For a long time, the scouting networks of most European giants have concentrated on the talent coming out of the youth academies in South America, in particular Brazil and Argentina, and Northern and Western Europe. But now the lesser known teams from the East are catching up with their Western counterparts and leading the stake in churning out wonder-kids is Serbia.
Since the break up of Yugoslavia, Serbian football has been plagued by a host of problems including lack of financial resources, racism and hooliganism. But the Vidic’s move to Manchester United has triggered a chain of transfers resulting in several Serbian U-21 and U-17 level players being exported from the national league to bigger clubs. Here’s a look at some of the most exciting prospects coming out of Serbian football.
1. Adem Ljajic
At the age of just 16, ‘Bambi’ had lucrative offers from clubs like Inter Milan, Spartak Moscow and Ajax. However, he decided to continue in the Serbian league as he wanted ‘to give something back to a club that gave him everything’.
Bestowed with the nickname “Little Kaka”, the teenage sensation was brought to the world’s attention when Manchester United secured the then 17 years old’s services. The deal however collapsed and the player has since moved on to Fiorentina.
A product of the Partizan Belgrade youth system, he’s considered among the brightest young talents in Europe. The attacking mid-fielder is blessed with excellent vision and complete technique. He can also be used on the right-wing given his pace and dribbling ability. With a strong character and a will to learn, it’s only a matter of time before he makes news again for his ability rather than his transfer controversy.
2. Danijel Aleksi
A player who managed to earn himself a cap for the national team before he celebrated his 17th birthday would have to have some special talent. He made an astronomical rise from the U-17 level to the senior level in the year 2008, playing at the U-19 and U-21 levels as well, all in the same calendar year. He is the first player to do so.
Technically brilliant and well rounded off, the striker attracted the attention of clubs like Arsenal, Real Madrid and Villarreal but preferred a move to Eredivise or Bundesliga as the first step of his career. However, he finally decided to join Manchester City after a trial at the club, but the deal collapsed due to work-permit problems. Ultimately he was signed by Serie A outfit Genoa in January 2010 and the player expressed a sense of relief as the uncertainty over his future had been resolved. Onto the football field now!
3. Slobodan Rajkovic
Having made his club debut at just 15 for OFK Beograd, the defender nicknamed “The Big Man” was signed by Chelsea for 5.2m euros, a record fee for a player below 17 years of age. Initially on loan to PSV Eindhoven, he failed to gain much first team experience there due to lack of playing time. He was then loaned out to FC Twente.
Widely touted as ‘the next Nemanja Vidic’, his progress has somewhat been hampered by controversy. Banned for a year for supposedly spitting at the referee at the Olympics, he appealed to FIFA maintaining that he was innocent. His punishment was later reduced to a ban from only international matches. He is now continuing his progress at FC Twente and his loan deal has been extended till June 2010.
4. Nikon Jevtic
Describing his attributes in words would in-fact be doing injustice to his incredible talent. Just take a look at the videos circulating on the internet showing the player at his breath-taking best at a tender age of 11, which left even Sir Alex Ferguson in awe of him. He even tried to sign him before FC Shalke 04 swooped in for the 14 year old prodigy in 2008.
One of the most desired talents in the world of football; he was previously signed by Valencia at the age of just 11 and has also featured for the Stuttgart and Austria Vienna youth teams. A sensational dribbler, he can use both feet well and is amazingly composed when on the ball. Honored with the nickname of “El Maestro” by the media, he is known to have scored six goals against the Stuttgart U-15 team, at the age of just 10!
5. Alen Stevanovic
This 18 year old (born to a Swiss immigrant father) has been dubbed the “Serbian Zidane” by the media, some indication how highly he is rated. He was snapped up by Inter at the age of just 18 after having played for FK Radnički Obrenovac and Radnički Novi Beograd in Serbia. The ambitious teenager who earlier rejected offers from Sampdoria and Torino knowing that a bigger club would come knocking on his door, has already expressed his desire to feature more often for the Inter first team after having made his debut against Siena on 9th January.
6. Neven Subotic
Subotic is a 21-year-old defender who currently plays for Borussia Dortmund in Germany. He began his professional career with Mainz and caught the eye of the bigger clubs with some excellent performances in the 2007-08 season. The following summer, his manager at Mainz took up the job at Borussia Dortmund and was the main reason behind Subotic’s move to the same club.
Subotic’s first season there was a massive success and his mature performances cemented his status as the biggest defensive prospect in Germany. A debut for the national team followed as he came on as a substitute in a World Cup qualifier against Romania in March 2009. He came under criticism in the Serbian media as his performances for the national team didn’t match his club level performances but the youngster is improving all the time and is certainly a future star.
A tall, imposing figure at the heart of the defense, the 6ft 4 inch player is strong in the air and a good reader of the game. With Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal all linked to the player, the likelihood of him remaining at his current club are remote, especially as he is expected to feature in the World Cup.
7. Filip Djuricic
At the age of 16 Red Star Belgrade were offering to pay him a higher salary than any other player in their squad as the player was considered the brightest talent coming out of Serbia along with Ljajic and Aleksic. Now 18, the central mid-fielder has moved to SC Heerenveen, after having a trial with Manchester United and a spell at Greek club Olympiacos. He has a goal every two games ratio for the Serbian U-17’s and captains the team.
8. Nemanja Matic
The 6 feet 4 inches tall Serbian international was signed by Chelsea in 2009 from Kosice, where he had spent three previous years. He made his Premier League debut on November 21, 2009 coming on in the 4-0 win over Wolverhampton. Physically strong and technically gifted, the left footed playmaker should have no problems settling into life at Chelsea with colleague Ivanovic there to help him.
Despite the obstacles, Serbian football has manager to produce a host of youngsters who are touted as the brightest talents for the future and have European giants queuing up for their signature. Serbia is currently top of their group in the European U19 Championship and the U21 team was the runners up in the FIFA U21 World Cup in 2007. The performance of youth teams is ample proof that Serbian football is heading in the right direction.