From George Weah to Angel Di Maria via Ronaldinho and Jay-Jay Okocha: for decades Paris St.Germain has delighted in acquiring the most exotic and extravagant of foreign stars. The club has travelled quite a distance since 1970 when it welcomed it’s very first foreign import, a player from Yugoslavia who was not all that he seemed. We welcome back Bojan Babic who takes up the curious story of a footballing hoaxer named Živko Lukić.
Z is for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG’s most celebrated foreign player who, in his own words ‘arrived in Paris as a prince and left as a legend’. Z is also for Živko Lukić, PSG’s least celebrated foreign player who departed in ignominy after causing deep embarrassment to his employers. Lukić’s absence from the collective memory of everyone associated with PSG is a consequence of the mere 53 minutes of playing time he accrued before being brusquely kicked out the door. His sole appearance came in PSG’s very first official fixture on 29th August 1970 against Quevilly in Ligue 2 (Paris FC and Stade Germain FC had merged to form a new club, PSG, a month earlier).
In a story that has parallels in England with the Ali Dia fiasco at Southampton a quarter of a century later, Živko fooled the entire staff at PSG into believing he was an important player for Partizan Belgrade. And just as Ali Dia had deceived Southampton manager Graeme Souness by claiming to be the cousin of George Weah, so Živko Lukić convinced his new employers he was a brother of Ilija Lukić, then a prolific striker with Stade Rennais. Lukić even received a welcome from the legendary France Football magazine days before his only appearance for the French side, though none of their editorial staff seemed to pick up on his supposed physical dimensions that suggested Lukić cut a rather diminutive figure at just 1.69m in height and only 65kg in weight.
What no-one in France knew was that while Živko had indeed been involved with Partizan Belgrade at youth level, his relationship with them had ended a long time ago. Having failed to make the grade in a talented 60s generation nicknamed the „Partizan babies“, young Lukić dropped out of the game altogether and started training to become a dentist.
In the early 1970s signing players from Yugoslavia was all the rage in French football thanks to their adaptability, high technical qualities and low cost. Aware of this trend and upon hearing that an ambitious but not especially organised group of Parisian businessmen were about to create a major new club in the capital, Živko’s adventurous spirit inspired him to come up with this clever hoax and offer his dubious services. And everything went so smoothly until kick-off …
Writing in his 1992 autobiography, former PSG president Guy Crescent painfully recalled his memories of Lukić:
“We signed a poor Yugoslavian named Lukić whose record in his country seemed fabulous. Not knowing what to do, because we were lacking players due to injuries, we gave it a shot. His mission was to neutralise our opponent’s key player, Horlaville, whom we feared the most. And Lukić… he clung to him like an octopus to a rock! But Horlaville would quickly dribble past him once, then again, then make a pass, while my unfortunate Lukić would inevitably end up on his behind!”.
The curious case of Živko Lukić would have perhaps remained forever a secret if it wasn’t for Aleksandar Pavlović, loyal fan of Partizan Belgrade and a founder of the “Crno-bela nostalgija” (“Black and white nostalgia”) blog dedicated to FK Partizan history. Less than year ago Pavlović began a quest to find this mysterious footballing dentist who hadn’t actually played a single competitive game for the Partizan first team. The only clue Pavlović had was a short message from an anonymous blog visitor, saying “Lukić was a dentist who died a month ago”.
“Footballer and dentist!? It’s fair to say I was stunned. Almost immediately I contacted several members of our legendary 1960s generation like Branko Rašović and Vladica Kovačević, but they were puzzled and couldn`t remember such a name. At that point it seemed like mission impossible”, explains Pavlović. “Fortunately my luck changed when Dimitrije Davidović, another important member of the 1966 Partizan team that reached the European Cup Final, recalled he had a friend in a youth team with exactly the same name. Davidović told me this Lukić’s nickname was Žare and he was a dentist! Eureka, I shouted, we finally got our guy!”
Further investigation revealed Lukić recorded one appearance for Partizan B in June 1963, coming off the bench in a friendly tie against SV Merbeck 1912. But what happened between 1963 and 1970 and was he somehow still engaged in football whilst studying dentistry? The only sure thing is that just eighteen months before Živko’s arrival at PSG, he had a short spell at college in Osijek (Croatia, SFRY), 250 kilometres away from his hometown of Železnik, a suburb of Belgrade.
For years I’ve been listening to my own mother’s anecdotes from her dentist academy days back in late 1960’s Osijek about a guy she always used to call Žika. “He emerged from nowhere and I don’t remember he said a single word about football or Partizan. Živko was a really amusing guy, but then one day he just left and I hadn’t heard anything about him for some time“, recalls my mum who was shocked when I revealed that her former colleague has a quirky role in the history of PSG.
Unlike his dramatic Paris football adventure, Živko spent the rest of his life quietly running a private dental clinic in Železnik. He died in 2015 at the age of 71 probably thinking his audacious PSG scam would go to the grave with him.