Dejan Savicevic is the man charged with leading Serbia and Montenegro into a bri
Dejan Savicevic is the man charged with leading Serbia and Montenegro into a bright new era and on Tuesday evening at the Walkers Stadium, he is hoping to oversee their first-ever international victory on the football field...
The players may be the same, the coach is certainly the same and the supporters have not changed, but England's opponents in their friendly this week are not Yugoslavia, but Serbia and Montenegro.
Following the United Nations' decision to ratify the countries new name, and its acceptance by the governing bodies of both World and European football, FIFA and UEFA respectively, Serbia and Montenegro played their first ever international fixture on the 12th February 2003, against Azerbaijan in a EURO 2004 qualifier in Podgorica, and so laying the name Yugoslavia to rest.
In fact, it will be a first time for many things in Leicester on Tuesday night, what with it being the first international fixture to be staged at the 32,500 capacity Walkers stadium, the first time that England have played Serbia and Montenegro and, having drawn with Azerbaijan and lost consecutive friendlies to Bulgaria (1-2) and in Bremen to Germany (1-0), possibly also the first time that this newly-formed nation have won a football match.
Savicevic was in charge for Yugoslavia's final match as a nation, having initially been appointed as temporary coach in May 2001 while still playing with SK Rapid Wien, as well as for Serbia and Montenegro's first and he is someone who, during an illustrious playing career, had more than his fair share of experience of upheaval and turmoil, followed by fresh chapters and new beginnings.
He began his playing career as a 15-year-old in the youth team of his local club OFK Totograd, before making his debut in the Prva Savezna liga with FK Buducnost Podgorica and in 1986 he made his international debut in a 4-0 win against Turkey. Inevitably, the giants of Yugoslav football at that time, FK Crvenza Zvezda, also more commonly known as Red Star Belgrade, bought the playmaker in 1988 and for the next four years a Savicevic-inspired Crvenza Zvezda dominated both at home and abroad.
With Savicevic the driving force, Crvenza Zvezda won three straight Yugoslav first division titles (1990-92), the Yugoslavian Cup in 1990 and 1992 and then alongside other greats such as Robert Prosinecki, Sinisa Mihaijlovic, Vladimir Jugovic and Darko Pancev, European football's premier club competition, the European Champion Clubs' Cup on 29 May 1991, by overcoming Chris Waddle's Marseille on penalties in Bari.
However, by the time the European champions had beaten Chile's CSD Colo Colo 3-0 in the Toyota Cup to officially become the best club team in world football the following December, war had erupted in Croatia and as UN sanctions took hold, all Yugoslavian teams were excluded from UEFA competitions between 1993 and 1997.
Savicevic and Co upped sticks and left for pastures new, which in his case meant the lure of AC Milan and San Siro, while all the transfer fees that Crvena Zvezda received for their generation of stars were frozen due to UN sanctions.
The Rossoneri had noticed Savicevic's vast array of skills in a European Cup encounter with Crvena Zvezda in 1989/90 and although only scoring 20 goals in 97 Serie A games between 1992 and 1998, he still became known as 'the genius of Milan' during his time in Italy, winning three Scudetto's, the European Super Cup and for a second time in his career, the European Cup in 1994 in what was Savicevic's greatest-ever performance on a football field for club or country.
On a barmy May evening in front of 70,000 spectators at the Spiros Louis stadium in Athens, the Yugoslav was the catalyst behind Milan's extraordinary 4-0 win over Johan Cruyff's favourites, Barcelona. The undoubted man-of-the-match created the opening goal on a plate for striker Daniele Massaro, before killing the Catalans off two minutes after half-time with one of the most memorable goals ever to be scored in a European Cup final, a lob from the right-hand touchline that sailed over the head of an astonished Andoni Zubizarreta in the Spaniards' goal.
Unfortunately, that night in Greece represented the pinnacle of Savicevic's club career and he fell out with coach Fabio Capello, although as a testament to his popularity and influence within the Giuseppe Meazza, it was the former Milan player and coaching great who was asked to leave the club by president Silvio Berlusconi, who rumour has it could not stand to see Savicevic's talents wasting away on the substitutes bench. In the end, he left Milan to rejoin Crvenza Zvezda for a season in 1998/99, before ending his playing career with Rapid between 1999 and 2001.
Internationally he represented Yugoslavia on 56 occasions over a 12-year period although interestingly, despite the two countries last meeting at Wembley in 1989, never in a match against England. Savicevic scored 19 goals and delighted global audiences with his skill and technique at both the 1990 and 1998 World Cup finals, although his country always flattered to deceive by never getting beyond the quarter-finals, while he and his compatriots were also denied a stab at becoming champions of Europe in 1992 due to the outbreak of war in Croatia, with eventual winners Denmark ironically replacing them at the last minute.
Savicevic temporarily took over the national coaching reigns from Milovan Djoric two summers ago with a brief of guiding Yugoslavia to the Far East for the 2002 World Cup, but not even with the experience of the legendary Vujadin Boskov to fall back on in a three-man coaching team, could he accomplish that feat.
In December 2001 Yugoslav Football Association president Dragan Stojkovic then appointed his former international team-mate to the post until June 2002 with the following words of praise ringing in his ear: ''He has shown that he is brave, devoted to football and prepared to take over responsible jobs. I am certain that our national team is in safe hands'' and this despite him having no coaching qualifications or experience at the time of his appointment.
The unfeasibly young 36-year-old could not be blamed for failing to take Yugoslavia to the World Cup, as he took over a sinking ship, however he proceeded to surprise everyone by agreeing to guide the team to Euro 2004, especially after saying in December 2001 that "I don't want to do this job forever. I'm filling a blank until we find a real solution." And it is the European Championships in Portugal next summer that are his No 1 target, hence Tuesday's friendly with England.
Both countries are using the game as ideal preparation for upcoming qualifiers, which in the visitors' case means tricky trips to Finland and Azerbaijan this Saturday and a week on Wednesday respectively. Serbia and Montenegro currently lie third in Group Nine behind surprise leaders Wales and favourites Italy, in second, although if they were to win their game in hand on their higher-placed rivals against Finland in Helsinki, then they would move up to second place, a point above the Azzurri and four adrift of Mark Hughes' men.
But, following his countries last three games, none of which they have won, including a disastrous 2-2 home draw with Azerbaijan, Savicevic announced: ''I have to make changes. A friendly match is the best way to do that'', and that is what many believe he will do on Tuesday against England.
As a result, and with Yugoslavia set to play three matches in the space of just nine days, the coach has called up defenders Slobodan Markovic and Dragan Mladenovic for the very first time and could take a look at the pair against Sven-Göran Eriksson's side. However, Nikola Lazetic, Dejan Stankovic, Ivica Dragutinovic and Eredivisie top scorer Mateja Kezman are all absent from the 24-man squad assembled to face the Three Lions.
"The two newcomers have been in excellent form with their clubs," Savicevic explained, "and I need them as replacements for Stankovic and Lazetic. We have three matches in nine days and I have to make provisions against injuries. Against England, I will give a chance to almost all the players, and then it will become clear who will make the starting eleven for the group games.
by Richard Morgan
Serbia and Montenegro squad
Jevric, Zilic, Njegus, Markovic, Mirkovic, Djordjevic, Vidic, Mihajlovic, Gavrancic, Krstajic, Stefanovic, Malbasa, Dmitrovic, Trobok, Duljaj, N Kovacevic, Ilic, Mladenovic, Vukic, Boskovic, Mijatovic, Milosevic, D Kovacevic, Jestrovic.
England v Serbia and Montenegro: Match Centre