At the tender age of just 20, Neven Subotic already rates as one of Europe’s most promising and capable centre-backs. The talented stopper, who was raised in the USA but hails from Banja Luka in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, broke into the big time at the start of this season with Borussia Dortmund, where a string of commanding displays in the first half of term earned rave notices.
Unsurprisingly, the national associations in Bosnia, the USA and Serbia all sat up and took notice of the likeable youngster. As Subotic’ international experience thus far was confined to the USA U-17s, he was eligible to appear at senior level for all three countries. At the end of the day, he opted for Serbia, as he explained to FIFA.com: "Serbia is my home country. My parents are Serbs, and the Serbs are my people. I didn’t decide against the USA or Bosnia, I chose in favour of Serbia."
The defender’s great day arrived last Saturday, when he earned his first full international cap in Serbia’s 3-2 win away to Romania in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying. Coach Radomir Antic sent on the Dortmund starlet 24 minutes from the end, where he seized the opportunity to showcase his burgeoning talent alongside established stars such as Nemanja Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic.
However, the 20-year-old remains both modest and realistic, acknowledging the intense battle for places in the national team. "I’m just starting out, and I’ve only been part of the set-up a couple of times. But we have an excellent team, especially at centre-back. Nemanja Vidic of Manchester United and Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea are both outstanding players. My decision to play for Serbia came from the heart, so the question of potential rivals for your position had nothing to do with it. You play for your country, not for yourself," Subotic told FIFA.com.
Serbia could hardly be better placed in the battle for places in South Africa next year. The east Europeans lead Group 7 by three points from Lithuania, with France fully five points back in third, although the 2006 runners-up have a game in hand.
"It’s gone brilliantly for us so far. If you’re top of the group, you’re obviously doing something right. We need to stick to the task and continue to perform. We definitely have a great team, and we definitely belong at the World Cup," the Borussia defender confidently stated.
Serbia supremo Antic knew what he was doing when he drafted Subotic into his squad. The 60-year-old maestro cannot help but have been impressed by the player’s fine form in the first half of the Bundesliga campaign, where he featured in all 17 matches for his club, setting remarkable standards at the back, and contributing five goals into the bargain. The 1.93m man has slightly gone off the boil since Christmas, but his future nonetheless continues to hold out great promise.
"I’m going to focus on doing my job in defence first and foremost. That’s the top priority. Obviously, scoring is always great. If it happens in my tenth, twentieth or thirtieth international, that’ll be great too. But in the Serbia team, other players are responsible for the goals,” he explained.
When FIFA.com mentioned to Subotic that the Serbs (formerly Yugoslavia) have only contested every second FIFA World Cup finals since 1974 (and made the 2006 tournament in Germany), the player dismissed the statistic out of hand.
"I don’t believe in that kind of thing. We’re in first place, and it’ll be very careless indeed if we throw it away from this position. The coach and the team intend to make sure this kind of statistic becomes redundant by the end of qualifying," he declared with a grin.
Subotic is equally ambitious when it comes to his club football, and has by no means written off the current campaign as a learning experience. Borussia Dortmund lie ninth in the Bundesliga, still within range of the European qualifying places. The men in yellow and black are seven points adrift of a UEFA Cup spot, and still have nine games in which to close the gap.
"We’ve had too many draws, but we’ve made progress recently. I’m sure we’ll really hit our stride if we just keep playing the way we have done lately. Hopefully, we’ll be able to look back on the season with some satisfaction," Subotic concluded.
My decision to play for Serbia came from the heart, so the question of potential rivals for your position had nothing to do with it. You play for your country, not for yourself.