addition: “If the team run out of food, we can kill it and eat it.”

Under the abrasive personality of the shaven-headed coach, his motivation became more focused on helping the young nation have a football team they could be proud of. Financial gain went out the window very early on – in a tragi-comic exchange with Chabur Alei, the South Sudan Football Association president, Djordjevic shouted at an assistant for speaking while he was on the phone, before breaking down in tears at the fact he was trying “to help this young country” but hadn’t been paid, while he saw corrupt officials remaining on the take.

The journey came to an end when Djordjevic took the team to a tournament against the wishes of Chabur, who refused to fund the trip. The team exited without scoring a single goal. But the players still believed in him and one, Thomas Jacob, was inspired to take up coaching himself.

Djordjevic was declared by Chabur to be “crazy, mentally ill” just before he was sacked. The coach had done little to dispel the diagnosis. But there was no doubt he had given his players something to strive for.

And as he walked off down the dusty road, he vowed the tiger would roar again “somewhere”. And as if to prove he wasn’t in it for himself, a caption at the end told us he was considering a coaching job in Syria.