Serbian 2011/12 Superliga Preview

by Sasa Ibrulj

Robert Prosinečki could be the savior of Serbian football. It sounds exaggerated, but not that far away from truth. The Croatian, who is now the manager of once European champions Red Star Belgrade, depends in which direction the new season of the Serbian Super league, which starts this weekend, will head. To add another sequel of Partizan domination or finally end Zvezda’s four years of agony.

Unfortunately, even now it is more than obvious that a third candidate for the title race doesn’t exist. Serbia has lacked that for decades and their national league is, in the best possible case, just a dead race between the two biggest clubs; Partizan and Zvezda. But, in the last four years, Partizan have deprived us of any excitement in the title race with their domination.

This season’s favorite is the same. Partizan, like most of the Balkan clubs, bases its financial situation on selling the best players. Playing Champions League football was just a mere shop window for the club and its players. They sold eleven players this year – the first was Cleo during the season, and than Savic to Man City, Petrović to Blackburn, Fejsa to Olympiacos, Smiljanić to Espanyol, Tagoe back to Hoffenheim and Krstajić retired. Those are just a handful of names among many. Although the good news for the Black and Whites is the fact that with that money, around €20 million, they are by far the richest club in the country. Logically, they were buying the most, and young coach Aleksandar Stanojević is convinced that they still have a team good enough to beat Red Star and win the title.

Their biggest hope is Eduardo, the newcomer from Brazil, who in European matches this season showed some solid performances. Anderson is another Brazilian who could be a very important part of Partizan team, while Ivanov and Rnić have also been added to already experienced players such as Stojković, Ilić or Vukić. Also, Stanojević could once again give a chance to youngsters like Marković or Ninković, whom they consider as the future of Partizan.

The city rivals Red Star started with their long-term project of bringing down the king from the throne last winter.  The ace up their sleeve was Robert Prosinečki, who who had no managing experience before this. But he instantly announced his ambition to win a title, and not only that, he promised a “new” Zvezda, with a different, prettier style of game. And to be honest, Zvezda indeed looked different compared to their football under Prosicecki’s predecessors. But, they are still missing constants. Nevertheless, it was long time since we witnessed such optimism at Marakana. The reason is obviously Prosinečki. Everybody likes him – the board, the players and the fans. But, the thing is, here in the Balkans the rise is fast, but the fall is much faster.

The team lost a few important players during the transfer window, but after the arrivals of Kovačević (Lens), Mezenga (Flamengo) and Savio, together with important players from last season (Kaluđerović, Tošić, Borja, Addy or Cadu), Prosinečki is arguably right in calling this side better in comparison to last season’s. At this moment, Zvezda looks like the team with “the head and the tail”, as Balkans phrase it, but we will have to wait for the answer on whether or not they’re good enough to replace Partizan. The lack of financial power and constant battle with Serbian FA officials doesn’t seem to help…

The rest of the league? Sorry. It’d be nice to use this piece at the end of the season as proof of our mistake, but it doesn’t sound like it. The two Belgrade-based clubs are the Serbian league for now. The rest are forced to sell everything that worth anything. The most serious example is FK Vojvodina. For years the Novi Sad side have been trying to jeopardize Belgrade domination, but they are always one step away.

Many other clubs brag about huge ambitions, but in reality, it is hard to realize who really has enough strength to take the European spots. OFK Belgrade, Spartak Subotica, Rad, maybe Borac, but time will tell. The twentieth edition of the Serbian league, since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, will be marked with new rule. The clubs are now allowed to send only four foreigners onto the pitch. No doubt that we can expect a lot of changes. Already eleven (out of sixteen) teams have replaced their coaches. That is how things are here in the Balkans. The lack 0f continuity is the big issue in our football. Except when it comes to winning the league – in nineteen years only Obilić, lead by war criminal Željko Ražnatović Arkan, managed to get in front of Partizan and Zvezda and win a title. It was twelve years ago, and since than, beside Partizan and Zvezda, only two clubs have won some silverware – the domestic cup. It’s a two-club race.

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