Hull City v Swansea City - Eldin Jakupovic determined not to let Premier League dream slip through his fingers

Hull's Eldin Jakupovic. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Hull's Eldin Jakupovic. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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AS A teenager, Eldin Jakupovic thought nothing of getting up at 5am and travelling the 40 or so miles to Zurich in an attempt to fulfil his dream of becoming a footballer.

That the youngster then didn’t complain about getting back home to Glarus, a town that sits near the foot of the Alps, until around 10pm after squeezing in training sessions with Grasshoppers at either end of the school day underlined his determination to succeed.

Seventeen years on, those sacrifices have finally been rewarded with a regular starting place in the Premier League. And Jakupovic, Hull City’s first-choice goalkeeper since Marco Silva took charge in January, is determined not to let this opportunity slip through his fingers.

“I have been here for almost five years and I know what being in the Premier League means to the city,” the 32-year-old told The Yorkshire Post.

“If I am in the city centre with my wife and little one (daughter Alina), everyone comes to have their pictures taken. Everyone loves being in the Premier League. There is a big difference between that and the Championship.

“I also prefer to play in this league, instead of travelling to Ipswich – that is far away. I also know my friends enjoy Hull being in the Premier League.

Former Hull City manager Mike Phelan. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Former Hull City manager Mike Phelan. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

“When we were in the Championship, no-one cared or watched the games. If we played on a Friday night, they would instead go out to the pub and drink beer. Now, if we play, they watch every game because the Premier League is the Premier League.

“I want to stay there and I am sure every person in this city wants the same.”

Jakupovic’s route to the English top flight was far from a straight-forward one, hence his willingness to make those early sacrifices.

He moved from Bosnia to Switzerland at the age of four after dad Ilijaz found work on the railways.

If I had to do it again to be here, I would do the same every day because my dream was always to be here in England and in the Premier League.

Hull City goalkeeper, Eldin Jakupovic

Just a couple of years later, the Bosnian War that would claim thousands of lives in his home town of Kozarac alone broke out.

Most of Jakupovic’s family had fled the country by then, although a couple of relatives on his mother’s side of the family were sent to concentration camps only to later escape.

Hull’s goalkeeper admits life would have been very different but for that earlier move to Switzerland but this is not all he has to thank dad Ilijaz for.

“I am a fighter and I get that from my family,” added the former Swiss international. “My dad, when I was four or five and we had just arrived from Switzerland, was working for 13 hours per day to give the family bread, something to eat.

Hull City goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic saves a penalty from Newcastle United's Jonjo Shelvey during the EFL Cup, Quarter Final last year.

Hull City goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic saves a penalty from Newcastle United's Jonjo Shelvey during the EFL Cup, Quarter Final last year.

“Everything I have is from my family, from my father and my mother.”

That hard work ethic instilled by his parents soon came to the fore when, as a 15-year-old, he signed schoolboy forms for Grasshoppers.

“I used to get up at 5am every day to catch the 5.20am train to Zurich,” he laughs. “It was 60-70 kilometres away and it was a hard situation, but what in life is easy?

“If I had to do it again to be here, I would do the same every day because my dream was always to be here in England and in the Premier League.”

Jakupovic’s dream finally became a reality in May, 2014, against Manchester United at Old Trafford in a 3-1 defeat for Hull towards the end of the season that culminated in a first FA Cup final appearance for the Yorkshire club.

But it proved merely a brief taste of the top flight for a goalkeeper who had spent the previous few months on loan at Leyton Orient in League One.

A shaky start to life in England after becoming Steve Bruce’s first signing as City manager in the summer of 2012 had led to Jakupovic slipping behind both Allan McGregor and Steve Harper in the pecking order.

“When I first came here, I had a nice welcome from everyone but I had some bad games,” admitted Jakupovic yesterday when asked about his near five seasons at the KCOM.

“If you are a goalkeeper and you make a mistake, 99.99999 per cent it ends in a goal. I had two or three big mistakes but, as a foreign goalkeeper, it takes time to get used to English football. Especially in the Championship. You need time.

“Some need four or five months, others longer. After 18 months, I felt part of English football. But, at first, it was different.

“When I played in Greece, Switzerland or Russia with Lokomotiv, the six-yard box is mine. If someone touches a goalkeeper, it is a foul. Even if we don’t touch the ball.

“Here, they have to punch you really hard to maybe get a foul. I feel stronger, both physically and mentally, than when I arrived. Now, I can say, ‘Yes, I am English’.”

The impressive manner in which Jakupovic has seized his chance under Silva is testament to that last point. After starting the campaign in the side due to McGregor being injured, he was dropped after five games in favour of new signing David Marshall. It is clearly a decision that still rankles, even allowing for his return to the starting XI for the last seven league games.

“I have to be careful what I say,” he laughs when asked about his thoughts when Mike Phelan spent £5m on the Cardiff City goalkeeper. “No, I am joking. What did I think? I didn’t think we needed another goalkeeper, to be fair.

“I am honest about that. We had Allan, yes he was injured but he was coming back. If something happened to me or Dusan (Kuciak), then he would have been back by November.

“That is my opinion, we didn’t need a goalkeeper. But that is the business of a goalkeeper, there is one position and five for that position.

“I was maybe not prepared for that, I needed to be a little bit more mentally strong. He came, yes. I felt the pressure, yes. I know they paid a lot of money for him so he was going to be in goal within the next few games.

“That was my big mistake. He (Phelan) took me out and never said a clear reason why. But that is the past and behind me. Those problems from the beginning have gone. The fans now love me and I love them. That is why we all want to pay them back, we have to stay in the Premier League to say ‘thank you’.”