On the eve of the World Cup, the Sports Director of the Football Association of Serbia talks to Reminder about the upcoming challenges, objectives set for near future as well as the restoration of the nation’s faith in Serbian football
In the period behind us, you brought enormous joy to millions of people who cheer for our national team. Some say that Serbian football is experiencing a turn of the tides, while others chalk this success up to luck. Now that the impressions from the placement into the World Cup have had time to settle, what do you think was the most important for the results achieved by the national team?
I think that for us, the most important thing is that we achieved what we had planned. There is always a share of luck in sports, but they also say that „fortune favours the brave“. I suppose we earned that good fortune, somehow. The important thing is, first of all, that after a long time the Serbian national team will be playing at the World Cup, as well as that this gives us a chance to set up some game continuity. Placement into the 2020 World Cup would be a huge success for the Serbian national team. I am so glad that all our teams are performing well. The true challenges still lie ahead of us and they will show us just how well we’ve worked over this last eighteen months.
It is clear that your objective is to set the foundation for a new age of Serbian football. The major success achieved by the junior team could be a good sign, but not necessarily. What does all that look like from where you’re sitting?
We’ve been working on a strategy for the development of Serbian football in the four upcoming years. Some decisions we are making will certainly not be that easy, but we are brave. We have a lot of energy and I think we are focusing it in the right direction. The most important thing is that the results follow as we go. People will often formulate a strategy without ever achieving the results. That makes for a dissatisfied nation and, finally, prevents the fulfilment of the plan. At this moment, the most important thing for us is the fact that we have achieved our first results, so that we have the freedom to undertake the next steps we have envisaged.
On this path, a very important contribution came from the instruction service of the Football Association of Serbia. Those men work day and night on finding new players to represent Serbia in major competitions. In addition, there is the program we have presented to them, whichencompasses the youngest players. This sets up the ground and traces the way for the upcoming years, all with the objective of building a large national team, which will perform at significant competitions and thus serve as the best indicator that Serbia has a team that can achieve good results.
The last year ended well, and with what results would you like to finish this year?
I would love if we achieved a good placement for the European Cup with the younger teams; these are teams under 17 and under 19 years of age. We have started the development leagues in women’s football and futsal. We’d love for them to keep on the same track, giving us, in a year or two’s time, new candidates for the women’s A teams, as well as for futsal. Of course, the thing that is at the forefront of our minds is the placement of the national football team to the European Cup, which would give us continuity in participating at large competitions, something that is very important for Serbian football. That will be our main goal for the upcoming period.
It would perhaps be too strict to say that you are a „pupil of the British school of football“, but the fact is that you had a good insight into the British football know-how during your career as a player. To what extent is it possible to apply the British football management and problem-solving system in Serbia?
I try to copy, as much as I can, the things I like from other countries, whether England or some others. We are often present at UEFA meetings, where football is discussed at large and in detail. We have excellent cooperation with both UEFA and FIFA. They really want to help us. To present the Serbian football in the best light, it is important to us that we are in the system, which means that we have to play by their rules.
Of course, for some of the things that I would like to change or apply, my energy and the energy of the Football Association are not sufficient – we also need the assistance of the state. This is especially true of the situation with the fans, which was resolved in England in this fashion. They set an example of how any problem can be resolved if the state is determined to resolve it; today, they have the Premier League which is followed by audiences around the world. We are trying to implement all things that are constructive, as much as we can. We are also putting efforts into restoring faith into Serbian football, through our results and to bring the good audiences back to the stands. Of course, this is a process that takes time, but I think we’re on a good path.
Who do you think is the greatest Serbian football player of all time?
Dragan Džajić is certainly one such name. I remember him from the videos. At the time he was playing, I had barely been born, but my father’s generation appreciated him greatly as a player. On the other hand, I can talk about Dejan Savićević, Dragan Stojković and other young men with whom I have even had a chance to play in certain games. These are some of the names that have, in my opinion, left a significant mark on the Serbian football.
What would you recommend as a „must-see“ to football fans visiting Belgrade for the first time?
An interesting place to see is the Red Star Museum, where you can see so much that is relevant for Serbian football in one place. The trophy from Bari is there, too, a symbol of a major success. Sadly, we still don’t have any infrastructural projects that would be representative, such as, for example, a stadium; but we hope that in the upcoming years, that will come too.
In conversation with Miljana Nešković