Mihajlović developed and fostered a reputation as a hard-nosed, tough-tackling player with a short fuse and no fear. As such he has had many physical and verbal run-ins with opposing players that occasionally spilled outside of the pitch. Already known as someone who did not back away from physical play, the 22-year-old was one of the main protagonists of the ill-tempered 1991 Yugoslav Cup Final between Red Star and Hajduk Split on 8 May 1991. Although of secondary importance to Red Star, which was getting ready for the European Cup Final three weeks later, the match still featured a degree of tension due to pitting a Serb side against a Croat one in an atmosphere of inter-ethnic incidents between Croats and Croatian Serbs in eastern Slavonia and Dalmatia regions of SR Croatia, including Mihajlović’s hometown Borovo that saw a deadly incident only six days before the final. Early into the match Hajduk’s 23-year-old defender Igor Štimac and Mihajlović got into frequent verbal altercations, and according to Mihajlović during one of their exchanges Štimac told him: ‘I hope our guys kill all of your family in Borovo’. Fueling Mihajlović’s rage further was the fact that due to the phone service interruptions, he had not heard from his parents in more than a week, and he admitted to spending the rest of the match targeting Štimac in an attempt to injure him severely. Štimac also didn’t back down and the two exchanged plenty of reckless tackles as their private duel became a sideshow to the entire final. In the 70th minute Mihajlović slid in for a hard bone-crunching tackle on another Hajduk player Grgica Kovač that led to play temporarily being stopped as both sets of players confronted each other. Mihajlović was led away by Hajduk player Ante Miše (the two knew each other from before since they’re both from Borovo) who grabbed him by the hair while Red Star’s Ilija Najdoski grabbed Hajduk’s Slaven Bilić by the hair and dragged him around the pitch after Štimac ran the length of the pitch and jumped into the fracas with a raised fist attempting to punch Najdoski. Mihajlović received a second yellow for the challenge on Kovač, and the referee Adem Fazlagić also gave Štimac a second yellow, which meant both players got sent off. A month later on 5 June 1991, Red Star and Hajduk played another match, this time in the league. It was Red Star’s first league match after becoming European champions a week earlier in Bari. The match was of no competitive importance as Red Star were already league champions elect while Hajduk was lagging far behind in eight place, but that didn’t stop Mihajlović and Štimac from continuing their personal duel in another incident-filled match with Mihajlović getting sent off again. At the 1998 FIFA World Cup Yugoslavia versus Germany group stage match, Jens Jeremies squared up to Mihajlović following a rough challenge by the Yugoslav and the two exchanged verbal insults. Though at first glance everything ended there, television camera from another angle caught Mihajlović spitting in the German’s face. Later that year in November, during the Lazio at FK Partizan Cup Winners’ Cup second round return leg, thirty-year-old Mihajlović had a match-long battle with twenty-year-old striker Mateja Kežman. Playing old cross-town rivals in front of large home crowd seemed to provide extra motivation for Mihajlović. By Euro 2000, Mihajlović’s temper was well noted in the football world and he showed lack of control again during the opening group stage match versus Slovenia. Three minutes after gifting Slovenia a 0–3 lead when his cross-field pass got intercepted by Zlatko Zahovič, frustrated Mihajlović first got a yellow card for hacking down a Slovenian player as they jostled for position while going up for a high ball. Mere seconds later, as tempers flared and Sašo Udovič and Albert Nađ exchanged insults, a completely rattled Mihajlović needlessly approached Udovič, giving him a slight petulant push. Udovič theatrically fell to the ground, resulting in Mihajlović receiving another yellow card from Portuguese referee Vítor Pereira thus getting himself sent off. Ten-man Yugoslavia still managed to come back in the last 30 minutes to tie the score 3–3. Several months later, in October 2000, Mihajlović raised a storm of controversy due to his alleged racist remarks directed at Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira. The incident occurred during the ill-tempered Lazio versus Arsenal UEFA Champions League match on 17 October 2000 at Stadio Olimpico. Throughout the match Mihajlović had run-ins with several Arsenal players including Martin Keown and Robert Pires, but things really boiled over after the final whistle as Mihajlović and Vieira were seen trading insults and trying to get at one another physically before being restrained by teammates. After the match Vieira spoke to the media, accusing Mihajlović of racist abuse, specifically remarks that were revealed to be “nero di merda” (black piece of shit) or “fucking black monkey.” Mihajlović subsequently apologized, but contended that his words were in retaliation to Vieira’s remarks, calling Mihajlović a “zingaro di merda” (Gypsy piece of shit). Two months later in December 2000, Mihajlović came under police investigation over the event for possibly violating an anti-racism law in Italy. Italian investigators planned on using Mihajlović’s own post-game admission that he insulted Vieira to file charges that he violated a 1993 law that criminalizes the “spreading … of ideas based on racial or ethnic superiority or hate”, however nothing ever came of it. Six years later Mihajlović and Vieira became part of the same team when the Senegalese-born Frenchman joined Inter where freshly retired from playing Mihajlović was already named assistant to head coach Roberto Mancini. By all accounts, the former on-pitch adversaries got along very well during their two years together at San Siro. Vieira even came as one of the guests for Mihajlović’s testimonial match on 28 May 2007 in Novi Sad. On 7 November 2003, Mihajlović received an eight match suspension by UEFA for spitting at and kicking Chelsea’s Adrian Mutu during a Champions League group stage match. Some six and a half years later, Mihajlović became the head coach of Fiorentina, where Mutu was playing at the time. Even in the twilight of his playing career at Inter, 36-year-old Mihajlović stuck to his physical defensive style, getting into memorable tussles with Juve’s 23-year-old rising superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović during the Derby d’Italia.