Another Zungul quirk also endeared him to Messing. "During the first season Steve asked me what was an acceptable demonstration in America after you'd scored a goal," says Messing. "I like that. The guy's a complete professional. I told him that America was wacky anyway, and as long as it wasn't X-rated, he could do what he wanted." Hence the ballet leaps Zungul performed in Buffalo.
Zungul could have gone home, but he stayed on in the Big Apple during the 1979 off-season, making a splash with the disco set. "He was getting Americanized," says Popovic. Indeed, soon after his arrival in the U.S. Zungul developed a passion for Olivia Newton-John and once skipped an Arrow game to go to a concert of hers in Los Angeles. When asked about the episode, Zungul smiles and says, "She is very beautiful and very magnetic. I was at a party where she was once, but I was too shy to talk to her. Look, I have fans. Why can't I be the fan of another person? It's the nature of things."
In his first season, Zungul was the league's MVP but lost out as playoff MVP to Messing, which still rankles him. "Can you believe it?" he says. "I scored 15 goals and they give it to Shep! I cried like a baby then. Now I understand that MISL needed identity and Shep was better for that. But I hate to lose; I hate to be beaten at anything."
A bit more of the crust flakes away as he adds, "How I score goals I cannot tell you, it happens in a dream. It comes from God. But why is easy—I will not lose. It hurts me physically to be defeated."
Zungul generally pals around with fellow Yugoslavs—there are eight among the 20 members of the Arrows—and one can find them in their cowboy hats and disco boots lounging in an airport area two hours before departing on a road trip, munching Mr. Goodbars and talking their own language, pausing occasionally to translate proverbs like, "The chicken has not yet set on the eggs."
Zungul is especially close to 19-year-old Forward Branko Segota, a Yugoslav raised in Canada and one of the best North American-trained scorers in the game. In Zungul's view, the kid still has a lot to learn. "I was in Tampa recently," Zungul says, "and they have this slogan: 'Soccer Is a Kick in the Grass.' That's good P.R., but it's completely wrong. If you teach American kids that soccer is a funny good time, they won't learn the game. Watch the Americans in the pros. They play the game like John Wayne—good guys and bad guys. That's too simple. Cowboys don't score goals.
"The goal-getter must be a con man, a thief, a clown, a magician. And you must think hard about what you're doing. When the game is over, I tell Branko, it's not his body that should be tired, but his brain."
One circumstance has cast a shadow over Zungul's three years in the U.S.: he hasn't been able to play the outdoor game, "real" soccer. Hajduk Split, which had him under contract until last August, steadfastly declined to permit him to play outdoors here, and was upheld in this by FIFA, international soccer's ruling body. Because the North American Soccer League is FIFA-sanctioned and can't afford to defy the edict, Zungul has remained on the sidelines. Recently, however, a Federal Court judge held that the FIFA ruling unconstitutionally deprived Zungul of his right to earn a living in this country. Lawyers for all parties are trying to figure out just where that leaves them.
"He's such a world-class talent, such a complete player, it's a shame we can't see him play outdoor soccer," says Messing. "It would be a rare treat." After a recent game in the Coliseum, Zungul was warmly embraced in the Arena Club by Gordon Jago, coach of the NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies. "I've seen Zungul play in Yugoslavia," Jago said. "I hope we can solve the legal problems so that he can play outdoors for us. He's the Nureyev of soccer." Playing for Tampa Bay would add $300,000 a year to Zungul's bank account.
"I will play in Tampa on the grass," says Zungul. "I will not be beaten out of it. But for now I must concentrate on goals, goals, goals." He should have well over 100 of them, far surpassing his own record of 90, by season's end in March—a crusty enough accomplishment even for Zungul.