International aspirations are one thing, but get the basics wrong.....
And to think people were angry with Roberto Mancini when he waved an imaginary card asking for a player to be sent off. Macedonian coach Gjore Jovanovski wants every footballer off the field of play… for five long years. Jovanovski stunned the assembled media in his December press conference as manager of Macedonian top flight side Rabotnicki, by proposing football in the country be abandoned for half a decade until conditions improved.
"At this moment, my opinion is that the conditions for football in Macedonia are catastrophic,” explained Jovanovski. “There is nowhere to play, to change, or to take a shower, and I don't even want to speak about some of the other European norms. What I have said is nothing new, many people around the game know of these problems but someone had to say it because under these conditions, the football in Macedonia will never move forward.”
The 55-year-old former Yugoslav international added: "All of us who are working in football, including me, will lose a lot from such a decision to suspend football activities for five years, but if nothing gets done, things will only worsen and that will hurt the future generations."
The statement wasn’t exactly warmly received. Two weeks later Jovanovski was sacked. Rabotnicki president Dragan Popovski told the club’s official website: “As the president of the club, I was satisfied with his work. However, the differences about the work conditions were very big and that is the reason we have agreed to stop the cooperation.”
Jovanovski may have been ushered towards the exit door but as much as some in Macedonia would wish to dismiss his comments as those of a rambling old fool, many in the country are left wondering whether his points are valid. Filip Zdraveski, editor of the website Macedonian Football, certainly feels there is some truth in Jovanovski’s words.
“Sadly, Gjore's wish won't be realised,” said Zdraveski. “But honestly, many of the things he said are right. Many think Macedonia must ban football because of the very bad infrastructure. In many of the stadiums, the grass looks more like a field for corn than for football. I wouldn't ban football, but something must be done.”
The problems run deeper than a few broken shower taps. The decrepit facilities only hint at the wider malaise - a lack of funding that leaves Macedonian football ripe for corruption.
In 2010 the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld UEFA’s eight-year Europe-wide ban on erstwhile Macedonian champions FK Pobeda Prilep for their match-fixing role in a Champions League tie back in 2004. Club president Aleksandar Zabrcanec was also banned from football for life as part of the proceedings. A worrying state of affairs in itself given Zabrcanec is the brother-in-law and former business partner of Haralampie Hadzi-Risteski, the current president of the Football Federation of Macedonia (FFM).
Despite his links to Pobeda and allegations of a commercial stake in a betting company, Hadzi-Risteski survived the club’s collapse to win re-election as FFM president. Indeed, his re-election prompted two top-flight clubs, Makedonija Gjorce Petrov and Sloga Jugomagnat, to boycott all FFM competitions and they were subsequently expelled from the league. As a result, the First Macedonian Football League currently plods on without three of its eight champions.
And yet, worse could be yet to come. A thorough clean-up operation may have dire consequences. Milorad Stojmanovski, Macedonian journalist and World Soccer correspondent, points out: “If every football club declared its income, paid the taxes on players’ salaries and the use of sports facilities, it could generate a steep fall of as much as 50% in the number of registered clubs in Macedonia.”
Jovanovski’s views have cost him his job. He offered an extreme and unpalatable solution to the country’s desperate problems. But the more you delve into Macedonian football, the more you end up thinking the offbeat coach’s proposal is not quite as outlandish as it sounds. And for football in Macedonia, perhaps that’s the most worrying thought of all.