I'm a former Premier League star and now I own a five-star hotel with spectacular ocean views of the Mediterranean | The Sun

SASA Ilic is best remembered by Charlton fans for a match-winning penalty shootout save against Sunderland in the 1998 Playoff final.

But today the 51-year-old is a hotelier, owning a breathtaking five-star boutique hotel in Montenegro.

Ilic was inspired to open the luxurious Monte Bay Retreat in 2013, after a series of unfortunate events led him heading towards a downward spiral.

In the space of a year, his father passed away, his first marriage crumbled, and a house he owned burned down.

A visit to a detox retreat gave him the idea to open up his own boutique hotel.

He sold his South East London pad, hopped on his motorbike and rode it all the way to the Balkans.

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Ilic then converted a home he had in the beautiful old town of Perast into the stunning resort that is perched on the Mediterranean ocean.

"Due to certain circumstances in my life, between 2009-12 I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with myself after football," he told SunSport.

"The Monte Bay Retreat was a bit of a lifesaver. In 2009, I went through a divorce, my business collapsed because of the credit crunch in London, my father passed away and a house I had in Montenegro burn down.

"For three years I was a lost soul. But I went to a detox retreat and that cleansed my mind, my body and soul.

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"I already had another property in Montenegro, and I came up with the idea just after I finished my final day of detoxing.

"I was very unhappy in London. I wasn't doing anything at all, I didn't have an occupation and getting back into football was difficult.

"I sold my place in Blackheath, jumped on my motorbike and rode all the way to Montenegro to start this new journey of mine.

"I followed my gut instinct. I was living with plenty of  a sorrow because of my father's passing and getting used to being single again.

"I didn't have a focus in my life. I was cruising through life and didn't have anything that would get me out of bed in the morning.

"If I didn't make a change, I think I would have been another statistic. I would've had nothing and been bankrupt.

"I would've spent all the earnings I made in football, I'm sure of that, so I needed to make that life-altering decision."

Original plan

Australian-born Ilic was keen on initially launching Monte Bay Retreat as a detox centre.

However, he scrapped those plans later on because he wanted it to be open to anyone looking for a quiet home away from home.

Prices start at around £170-per-night, with access to an infinity pool, sauna, and jacuzzi.

"Because the detox route was a niche market, that would've taken me another three or four years to get the word out," Ilic said.

"So I converted it to a boutique hotel. It now has an intimate feel with just six bedrooms and it's completely closed off.

"All the guests that come, they have sole usage of the bar, restaurant, infinity pool… the difference is its hands on deck, me as the host and people don't feel like they're in a hotel.

"We provide a five star service that you would see in one of the bigger hotels, but with a more intimate feel.

"I greet everybody, see them off. I usually will welcome them with the local drink, rakija and then we see them off with a big hug and a kiss.

"When they come to Monte Bay, that's the service we try and provide for all our clients.

All the hotels I've been in, all around the world, you tend to know what people like.

"And the basic concept of not allowing anyone else from the outside to come in, and make it completely exclusive for the people staying in the six room. I think that adds to the flavour.

"It's a very happy, relaxed mood and people enjoy that atmosphere. I'm also really lucky to have wonderful staff."

Celeb haven

With its luxurious rooms, glorious views and secluded setting – it's the perfect setting for any celebrity or social media influencer looking for peace and quiet in private.

Over the years, Ilic has had a few footballer pals come and visit him, including Dutch legend Ronald de Boer and ex-Charlton teammate Gary Nelson.

He revealed: "I've had a couple of footballers visit.

"Gary Nelson, who used to play for Charlton. And I had Ronald de Boer, who is a friend of mine too, who came as well.

"But I've not really tapped into my contacts. I just want people to come because they want to come, rather than seeing big-name superstars and all that kind of stuff.

"Ronald is a friend of mine, and he was in Montenegro so he popped down to see me. And with Gary, he saw pictures on the website when I was down at Charlton for an event, so he came with his wife.

"It's one of those places that if you were a superstar, nobody will see you. So you get that intimacy that you wouldn't necessarily get anywhere else."

Next year, the ex Addicks shotstopper is opening up his own football school, Sasa Ilic Soccer Academy.

The aim is to provide a top notch education, thanks to partnerships with the University of Donja Gorica and Arizona State University Prep, alongside first class coaching, with facilities including a FIFA certified pitch and state-of-the-art gym.

For now, though, life as a hotel owner is bliss.

It's a beautiful lifestyle, we eat fresh food practically every day. We go out in speedboats or I'll go out with the clients.

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"I'm living the dream on the Mediterranean coast and we're only open for seven months of the year.

"I purposefully lock it up for 5 months and go away on holiday with my wife and kids."

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