While hardly a household name in Canada, Hamilton-raised Milan Borjan turns heads in Serbia, where he is the last line of defence for storied Red Star Belgrade.
"You speak to Milan and it really frustrates him," coach John Herdman said Friday from St. Kitts and Nevis, where Canada plays Sunday in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying action. "Because he's a guy who walks down the streets in Belgrade and he can't get out the door of a coffee shop. He's a bit of a legend there.
"But he can walk down the streets of Canada and nobody knows him."
Canada's No. 1 'keeper, the 31-year-old Borjan has 12 shutouts in 39 appearances for his country. Earlier this month, he helped Red Star Belgade to a 2-0 upset win over England's Liverpool in Champions League play.
Herdman says Borjan's commitment to Canada struck him the first time they talked.
"He nearly climbed down the phone — the passion that was coming from him about how he wants to raise the flag for Canada higher than it's ever been raised before. And lift that level of respect for (Canadian) players around the world."
Born in Knin in the former Yugoslavia, Borjan was eight when his family moved to Belgrade. When he was 13, the family moved to Winnipeg before heading east to Hamilton a year later.
He was 23 when he made his debut for Canada in February 2011 in a 1-0 loss to Greece.
Herdman said he expects Borjan's star to rise further if Red Star Belgrade makes it to the knockout rounds of the Champions League. After four games, only two points separate Liverpool, Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain and Red Star Belgrade.
"When they qualify, if they do for the next round and they do march on as a minnow, his name's just going to go up in lights because ultimately he's going to be busy. So this could be his big year and I think he knows that this is a big moment for Milan."
Borjan's career path has included South America, Turkey, Bulgaria, Poland and Serbia.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press