SASA Curcic has revealed his love for northern football fans – and why he was worried about embarrassing himself at Wanderers on his arrival in England.

The enigmatic Serbian star lit up Burnden Park when Bolton were first promoted to the Premier League 25 years ago but would end up breaking fans’ hearts when he left the following summer to sign for Aston Villa.

Speaking to the Serbian magazine Mondo Sport, the former midfielder – now 48 and living in London after a spell coaching in his homeland – said he was upset to see the Whites’ fortunes fade in recent years.

“Bolton Wanderers – they are basically dead and I am so sorry about that,” he said. “When you sign Campo, Hierro, Anelka, Djorkaeff and give Kevin Nolan 100,000 (sic) per week it's normal to fall into debt.

“I feel sorry for the fans, they are very good people, northerners. Their stadium hosts 25 000 fans, but when they make some noise, it feels like there's 125 000. I go for the dribbling, they roar. I go for another one - delirium. I was scoring goal after goal.”

Curcic was indeed box office material in his single season with Bolton, where he had been signed for a joint club record £1.5million from Partizan Belgrade.

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Given a free role by the joint management team of Colin Todd and Roy McFarland, he thrilled the crowds with his close control and dribbling, earning the nickname “Serbian George Best” from then-Bradford boss Chris Kamara after one particularly stunning display.

He was unsure, however, as he lined up for his Bolton debut in October 1995 that he was ready to step up in such spectacular fashion.

“I came to Bolton after they had sold (Jason) McAteer to Liverpool,” he said. “I made by debut against an Arsenal team with Parlour, Wright, Bergkamp, Dixon… I was like ‘no way’ I am going to make a fool out of myself, I’d better go home.

“When the team had two training sessions a day, I had three, so I didn’t embarrass myself.”

While some of Curcic’s recollections could be considered far-fetched, including the idea that Kevin Nolan was his boot boy at Bolton (the future Wanderers skipper was 14 years old when the Serb left Burnden and not yet signed up), others revealed regret at the way he had left Bolton in the summer of 1996.

Wanderers fans reacted badly to the news that Todd was to sell his prized play-maker, which filtered into the stands shortly before they started the season at Port Vale.

“I desperately wanted to sign for Chelsea,” he said. “But it never happened.

“[Glenn] Hoddle wanted me but they replaced him with Ruud Gullit.

Manchester United were interested at one point but after Euro 96 they signed Karel Poborkski.

“I lost focus after that. I only had two good games – Liverpool and Bradford.

“I have no idea what happened in my head when I decided to move to Villa.

“It was completely the wrong move and I just didn’t find myself there.

“I couldn’t find common ground with the manager, he kept fining me thinking he would solve a problem with £300, but it was only making it worse.”

Wanderers actually thrived in Curcic’s absence, going on to register a record-breaking promotion back to the Premier League the following season.

Curcic would meet Bolton again, coming on as a substitute against the Whites in a 1-0 Villa win made famous by a late scuffle between Stan Collymore and Andy Todd which earned the two players a straight red card.

“When I scored for Villa against Bolton [he didn’t, it was compatriot Savo Milosevic] they went mental, throwing stuff at me,” he claimed.

“They never forgave me for moving to Villa. The day I was on my way to Birmingham they organised protests and tore their season tickets. But I wasn’t having a go at them, it was just a regular celebration.”

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