Football pundits have been quick to sound the death knell over Serbian football since the country’s two top teams crashed out of the UEFA Champions League in less than spectacular fashion. It did not help when Serbia’s national coach made some bizarre comments about his favoured results in the forthcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers. The comments of Vladimir Petrović appear to aim below target for the national team and deserve questioning, even given the injury-struck squad.
But, while the disappointment for Partizan and Red Star Belgrade fans is palpable, the significance should not be overplayed. Rather than bad-mouthing individuals or clubs, now is the time to address the cause of this glitch and put in place the necessary elements to prevent it recurring. Serbian football must prove that there is life in the old dog yet.
While Partizan fell to a second rate Irish team, Red Star fought hard in their away leg against French team Rennes but could not maintain energies on home turf. The loss was such a travesty that even the most ardent fans could only judge it as a shambles.
It is the easiest thing in the world to criticise the apparent failings of others, especially when you forget how impossible it would be to achieve better yourself. That is clearly the case of those damning the apparent demise of Serbian football this week.
Rather than hurl criticism, now is a time for solutions. In time of crisis it is too easy to dig your head in the sand and ignore the issues at the heart of your problems. While the perceived failure in one tournament should not be exaggerated, it should be the perfect time to take a long hard look at the root cause and put measures in place to improve future chances.
Many believe these are symptoms of a deeper malaise at the heart of a once great footballing nation. Gaping holes in organisation, serious issues with leadership and problems with inexperienced management make it inevitable that the game will suffer. Talented players being sold off for quick profit do not help. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.
While it is easy to sing the praises of teams on a winning streak, it is important to stand by them when things go less well. That is when true supporters show their worth and buoy players to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and go on to achieve results that matter.
What should not be forgotten is how much these teams have accomplished. The over-flowing trophy room at the Marakana Stadium is testament to achievements over the years.
Many remember the glory days of 1991 when Red Star held the country in the palm of its hand as the team raised the European Cup. Even those who were usually less supportive of the red and white raised a glass to Red Star’s triumph in Europe. Come forward two decades and dreams of 1991 were strong. For the first time in years, fans saw hope for cup success. Sadly, it was not to be, but the team has plans to rebuild the steps to victory – and improve football along the way.
Red Star Belgrade recently put forward a bold initiative to improve conditions at stadiums and grounds across Serbia. While their moves are sound and are exactly the type of forward-thinking ideas that should benefit the future of Serbian football, many in the game were quick to pick holes in the proposal. The idea is not dead yet and it is hoped that team chiefs will enter into talks.
Marko Nikolovski, Communications Director at Red Star Belgrade, met with W!LD RooSTeR. “The state of the Super League of Serbia is shameless,’ he said. “Just two clubs have lights. There are clubs with locker rooms in which you don’t want to put a dog. It’s a disaster. When Red Star is playing at those clubs, we change clothes in the hotel where we are sleeping and come with the bus directly to the field because they don’t have facilities there.
“As the biggest club in Serbia, we want to change that. So we put a proposal to other clubs. They don’t need to do as we say but let’s talk about it. Say your opinion and let’s do it. Then, in three years, if you don’t have lights, don’t have locker rooms, you have just one tribune on the stadium, then you cannot play in the Super League.
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t have resources: Speak with the people in your community, local politicians, and do something, and we are going to help you. Then you can go to a television station and say, we have lights, we have a nice stadium and our playing time is Saturday at 17:00, do you want to buy the rights? They will say yes and agree a price, and that money will come to you. It will definitely improve the league, which will be good for everyone.”
The current Red Star management might not be perfect but they have not given up on seeing through their ideas for a resurgence in Serbian pride in their football teams and they should be applauded for at least attempting to bring everyone to the table for what must be a full and frank discussion on the future direction of Serbian football.
Red Star has also taken on the challenge of embracing the future with a successful youth training programme. The club has long invested in the future of football and has been turning out some of Europe’s better young players via its youth scheme.
Some of the game’s top clubs eye young talent at Red Star, especially since the club’s promising talent Nemanja Vidić has gone on to achieve world class accolade at Manchester United.
Vidić was a product of the club’s excellent youth squad, receiving hands-on guidance that has allowed him to become the player he is today. But Vidić is only one of many who have gone on to achieve greater things, thanks to Red Star’s expert attention – and there are more in the ranks being groomed for soccer stardom.
More recently, it has been reported that other young players, including 18-year-old defender Uroš Ćošić, have caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson and his fellow super-managers. This goes to show that when Red Star spots potential in a young player, the world turns to watch.
Recognising latent talent and nurturing it through to its full potential is neither simple nor cheap. Many of the world’s finest football clubs spend millions on finding, guiding and developing young talent for their future teams. If those young players with apparent potential fall by the wayside en route to their anticipated success, it could be easy to see them as money down the drain. But that is not the point of the exercise. Football needs bold decisions, strong leadership and adequate investment if it is to remain the nation’s favourite game.
Despite rumours to the contrary in some of the more inflammatory press, Serbia’s footballing heart beats strong and loud. It’s time to wake the sleeping beast.