This magic game is meant to be played everywhere and that can happen only if you have a good system, adaptability and a flair in diplomacy. Being transparent is essential. Like elswhere in life, leadership in football matters depends on the quality of associates.
Today we talk to Vladimir Matijašević, a retired football player and a director of footbal in Football Association of Serbia. After a successful career in several clubs, he took on probably the hardest task yet – to create a sustainable system on a national level of football.
After their playing careers, players usually turn to coaching or scouting. You immediately became a director of football – first in FC Napredak, then in FC Čukarički and in Greek FC AEK, and now in FAS. How did that come about and what makes a good director of football?
For the first three years, I observed how things are handled in FC Red Star. I realised the importance of a good atmosphere and that players’ trust and respect is won through being open and transparent with them. Truth be told, I’d already learned that as a player. I retired when I was 28 due to a serious injury, even though one Romanian club was offering me a contract. Being a good diplomat starts with being open with yourself – I knew my playing days were basically over. I also found that a good leader simply needs to have associates who are better than himself. Director of football needs to deal with players, coaches, agents, staff, everyone… his associates are the ones with initiatives, ideas and micro-perspective. Once Marko Mišković took over Napredak from Kruševac, I got the opportunity to run the club. The rest is known.
Čukarički was for a number of years one of the best functioning clubs in the country. Is it because it is privately owned?
If a club has a private owner, it has a stable source of finance, but it also has a very peculiar perspective – director’s decisions are valued though owner’s interests. I think it’s the right way, especially in our circumstances, because it’s the only way to effectively deal with both success and failures. The owner of FC Čukarički Dragan Obradović and I have had a very good collaboration. We wouldn’t have cooperated for more than five years if we didn’t have good results. My three goals were: win a good league position, make a good young player, sell him. We even played European competitions. We once won a cup. We visited FC Roma, FC Auxerre, FC Salzburg, we took their solutions and implemented them in our system.
Being a director of football in a club must differ greatly than being one in a national association?
Football is all about results and the math is simple, wherever you work – if you don’t have results, your time is up. However, football is also about building a system and that takes time. Bigger the structure, longer the period. We can make a good model which might bear fruit in a year or two and by then my staff and I might not even be decision-makers any more. And that’s normal. Because, again, football is also about adapting to circumstance. For example, Serbia is seriously lacking in full-backs, not only in senior team, but also in U-19 and U-21 selections. To me, that shows that we might have lulled ourselves into comfort when our younger selections won the European and then World champioship. Some of our coaches have left Serbia, some don’t wish to work with association. I brought Goran Grkinić in, he was the director of football in FC Voždovac, also a private club with good results. Players who are called up for national team are hardly kids, even though some of them are very young – they already have gotten to a certain level in their game, they have expectations, they are fully formed.
Our national team hasn’t played two consecutive games with the same line-up in a five years now.
I believe the team is looking better and better, especially since the draw against Portugal and then defeat against Ukraine. Still, I’m far from satisfied. Look at the second goal we conceded in our second match against Ukraine. It was basically the end of the match, we had ten players in the penalty box line and no one was stepping up to the ball. They were insecure and afraid of losing a good result. Now, I believe that one good game – against Norway, for example – can switch the tide.
You had a very successful stint in FC AEK before coming to FAS. Why did you leave?
When I came to AEK, I was given a green light to do whatever I want. However, there was some resistence in the rest of the club. I wasn’t even the only director of football – there had already been a technical director. Still, everything was great up until we won the Champions League spot. After that, players started coming in without my consent. That’s when I decided to leave. That’s why the first thing I’d said during my promotion in FAS was that the coach is the one who figures out the team, the tactics, the line up. I might give my advice and that’s that. I’m a firm believer in individual responsibility and collective work.
Six stadiums are to be built by the end of 2021 in Serbia. Is it going to improve not only the infrastructure, but also the quality of football?
Chairman Slaviša Kokeza and general secretary Jovan Šurbatović were preparing those plans for quite some time. We’re trying to go everywhere with our U-21 selection in Serbia. The next game is in Niš, for example. One national stadium would unify the audience, I think, since there are people who won’t go to a stadium of the opponent’s side, even if it is the national team that is playing. Football is meant to be played everywhere and it should be played everywhere, at least if the stadiums in question fulfill UEFA standards. The quality of the game should follow.
You’ve lived in Athens, Thessaloniki, even in China… how does Belgrade compare? What are your favorite spots in Belgrade?
Honestly, nothing comes close to Belgrade. I adore rivers, and Belgrade has two big ones. Belgrade Waterfront looks nice. I have a small house in Ovčar banja near Čačak, where I’m from, and it’s also close to the rivier. I also really like fishing. I like travelling with my family, I like a couple of restaurants, but I’m not a big party-goer, even though I enjoy seeing people having fun in the summer sun near the Beton halls.
By: Slavko Stefanović