A bit of transfer talk from Serbia

As with every other league in the world, the Serbian super league experiences the Annual Summer Transfer Rumour Chitter-Chatter. Last week the Titus Bramble To Red Star story was doing the rounds – nothing has come of that so far (shock) – but nothing more exciting than that has turned up recently.

Red Star have been linked with Azubuike Egwuekwe, a towering centre back from Nigeria’s Confed Cup squad. Such a signing would surely put paid to the Bramble rumours – alas – especially considering that Red Star have already brought Peruvian centre back Miguel Araujo Blanco to the club. Egwuekwe is a pretty decent prospect, and a player of his class will surely stand out in the Serbian league, so this would be a great piece of business for Red Star.

Meanwhile, it looks as if Stefan Šćepović of Partizan could be on his way to Spain to join Sporting Gijon. Stefan’s younger brother Marko, also at Partizan, has himself been linked with a transfer to foreign climes, so this is something that might make such a move more likely, although this is very much conjecture.

Interestingly, two Japanese footballers, Keisuke Ogawa and Shohei Okuno, are on trial at Sloboda Užice, a regional club from the west of Serbia.

So, a thrilling round-up there, as you can see. When something more exciting happens, I’ll be sure to let you know. Fingers crossed for the Bramble deal.

Savićević claims he was offered bribe before European Cup final

This isn’t the first time that rumours have emerged of some money being chucked around before the 1991 European Cup final, but the former Red Star and AC Milan winger Dejan Savićević has now claimed that he, Miodrag Belodedić, and Robert Prosinečki were offered 500,000 deutsche marks in order to fix the match. According to Savićević himself, some “agents” were willing to pay that sum in order to ensure the aforementioned players’ co-operation, but received short shrift from the Yugoslav footballers.

Red Star went on to win the final on penalties, but their opposition that night, Bernard Tapie’s Marseille, would go on to “enjoy” having their head honcho exposed as a criminal and a match-fixer. Two seasons later, Marseille were stripped of their 1993 French league win, but not their European triumph of the same year.

In related news, it was today announced that Tapie will have hundreds of millions of euro seized from his bank accounts. Throwing a couple of deutsche marks at a few footballers was the least of his crimes, it seems.

Sources: http://www.b92.net/sport/fudbal/vesti.php?yyyy=2013&mm=07&dd=10&nav_id=731225

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/french-judges-set-to-seize-hundreds-of-millions-of-euros-from-tycoon-bernard-tapie-8701016.html

Titus Bramble to sign for Crvena Zvezda?

According to Serbian news agency B92, there is a possibility that Titus Bramble could be on his way to Belgrade. As noted on the aforementioned agency’s site, Red Star are suffering a pretty gaping lack of central defenders, especially since the departures of Uroš Ćosić and Srđan Mijailović. All things considered though, this would be a pretty regressive step for Zvezda, given their normal focus on youth development (though not to the same extent/success as Partizan) and the age of the player in question.

Much-maligned Titus is not actually as bad a footballer as he’s made out to be, and would probably be one of the best centre-backs in the Serbian league if he did join, but is this a direction in which the club really wants to go? I’m pretty certain that Titus’ wages would be vastly in excess of the average salary in the league, and might be better invested in facilities or an increased youth drive. Considering the nature of Serbian football, Zvezda need to think more about catching Partizan in those departments. In this country, youth development and the reselling of players is the key to financial/footballing success, not the costly import of half-decent defenders in their fourth decade of life.

This would be an expensive and short-sighted fix for a bigger problem, but I wouldn’t put it past the club’s management to use it. That said, it’s more than likely that nothing will come of this, so I should probably stop writing now.

Source: http://www.b92.net/sport/fudbal/vesti.php?yyyy=2013&mm=07&dd=07&nav_id=730110

The curious case of Uroš Mišić and the undercover policeman

Everyone loves a disclaimer, right?: Before we start getting into detail with this article, it’s important to make some things clear. I don’t have an opinion either way on the ‘morality’ – or lack of – shown by all concerned with this case. And I certainly don’t wish to give the impression of casting judgement on anyone involved – that’s not my right. The only thing I do know is that this is an extremely confusing situation, a sinister occurrence surrounded by a grey area of not-insignificant proportion. There are no conclusions drawn or even hinted at in this article. Please bear that in mind when considering what has been written. I don’t want any metaphorical bricks coming through the metaphorical window of my blog’s metaphorical house.

ZANDAR-901-Tanjug-Tanja-ValIf you don’t know who or what Uroš Mišić is or what he did – or is alleged to have done – likeliness is you’re not from Serbia. Uroš Mišić is an ultra fan of Crvena Zvezda (Red Star). In 2007, aged 19, he was involved in an incident at a Zvezda home game, during which he attacked a man later identified publicly as an undercover policeman, Nebojša Trajković. According to reports, Mišić tried to ram a flare into the mouth of the plain-clothed policeman, who was [for some reason] amongst the fans at the match in question. As a result of being charged for this offence, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for attempted murder. However, according to others, namely the Delije and similar fan groups, things are not so clear cut in that regard.

In the aftermath of Mišić’s sentencing, graffiti started appearing all around Belgrade, and elsewhere. Pravda za Uroša, it read. Justice for Uroš. Fans began to protest the decision of the courts, whom they saw as corrupt and protective of ‘their man’ Trajković. These fans did not necessarily call for the freedom of Mišić; there is an acknowledgement (for the most part) that he is guilty of assault or a similar crime. Rather, the appeal was for justice as a result of the perceived harshness and unfairness of the sentence. The basis of the fans’ arguments was thus: can it really be proven conclusively that Mišić was trying to kill Trajković?

The whole furore is entirely bizarre, and pretty much unfathomable. A stream of bluster and misinformation from both sides has made it all but impossible to know who or what to believe. Only a handful of people know exactly what happened, both at the game and in the back-rooms of the courthouse. You can watch the entire incident on YouTube if you so desire, but it wont really help much, such is the chaos of the situation. There are so many bodies and missiles flying about the place it’s not really possible to be clear on what is going on.

trajkovic1

Certainly, it’s obvious that there was an assault on Trajković. The policeman was chased and thrown around the terrace by a group of fans. Isolated against a crowd, he lost his shirt, was punched and kicked repeatedly and pelted with missiles before he eventually managed to scramble over a fence to safety. The uniformed police at the game gave him some support, but appeared unwilling to intervene definitively. At one point, Trajković is seen to have taken out a gun and pointed it both at the fans and into the sky. The images of him wandering around the Sever terraces, dazed from the beating and waving a pistol, are terrifying. Later on, in a truly awful moment, a child approached Trajković, who was still bewilderedly holding his gun in his hand, apparently to plead with the policeman for clemency. Whatever happened, and regardless of subsequent events, the man went through a horrific experience. The video below gives you some idea of the madness that unfolded that day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tLMYP-x2cE

In the end, Mišić served five-and-a-bit years of his sentence before being released thanks to an amnesty. Shortly after his release, Mišić was once again in the eye of the courts, this time because of an alleged assault on two US marines in a Belgrade nightclub. He was acquitted.

All in all, it’s hard to know what to make of the Mišić-Trajković case. Mišić is certainly no angel, and I’m of the belief that assault of any kind is completely wrong (shocker, right?), but something doesn’t quite add up about the whole situation. For one thing, what on earth was an armed undercover policeman doing amongst the supporters at a Zvezda match? As pointed out elsewhere, there are twenty cameras in the stadium: why the need for such up-close supervision? Was some kind of sting operation underway? And if so, what was the nature of this?

uros-misic-1354657439-237349Surely, in a case of alleged attempted murder, there can be no room for doubt when it comes to passing judgement? Was the evidence overwhelmingly against Mišić, or was there ambiguity? If the latter, then what does that say about the final verdict? Pictures show Mišić assaulting Trajković with a flare, but the allegation was that he tried to insert it into the policeman’s mouth. Is this true? Possibly. I have no idea. And that’s kind of the point, really. There’s too much information flying about. A veritable shit-storm of propaganda has been excreted by both parties, leaving us with many more questions than answers.

It’s possible that both Mišić and Trajković have been wronged. The former may have been treated harshly with regard to the nature of the sentence he received, but the latter certainly didn’t deserve to be set upon by a group of men. Thus the question is begged: ultimately, was justice done? Honestly, I don’t know. And neither do you, probably. If you do, tell me. One thing, though, is certain: this was some fucked up shit all round.

Benfica jerseys selling well in Belgrade

Lazar Markovic - at Benfica, but for how long?

Lazar Markovic – at Benfica, but for how long?

Kids are generally a decent barometer when it comes to flavour-of-the-month football support. This month alone – yes, July –  I have seen from the balcony of my apartment at least three youngsters clad in the bright red of Portugal’s Benfica. The flat happens to overlook a courtyard in which countless ad-hoc football matches take place between kids from the neighbourhood. Chelsea and Man Utd shirts – usually fake – are the most common attire, but recently the SLB encarnado has become a viable option for the youth unsure of which foreign side to ‘represent’.

Why, I hear you ask?

Well, it’s quite simple really. Benfica have quite a lot of Serbian players – six in the first team at the last count – including ex-Partizan golden boy Lazar Marković. Apologies for the patronising tone if you already knew this. Alongside Lazar, Chelsea cast-off Nemanja Matić (and his brother Uroš), up-and-coming hipster-darling Filip Đuričić, surprise addition Stefan Mitrović, and the under-appreciated Miralem Sulejmani should all start next season on the Portuguese team’s books.

Regardless of whether or not this mini-community gets much time on the pitch together at the Stadium of Light, it’s always nice to see a Wenger-esque gathering of players from one particular nation. Furthermore, supporters of both Benfica and Serbia should be encouraged that these young(ish) talents will be training together on a regular basis, something which can only bode well. That is, unless they all end up on loan at various obscure footballing outposts.

It’s also interesting as to just why this little group grew. Some will point to the apparent involvement of Pini Zahaivi with Serbian football, Partizan, and Marković in particular, but it’s possible that this was simply an organic gathering of talent brought toge… er … fate … er … indeed.

Anyway, the fake-shirt dealers around Serbia appear to be keyed in to the Benfica-love currently spreading around Belgrade. I expect to see new batches of those red jerseys on sale in more and more ‘outlets’ around the city as time goes by. But for those of you scoffing at this fairweatherish brand of fandom, I need only remind you of the scores of Sunderland kits that magically appeared on the streets of Dublin and Cork in the aftermath of the establishment of the Keane-Quinn axis in north-east England.

Managing Belgrade’s giants not for the faint of heart

Sa Pinto

Sa Pinto, former coach of Red Star

One of European football’s most iconic derbies is the Belgrade derby between Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) and Partizan. If any footballing encounter merits the employment of stock sporting adjectives such as ‘pulsating’ or ‘gripping,’ it is the game branded the Večiti derbi.

This year, the contest was rendered all the more intriguing by the fact that the match itself could conceivably have decided the winners of Serbia’s Super Liga. In recent times, Partizan have dominated football in the capital; however, having coasted for most of the 2012/13 season, the previously gaping chasm opened up between them and their greatest rivals was narrowed to just two points after the winter break. Zvezda’s revival seemingly coincided with the appointment of Sá Pinto, who replaced Aleksandar Janković in March of this year, though whether or not the former Sporting coach was directly responsible for the upsurge in form is a matter for debate. Nevertheless, had Zvezda gone on to win the race for league honours, Pinto would have presided over an astonishing comeback. Vladimir Vermezović, Partizan’s coach for much of the season, now finds himself jobless, having been replaced by Vuk Rašović at the end of April.

In the end, Partizan managed to hold off the challenge of Zvezda and Sá Pinto – both in the Derby and in the league – a fact which in turn may have contributed to the Portuguese coach’s decision to quit the Marakana. Had Zvezda won the league, the club hierarchy may have been more willing to take on board Pinto’s ‘suggestions’ for the future direction of the team. As it was, Pinto departed Belgrade a frustrated figure, after just three months in the job.

Pinto’s brief reign and the fate of Vermezović serve to highlight the culture of short-termism that pervades the managerial setup of both of Belgrade’s big two. Since 2005, Partizan have had nine managers – including the uncontested king of hangdog, Avram Grant – whilst Red Star have enjoyed the fleeting presences of no less than fifteen head coaches in that same period – including great names such as Walter Zenga, Zdenek Zeman, and Robert Prosinečki.

Although it’s tempting to say that the management culture at Partizan and Zvezda has become fickle thanks to the impatience of modern football, in truth this has always been the case. In the history of Partizan, only two managers have ever lasted five years or more in one spell at the club – Illes Spitz and Ljubiša Tumbaković. Yes, that’s right, two managers. Interestingly, the same applies to Red Star, with Miša Pavić and Miljan Miljanić being the longest-serving coaches of the crveno-beli. Zvevda made up for a foolish period of managerial stability in the fifties, sixties, and early seventies with a quite astonishingly prolific hiring-and-firing policy from the nineties onwards. Whilst they boast twelve sacked managers in that decade, the 2000s were perhaps their most efficiently trigger-happy years – between 2000 and 2009, fifteen managers took charge of the team. It appears as if this chaotic approach is set to continue into this decade. The new head on the chopping block is the ex-Slovenia coach Slaviša Stojanović. How long would you bet on him lasting?

It’s hard to say just why these clubs are so promiscuous. Some will point to the looming spectre of what’s known as the ‘Balkan mentality’ – a lack of patience, an impulsive nature – but that’s something that can’t be quantified. Most likely, it’s quite simply the culture of the clubs, the ‘nature of the beast’, a systematically-ingrained tendency to dish out the P45 at the first sign of failure. Club politics in Serbia tend to be quite volatile and changeable, as is the case elsewhere, meaning that managers are often the most readily available scapegoat or the lingering, unwanted remnant of a previous regime.

Whatever the case may be, this doesn’t look like something that’s going to change any time soon. There wont be an Arsene Wenger or an Alex Ferguson at either of Belgrade’s big two; quite frankly, no-one will get the time.

Mitrović not yet an Arsenal player

Aleksandar Mitrović

Despite being strongly linked over the past few weeks with a move to Arsenal, FK Partizan’s young centre-forward Aleksandar Mitrović may remain on the Belgrade side’s books for at least another season.

The player himself has stated, via Twitter, that ‘contact’ had been made between Arsenal and his club, but clarified that no deal was agreed upon. Furthermore, Partizan’s president, Dragan Đurić, has affirmed that Mitrović will not be permitted to sign for the North London club.

‘There is no chance that we will sell Aleksandar Mitrović this summer. I think it’s time to put an end to that story. The only possibility this summer is that Marko Ščepović will go abroad.’

Temporarily at least, Đurić’s statement seems to have put paid to speculation regarding the 19-year-old’s immediate future. However, it remains to be seen whether or not – or, perhaps more accurately, for how long – Partizan can hold on to a player who has impressed greatly over the past year or so.

Mitrović, an agile and aggressive punta, has recently been called-up to Serbia’s senior national team by Siniša Mihajlović. A long-standing lack of quality amongst Serbian centre-forwards means that Mitrović is already being tipped to become the nation’s next regular ‘number nine.’

As a result of his progression, the man from Smederevo has been mentioned in connection with several reputed clubs from around Europe. Aside from Arsenal, other interested parties are thought to include Serie A runners-up Napoli, Dutch heavyweights Ajax and PSV, and Portuguese champions FC Porto.

Only time will reveal how much longer Mitrović continues to ply his trade in Belgrade, and whether or not the words of Dragan Đurić are anything other than a bargaining ploy. As with most things transfer-related, the only thing to do is wait and see.

(Sources: b92.net)