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.