BELGRADE: After stating that the “the FSS [the Serbian FA] showed a lot of initiative,” the well-traveled Dutch manager Dick Advocaat has decided that his next job will be in Belgrade. His main mission will be to guide Serbia to Euro 2016 in France.
The last time a foreigner coached the national side, Serbia didn’t make it to any major tournament while dropping points against Armenia and Finland and suffering an embarrassing loss to Kazakhstan in the process. The Spaniard at the helm from 2006 to 2007, Javier Clemente, was relieved of his duties after failing to reach Euro 2008. Although he tried to reshuffle the side, ditching familiar faces like Savo Milosevic and Mateja Kezman for a newer crop of players like Danko Lazovic and Marko Pantelic, the results never arrived. With Serbia out of the last two major soccer tournaments in Euro 2012 and the recent World Cup, Advocaat has a job to do.
He will be replacing Ljubinko Drulovic, who was appointed caretaker manager after outspoken coach and former national team regular Sinisa Mihajlovic quit to take over the reins at Serie A club Sampdoria. To Mihajlovic’s own admission, his stint at the national helm was experimental. In his first match for Serbia against then European and World champions Spain, Mihajlovic introduced four debutants, left out regulars like Zdravko Kuzmanovic and Milan Jovanovic, and the average age of his squad was a tender 23 years of age. Many young Serbian talents, such as new Liverpool acquisition Lazar Markovic, were given their debuts under Mihajlovic.
Despite Mihajlovic’s risky selection of youngsters, he admitted when he took the job that if he did not reach the World Cup Finals he would resign, and this is where Dick Advocaat enters the picture. Drulovic, who was coaching Serbia’s U-19s before becoming acting manager, continued Mihajlovic’s test-and-try approach by fielding youngsters. As Advocaat steps into the frame, the lights are dimming for veterans of the national side like Vladimir Stojkovic and Zoran Tosic, and he will need to make the decision to axe the lot completely, or to give them a run for their money.
Some experienced regulars like Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic — the most obvious choice to be made captain — and Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov will most likely remain mainstays, but national side under-performers like BVB Dortmund’s Neven Subotic and Internazionale’s Zdravko Kuzmanovic may face stiff opposition for their respective roles from the up and coming youngsters. It would make most sense to solidify the positions of striker and playmaker in Lazar Markovic and Dusan Tadic, and then permanently choose his central midfielders, with Nemanja Matic of Chelsea one definite option, with his partner most likely Nemanja Gudelj, who was made AZ Alkmaar skipper by none other than ex-AZ manager Advocaat himself.
Like Gudelj, Dusan Tadic — who has recently signed for Southampton AFC under another Dutchman in Ronald Koeman — has plied his trade in the Dutch Eredivisie for the past four seasons: with FC Groningen and most recently FC Twente. Proven to be the best satellite league for younger footballers, the Eredivisie has no shortage of Serbian players, with the current crop almost entirely featuring for Serbia at youth level.