When Bologna went looking for a new manager last season, they were toiling at the wrong end of Serie A. The new man needed to be someone who could steer them to safety, someone who would be up for the scrap that is survival from relegation. They turned to former boss Sinisa Mihajlovic who has always been up for a battle in his career. The fight to stay in Serie A was comfortably won but another, more personal test was just around the corner.
In July of this year Mihajlovic announced at a press conference that he was suffering from Leukaemia and would be starting treatment immediately. The Serbian revealed that his father had died of cancer and because of that he undergoes regular tests. He was told by doctors that if he had not taken these tests, the symptoms of his condition may not have surfaced for up to a year. Another thing to come of that emotional press conference was the fact that the manager would continue in his role whilst undergoing treatment.
As someone who has been on the receiving end of a similar cancer diagnosis in the past, Mihajlovic’s news was something I could relate to. The physical toll that cancer, and the many chemicals used to treat it, takes on a person can vary but is always extremely difficult. In addition to that, the psychological burden of dealing with such life-changing news on top of coping with the rigours of the treatment process can be equally as challenging.
So, taking all that into consideration and having been through it myself, I find it remarkable that the Bologna boss has been able to continue in his role in any way. We so often hear of the pressures that come with being a top-level football manager and to have the willingness to take that stresses on, in addition to his health issues, really is hugely impressive.
The former Milan and Serbia national-team manager worked from his hospital bed as he watched footage of training and was even able to give team-talks via video-link from his sick bed. One of the nurses who helped treat Mihajlovic gave an insight to Corriere di Bologna on her famous patient. “He was a real gentleman. When the (Bologna)games were on, we knew better than to go anywhere near his room. We could hear him shouting from down the hall in the other wards”.
In the midst of cancer treatment, you not only feel the pain of the disease and the drugs that are administered to treat it, you also feel the pain of those around you who are impacted by your struggle. Football was my escape when I was in that situation, a crutch that I could lean on to remove myself mentally from the struggle I found myself in. Perhaps the beautiful game is helping Sinisa in the same way, although I never had the pressure of it being my job!
Mihajlovic endured three courses of chemotherapy as well as a bone marrow transplant. His appearance on the touchline early in the season to watch his side draw 1-1 with Verona came as a surprise to many. In the midst of his treatment the 50-year-old arrived at the stadium wearing mask to avoid contracting anything which would cause a set-back in his treatment. It was emotional for me to see him in the dug-out so I can only imagine how his players felt having him there.
The Bologna players clearly have a lot of love and respect for the manager who only took charge of the team at the start of this year. Following their come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Brescia back in September, the Bologna team bus stopped off outside the clinic where Mihajlovic was receiving his treatment. As the stricken manager came to the window his players serenaded him by singing his name from the streets below. A true show of respect and support which shows the power of the bonds that football can build.
The manager, last week, gave his first press conference since announcing his diagnosis in the summer. The former defender was an uncompromising persona back in his playing days and his strength of character has undoubtedly helped through until now. His side are currently sitting mid-table in Serie A and the Serbian will no doubt be frustrated not to have his team further up the table.
From the outside looking in, the way Mihajlovic and Bologna have acted in this immensely difficult period has been an inspiration and something they should all be proud of. As their leader slowly recovers physically and mentally from his ordeal, I would love to see the Rossoblu push their way up the table. Sinisa Mihajlovic has hopefully gained the hardest win of his career in his Leukaemia battle and he deserves huge credit for the way he has handled an awful situation.