Asmir and Nicolle Begovic: 'I think we've found the perfect match'
Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic may be a Premiership star but he credits his wife Nicolle with helping his success on the pitch. Zita Collinson meets the young couple to talk about life away from the Britannia Stadium, the importance of family and how an unlikely chain of events led them to the Potteries
BY RIGHTS Asmir and Nicolle Begovic shouldn’t even know each other. After all, the Stoke City goalkeeper and his 26-year-old wife were born thousands of miles apart: Asmir in Trebinje, in what was then Yugoslavia, and Nicolle in the small 2,000-strong town of Mountain City, Tennessee.
When war broke out, Asmir’s family fled to Germany, before eventually settling in Edmonton, Canada. He was just four years old at the time.
Sport was in his blood. Asmir’s dad (also called Asmir) was a goalkeeper for FK Leotar in Trebinje.
“I don’t have any memories from Bosnia – just flashing images that I can’t place,” says the 24-year-old, who now plays for the Bosnian team.
“Circumstances forced my parents to leave.
“If you have the chance to go, you get out of a bad situation to make it better. We left right at the beginning of the war.
“If we would have stayed of course we would have been in danger.
“I have one aunt and a cousin who stayed there during the whole war and survived.
“It was a horrible situation. The fact that they did survive it is incredible to me.”
“Not to sound morbid about it, but if Asmir’s family hadn’t left Bosnia, they might have never made it out alive,” says Nicolle.
Asmir showed talent from an early age and got his lucky break after signing a youth contract with Portsmouth.
He moved to England in 2003, and his father and mother, and his two younger brothers, Denis and Anel, returned to Germany.
Nicolle’s story is no less straightforward.
Her parents separated when she was younger and she came to England, aged 10, with her mum, Mary, and her younger brother, Chris.
“I’ve got a British-born mother and an American dad,” explains Nicolle.
“We moved to Essex – so I do know about The Only Way Is Essex but no I don’t watch it – and then I moved to Southampton in 2000 which is where I went to secondary school and university.”
N icolle trained to be an accountant and was studying at Southampton Solent University when she met future husband Asmir.
And the tale of their first meeting five years ago is enough to melt even the most cynical of hearts.
Petite and pretty Nicolle was out with friends when she got caught up in the middle of a scuffle. Asmir, who stands at 6ft 5ins, came to her rescue.
“When you think about it, we should never have met,” she says.
“I do think fate has a part to play. We should never have been where we were.
“We were out on respective girls and boys nights out in a really shabby club and a bar fight broke out.
“Asmir came to my rescue and swiped me out of the way.
“We heard each other’s accents – his was Canadian and mine was American, and it was so refreshing to meet someone different.
“We never looked back. We literally just met and clicked.”
However unfair the assumption, perhaps gentlemanly behaviour isn’t something you would immediately associate with a Premiership footballer.
But Asmir appears to be an exception. When the glamorous couple pay a visit to The Sentinel offices, he’s pleasant, chatty and – at the risk of sounding dangerously like my mum – has lovely manners.
Neither is Nicolle a typical WAG. She’s funny, warm, bright – and determined to dispel a few myths.
So while we’re on the subject of stereotypes, why do the British have such a fascination with the infidelities of high-profile sportsmen?
As non-native Brits, Asmir and Nicolle – who have a two-year-old daughter called Taylor – offer their somewhat bemused take on our national obsession with scandal.
“I really notice it in the media,” says Nicolle.
“Sometimes I sit back and think, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to go out there and tell our story?’ You can be happy and be with a footballer and just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I’m a gold digger or that I haven’t got my own aspirations.
“But the papers want sensationalised stories. They don’t want to hear about everyday life. We go to the cinema, and go for walks, just like everyone else and that’s boring.
“Especially being a female in this relationship, people make assumptions about you and what we’re all about and the reality is, that it’s so far away from the truth.
“I’ve met some amazing girls through football. The wives and girlfriends are not what you’d expect at all. We all lean on each other during the tough times.
“We all know what it’s like to be married to a footballer.
“You get the impression that all we do is have lunch or go shopping.
“I wish I had time to do that. It’s not all red carpets. It’s day-to-day stuff like going to Sainsbury’s and picking the kids up, just like anyone else.”
N icolle has been there from the beginning, and has seen the highs and the lows. She made the decision to support Asmir however she could and followed him when he was signed on loan from Portsmouth to a succession of clubs around the country.
“I trained to be an accountant and I could have gone on and had a career but that would have meant perhaps sacrificing time to support Asmir,” she explains. “You have to make a decision that his career takes the forefront and in a way you kind of have to take a back seat.
“There are times where you think, ‘I just wish he had the weekend off.’ It can be a bit of a grind.
“You become a PA, you sort everything out for your partner – bills and housework and paperwork – and that’s where the teamwork comes in.
“It can become quite isolated. It’s not easy to have friends outside of work so we are probably the closest thing he gets to a social life.
“To be able to support him wherever that may be around the country, at that stage in his career was nice.
“Also he was on loan a lot which involved a lot of travelling so it made sense for me to hang back.”
Nicolle was there to cheer him on when he made his Premiership debut for Portsmouth in 2009.
“I used to get nervous but it’s more the anxiety that you want to see him do well,” she says. “I get to see how hard it is behind the scenes.
“You realise that the preparation for every single match is the same. It means as much as the one before and as much as the next one.
“When it doesn’t go well, we get to see what happens when they come home, and deal with the disappointment.
“Sometimes as a wife of a goalkeeper you feel slightly isolated from the rest of the team in that the match can be lost on the back of a goalie’s mistake.
“You’re obviously not personally involved but you also feel slightly responsible too. We’re in it together even though I’m not on the pitch with him.”
“You try not to let it affect home but it’s tough not to,” he says. “It’s changed a little bit since we’ve had our daughter. When you come home and she’s smiling and running around, you try and get on with it.
“There is pressure.
“It’s fantastic playing in the Premier League but there are people all over the world who watch the game, from Australia, to America, to Canada to Bosnia.
“All eyes are on you so you want to do well and not mess anything up.”
W hen Asmir signed to Stoke City in February 2010 (for a fee of £3.25m) Nicolle and Taylor – who was then only a tiny baby – moved north and made their home in Newcastle.
Nicolle, a keen dressage rider who regularly takes part in events (cheered on by Asmir), was keen to put down roots in Staffordshire.
“We’ve really made our home here,” says Nicolle, who got her HGV licence this year, allowing her to transport her beloved Dutch warm-blood horse, Chippendale, to competitions.
“I’ve always said that terrible things will happen to him if we have to move again!
“We’ve established friendships. In five years, this feels like one of the first times I feel like I can settle in and, I know it sounds silly, but find a good dry-cleaners or takeaway.
“So often you move to new cities where you have to find your way around.
“I love dressage.
“My ultimate goal is to make it to the top. I’m not as accomplished as Asmir is but I endeavour to be.
“Maybe in a way it’s helped me to understand Asmir’s commitment because I have a passion too. I know what he must feel.
“In fact I get competition nerves – to the point where I think I need a sports psychologist! I don’t think I handle nerves as well as Asmir does.
“I think that’s helped us as a couple – to have my own thing. The whole ‘being in their shadow’ can be quite draining.
“You’re the one who gets left behind, in the shadows. It’s not jealousy but, even though you need to be supportive, you still need your own identity.”
Not surprisingly, Taylor is already showing an interest in horses – although Asmir insists she’s showing a flair for football too.
A smir has made a good impression this season – in which Stoke has qualified for the Europa League – and is currently the number one choice goalkeeper for the team.
So how does he prepare for a match?
“Superstition is a funny word,” says Amir. “Because if something doesn’t go right, you’ll blame it on that. It’s more of a routine I stick to, to get my mind ready for the match.
“When I’m at home, the night before, we never sleep in the same room.”
“He has to have pasta for dinner,” laughs Nicolle. “I carb him up. Pasta, garlic bread – it’s always the same the night before a game.
“He’ll go into the spare bedroom to make sure he gets an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
“We’ve got a puppy (a King Charles cavalier spaniel called Louis) and Taylor, and he needs his beauty sleep.”
The couple got married at The Langham Hotel in London in June this year, before enjoying a honeymoon in the Maldives.
“It is a really beautiful hotel and one that we’ve spent time in over the years,” says Nicolle. “It was a big production but it was worth it.
“It was very special – we didn’t invite a lot of people so it was quite intimate.”
“I know for me, for everything to go well, family life has to be good,” continues Asmir. “That support system is so important. It goes hand in hand.
“We just have a close base. We are best friends. We’re a tight-knit family.
“We love exploring the local area, taking our daughter on walks. She loves being outside.”
He adds: “Stoke is probably one of the nicest club environments I’ve played for. Even as a group of guys when we’re away from home, it’s like a family.
“We really like it. From the first day we arrived here we settled in the area.
“We’ve fitted in nicely. It feels like home.”
Nicolle continues: “Me and Asmir are definitely a team. “The lifestyle is a bit of a bubble so you have to learn to love to spend time together.
“My family are really into football now.
“And my mom calls me all the time – I think she feels quite protective of Asmir. That’s the other side of it. When people don’t say nice things, she does worry.
“I don’t care what anyone says, we all Google our husbands, we all read the latest news articles about them, but you can’t take everything you read to heart otherwise you’re in the wrong business or with the wrong guy.
“But the Britannia is probably one of the better stadiums where the supporters really are on Stoke’s side.
“I have sat among the wives and partners at other clubs where people around shout abuse at a player. Whether or not they know we’re there, they’ll be quite openly abusive. You just have to sit there and be quite stoic and maintain your decorum and pretend that it doesn’t bother you.
“It can be hard, not to be able to defend them.
“But we’re there with him, for the good and the bad.”