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 Vladimir Vermezović, Partizan’s coach for much of the season, now finds himself jobless, having been replaced by Vuk Rašović at the end of April.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.