Tianjin Jinmen Tiger’s Slovenian striker Robert Beric had a good start off the 2023 season – a breakthrough even. Having done well in the preseason, he scored a brace in the second round against Zhejiang Greentown and made good impressions in the subsequent games.
This was a huge improvement on his performance last season, where he scored only four goals in 26 games. His position as the starting centre-forward was threatened by the bursting performance by Xie Weijun, who scored 9 in 29 games and was called up to the national team as a consequence. But that all changed this year. Beric is now the No. 9 in name and in substance for Tianjin without any question. On 8th May, he was interviewed by Soccer newspaper.
We Have Done Well, But We Will Do Better
Q: Was it a shame that Tianjin Jinmen Tigers had a chance to win the game against Shanghai Harbour and were in a better position to take a point in the end?
Beric: I agree, we were not very lucky in that game. We created a lot of good chances. But Shanghai Port are a very strong team. It is a shame we did not win that game. But we will have to keep playing well through the other games to get more wins.
Q: The team started the season with the best start in the team’s history in the last 12 years. In your opinion, what is the reason why everyone has been able to get into shape so quickly this season?
A: I think first of all it is because we played together for a team year last year. We now have a better understanding of each other and a better tacit understanding, including our ability to implement the tactical intentions of our manager, his coaching style and his requirements very well. Most importantly, our team is like a family and we work together to do everything well. The spirit of hard work and team spirit is the most important thing.
Q: This is also related to the pre-season training, right? What did the team focus on in the past winter training period?
A: We trained a lot during the winter period. First we replenished our physical reserve, so that every player is well prepared for the league. Second, we had a lot of rehearsals in terms of techniques and tactics.
Q: With no major changes in personnel, what do you think is the strength of this year’s squad and how has it improved?
It is very important for us to maintain our overall squad from last year. But this year we have good reinforcements in individual positions, especially after we went through a year of tactical integration last year. We understand each other’s characteristics better and can achieve better technical and tactical play.
Q: What kind of ranking do you think the team would have achieved last year if not for the epidemic?
A: If we could play real home games last year, like some teams did, I believe we would have gained more points. The last round was a good example: there were many fans who came to support us at the weekend and the players showed our home advantage better on the field.
Q: What is the team’s goal this year, based on the improved playing style and squad?
A: The goal this year is definitely to be better than last year in terms of points and ranking. And we also want to play more and better exciting games and beautiful football to make the fans happy because they support the team a lot and we want to satisfy their wishes and make them happier.
Q: From the games we’ve played, has the team’s performance fully met everyone’s expectations?
A: I think we can still do better because this is only the beginning of the league and I believe we will perform better and better. We lost two points in the first round, and again another two points away to Yatai, but I think we will get better and better this year as long as we keep up the momentum and the spirit of hard work.
‘I Am There To Score’
Q: In the first game of the season against the Cangzhou MIghty Lions, you missed a few chances to score, but in the second game you scored a brace to help your team win and get yourself named the best player in the league that round.
Beric: As I said earlier, we had a very good and complete winter training. Everyone worked very hard to prepare for the new season and was in very good physical condition. When the team as a whole is doing well, every player is also a beneficiary, and I am one of them.
Q: When you joined the team last year, the expectations were very high, including within the team. But you had some ups and downs throughout the season. What difficulties did you encounter in your first year in China? What grade would you give yourself for last season?
A: The biggest difficulty I had last year was the long time I was in quarantine. I was quarantined for a month after arriving in China and I was not in the best physical condition when I trained with the team. It was difficult to understand the characteristics of my teammates and the tactics of the team in a short period of time. Last season was not a good season for me. I had only four goals and four assists. And this year I will do better based on very good preparation.
Q: Last year, when you were in a goal drought, there were doubts about you, did you understand that? But at the same time, your teammates and the manager have supported you in public many times, what does their support mean to you?
A: The support I have received from my teammates and coach in public has been very important to me personally and has encouraged me a lot. I am very happy that they were able to stand up for me during a difficult time for me and I hope to return their support and trust through my performance in the future.
Q: Compared to last season, the team has not changed much with the attacking set-up. After a season of bonding, what level of understanding have you reached with these attacking teammates now?
A: After a full year last year and the winter training this year, the level of understanding between our midfielders is very good. I know what type of player Ba Dun is and what his characteristics are, how fast he is, how he runs, how he plays, etc. Merida, I know when he will pass me the ball. Rosa, what kind of movement he has, how he thinks, how he will handle the ball. Wang Qiuming, when he likes to receive a one-touch pass, when he likes to receive a two-touch pass… Of course, we need to maintain such a state and reflect better in the future games.
Q: Head coach Yu Genwei once said that the value you bring to the team is not just about scoring goals, but also about tactics. Do you think your technical style is more of a goal-scoring type or a set-up type?
A: I’m a striker and my role is of course to score more goals, but there are many times when a team is in trouble and someone needs to give and sacrifice their individual interest. I will step up, for example when the whole team needs to defend, or when I need to come out and help my teammates with the ball. In many cases, players are not individuals, but are connected to each other. Football matches are not just about goals, but also about teamwork and play. And of course, goals and team effort are closely linked.
Q: How has the team’s technical and tactical style changed this season compared to the previous one? Is there any corresponding change in the requirements for you in the centre forward position?
A: First of all, I can’t say too much about this (laughs), because other teams will know us better. All I can say is that this year we are playing more aggressive as a whole, going forward to defend more. And at times, we will keep pressing and playing more aggressively. At the same time, we’ll try to concede zero goals in every game, just like last year. We’ll be doing well.
Q: Had you been to China before joining Tianjin? Did you know anything about life and football here?
Beric: I hadn’t been to China before I joined Tianjin, last year was my first time in China. Although it was my first time in Tianjin, as soon as I arrived I felt that the city was very comfortable and cosy and I enjoyed my time here. There is the Tianjin Eye, the Italian Style Street, the Water Park, the Zoo, and the Five Avenues. There are many places to go out and see, and it is also very safe here.
Q: Do you have any plans to bring your family over? Have you made any new friends here?
A: I have made a lot of new friends in Tianjin, some expats working in Tianjin, including a lot of friends from Serbia. Right now it’s my girlfriend who is with me all the time in Tianjin and the rest of my family will be in Tianjin next month. This year I think I will have a lot of time to enjoy everything in Tianjin, including football.
Q: Although you’ve been with the team for a year, the first home game of the season was your first time playing in front of the Tianjin fans, what kind of impression did the home atmosphere leave on you?
A: It was fantastic! The atmosphere in the first home game was the same as in European football. As a player, I enjoyed it and was more motivated on the field, including the later home games, where the fans gave us a lot of encouragement.
Q: I’m sure you know that your manager was once a football hero in this city, has anyone told you about his contribution to this team?
A: This I know very well. When I first came here I had heard some of the history of Chinese football and the history and status of the head coach in Tianjin football. I know he scored the goal that brought China into the World Cup in 2001. He is a legend of Tianjin football and every one of us respects him very much and I am very honoured to work with him.
Q: Have you seen any videos of Yu Genwei’s goals on the internet? How do you rate his technical style? Is it better for you to communicate with each other as you also come from a striker?
A: I have seen videos of his games, including his World Cup goals for the national team. I do have a lot of respect for such a legendary player. It was very good for me to be coached by him, also as a striker. I learned a lot of experience from the tournament and I feel very honoured that he could give me a lot of different advice.
Q: We talked about the team’s goals for this year, now let’s talk about your personal goals, do you have a personal goal for yourself for the season?
A: My personal goal this year is to score more goals, at least double figures, to help the team and everyone as much as possible.