Sumeet PaulComment

FROM BELGRADE, WITH LOVE

Sumeet PaulComment

There are certain clubs for whom turmoil is never far away.....

Ten points clear of their bitter city rivals atop the Serbian SuperLiga, and currently on a thirteen game winning streak stretching back to late August, it would appear all is particularly well at Partizan Belgrade. However, despite being in search of a record fifth successive league title, the giants of Serbian football are currently embroiled in an off-the-field civil war. A managing director has been sacked, the chairman has been accused of not having the club’s best interests at heart, while the coach unofficially resigned from his position as a result of the chaos before reportedly reversing his decision before being replaced. In a city where vigorous passion and football go hand-in-hand, what does the future hold for FK Partizan?

“He has been relieved of his duties because of serious violations of his duties and unprofessional conduct. He was given a chance to apologise for his outrageous remarks and he gave us no choice after refusing to adhere.” The man in question is one Mladen Krstajic. Fresh from captaining the club to their 23rd league title last season, he was appointed as managing director last summer. Despite early warning signs, where Krstajic suggests a meeting was held in September to discuss the possibility of ousting Coach Aleksandar Stanojevic, a fateful night in August saw them eliminated from the Europa League qualifiers by Irish part-timers Shamrock Rovers. Under a constant barrage of criticism from Chairman Dragan Djuric, directed not only at him but also Coach Stanojevic, Krstajic’s patience grew thin until he eventually replied with an offensive of his own last month. Accusations were levelled at Djuric over not only the use of revenue gained from selling some of the club’s most prized assets, including Stefan Savic’s £6 million move to Manchester City, but also income generated from previous European campaigns. Blame was publicly placed at the door of the Chairman for failing to deliver for the club and instead seeking personal gain, and when Krstajic refused to grant the wishes of the Board of directors and publically apologise for the accusations, Djuric’s reaction was swift.

The plot thickens. “If Krstajic is sacked and Stanojevic follows him by quitting, I will do the same. We are the children of Partizan and we are working in the best interest of the club. Partizan has given us all – more than we can ever repay it” was the view of academy coach Vuk Rasovic ahead of the sacking. It appeared to have opened up a Pandora’s Box of problems at the club, with the players then threatening to turn their backs on the Chairman by refusing to attend a scheduled meeting at the Zemunello training base. Furthermore, rumours circulated that Krstajic will lead a faction of board members at the scheduled club Assembly meeting in early February, where he will attempt to impeach Djuric and his supporters. Krstajic himself has pleaded with both coaches to remain in their current positions for the well-being of the club, while also suggesting that Djuric should address the fans and perhaps resign himself, something he doesn’t expect to happen. The ominous silence from Djuric’s camp suggests the chairman has plans of his own.

Coach Stanojevic intimated during his winter break holiday that he was ‘the former coach’ and that ‘chairman Djuric should consider his own resignation if he truly loves Partizan’. Stanojevic was expected back from holiday last Thursday where it was to become clear as to whether he would remain in his position as coach of Partizan. Daily Serbian newspaper Blic reported that the board of directors were set to scrutinise the Coach’s contract and the club’s regulations in order to pin a breach on Stanojevic, who is without the support of his ‘ally’ Krstajic. Conflicting opinion suggested that the media were causing controversy where there was none, with the Board previously going public in their support of their now former coach. Elsewhere, rumours link former player Mateja Kezman as Djuric’s next sporting director, the former Chelsea striker is still a hugely popular figure amongst Partizan fans and would therefore represent the ideal tactical move for the somewhat unpopular Chairman.

In such situations, questions are normally asked as to whether off-field matters affect the players, in the case of Nikola Aksentijevic, it most certainly has. The 18-year-old was unceremoniously told to leave his apartment ahead of the New Year after being told the club had not paid his rent for four months. “I packed my things and left the apartment. The owner where I lived came and told me to leave because the club did not fulfil obligations to him. I do not understand why nothing has been done, and I know there are more players who are in a similar situation.”  It’s incredible to imagine such a situation for the youngster could arise, at a club with the stature of Partizan, who are clearly on the brink of turmoil.

For a club which has dominated Serbian football in recent years and to whom success has become part of its tradition, they now face the very real danger of suffering severe upheaval as they enter the second half of the season in March. “I am proud after all of this has transpired. My conscience is clear and I can look anyone in the eye. I didn’t apologise to the board members and the chairman because I have character.” While Krstajic may well have Partizan in his heart, Partizan have now removed Stanojevic as coach, and replaced him with former Chelsea boss Avram Grant. With just over a month and a half to go before the resumption of the Super Liga, it’s a safe bet to assume we haven’t heard the last from FK Partizan.

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