Sporting the archetype of a battle-hardened Eastern European, Toni Datković’s body is a canvas of tattoos and blemishes – each mark telling a story of battles fought. 

It therefore comes as little surprise that Toni has been affectionately nicknamed El Sicario – a Spanish term that translates to “The Hitman” in English.

However, beneath Toni’s hard-as-nails exterior lies a soft core – a facet of his personality he would like to emphasise.

“When people first hear the term ‘Sicario’, they often think I’m a dangerous guy,” Toni elaborated “But after getting to know me, everybody says I should have nothing to do with the nickname. 

“I’m a family-oriented guy. After training, I’ll just go home and play with my kids. I’m also someone who likes relaxing at the beach and going fishing. One day, when I’m done with football, I’ll go back to the island (Pag Island) where I was born, buy a boat, and enjoy a calm life there!”

So how did the El Sicario nickname come about?

According to Toni, it originated in 2019 when he joined LaLiga 2 side SD Huesca on loan from NK Lokomotiva Zagreb – his first big move out of Eastern Europe. 

He explained: “When you arrive in Spain and you say that you come from Croatia, everyone’s first thought is that of war. And when I take my clothes off, I have a few scars on my body, so I look a bit like someone who’s always fighting. That’s why my teammates started calling me ‘Sicario’.

“The nickname stuck wherever I went and soon nobody was calling me by my actual name anymore. But I liked the nickname from the first moment, so I was perfectly fine with it.”

As further proof of Toni’s sentimentality, he revealed that each tattoo holds its own meaning. On his right arm is a picture of Pope John Paul II – who he calls his guardian angel – as well as his 5-year-old daughter, Luce. Across his right chest is the shape of Pag Island, as well as selected lyrics from a Croatian song that depicts a love of home.

What’s currently missing? A tattoo of his 2-year-old son, Roko.

“I need to do one for him soon, so maybe I’ll do it here (in Singapore)!” he exclaimed.

Throughout the interview, Toni made several references to Pag Island, clearly demonstrating his pride in how far he has come from his humble beginnings to carve out a successful football career.

It is a career that has seen him don the Croatian national team colours, win the LaLiga 2 title, as well as make a century of appearances in the second tier of Spanish football. Along the way, he has even crossed swords with internationally acclaimed stars like former Manchester United star Javier Hernández (Chicharito) and Chelsea forward Nicolas Jackson.

Toni’s football adventure has taken him to Slovenia, Greece and USA. But it was in Spain where his experiences moulded him into the El Sicario who endeared himself to the fans with his heart-on-sleeve attitude and warm personality off the pitch.

Indeed, 75 of his LaLiga 2 appearances came at FC Cartagena, where he cemented his reputation as a reliable and steady defensive presence on the pitch, while building up synergy with the fans. This led to him winning the Fans’ Player of the Year award for the 2022/23 season.

Toni left at the end of that campaign due to matters out of his control, but he remained popular with the fans. Chants of “Sicario, Sicario” from the Cartagena faithful echoed around the Estadio Municipal Cartagonova when he came on as a late substitute for Albacete Balompié in a 1-1 draw against them last November – just a couple of months after his switch of club.

That moment led to the emotional scene of the hard man tearing up at the final whistle as he went over to acknowledge his former fans.

“Cartagena is the most special club in my life; the way the people there loved me and still love me after everything is just amazing,” said Toni, who also has a FC Cartagena-related tattoo on his right leg. “The love they gave really fired me up and provided me with the energy to fight for them on the pitch, so that was huge for me.”

Unfortunately for Toni, his move to Albacete did not work out the way he envisaged it would, leading him to seek new opportunities. 

That was when the Sailors came calling – a call that he had no hesitation answering.

“When my agent told me there was interest from Singapore, I started to do some research and speak to some Croatian guys who used to play here – one of them is Mirko Šugić (formerly from Tanjong Pagar United), who I played with a while in the youth academy of Rijeka,” he recounted.

“The club shared with me a really good vision of what they want to do in the future. I see a lot of potential, a really big will in what they want to achieve, so it fired me up, and I didn’t think much in agreeing to this deal.”

It might seem like a brave move to take the road less travelled. But it is nothing new for Toni, who left his home in Pag Island to go to the city of Rijeka at the age of 13 to pursue his footballing dream.

“It’s a big thing to leave a small village and move to a big city at that age – living alone, learning to cook and taking care of yourself,” said Toni. “But I did everything for football from the first day, so taking risks – this is how I’ve always lived my life.”

Toni envisions going back to relax in Pag after his career, but for now, he is keen to write a new chapter with the Sailors – and to strike up synergy with the club’s faithful fans, The Crew.

“I want to contribute a lot of energy on the pitch – energy that will move fans and help my team win matches. I’ve heard about the tremendous support from the Sailors fans, and I want to witness that for myself,” he stated.

“If we play good football and do well in competitions like the AFC Champions League 2 (ACL2), more fans will come to the stadium. I want to promise the fans that they’ll get everything from me and I’ll try to pass on this energy to the other players. Together as a team, I’m sure we’ll make this a really good season.”