Krstajic: Serbia's young players have a great future 

Mladen Krstajic, Head coach of Serbia looks on prior to facing Switzerland
© Getty Images
  • spoke to Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic
  • Serbia have enjoyed notable successes under Krstajic since Russia 2018
  • Discusses his team’s EURO hopes, the in-form Dusan Tadic and more

After 59 appearances for his country as a player, Mladen Krstajic succeeded Slavoljub Muslin as coach of the Serbian national team in October 2017. His first job in the role was to lead the side to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, where they finished third behind Brazil and Switzerland in their section.

Brighter times followed last autumn with Serbia winning promotion from UEFA League C to B. In this interview, Krstajic talked with about his connection to German football, the progress he has made with the national team, upcoming targets on the road to UEFA EURO 2020 and Dusan Tadic's amazing journey with Ajax. Mr Krstajic, you enjoyed an impressive UEFA Nations League campaign, then drew 1-1 against Portugal at the start of the European qualifiers, before achieving the same result in a friendly against Germany. What has happened or changed recently for Serbian football?
Mladen Krstajic: We managed to achieve a few goals in the UEFA Nations League. We gave an opportunity to a large number of young players and figured out who and how much we can count on in the future. We achieved first place and are now in a higher competition rank, and also secured an additional chance to qualify for the European Championship through the play-offs, in case we do not manage that during qualifying itself. And the match with Germany was a friendly one only on paper. We were absolutely motivated during preparations for that match and can be satisfied in the end.

We can be especially happy with a point won in Portugal. In both matches the team expressed unity, character, fighting spirit and an appetite for victory. Serbia can be proud of such guys. However, we still have a lot of things to do. There are seven more matches; we are talking about 21 points here. You have seen the results; it will not be easy to win the points in any of the matches. But, I truly believe in our team and I think we have the quality to finish these qualifiers in one of the first two positions in the group.

You have been the coach since 2017. What did you change?
I am aware that I am a young coach and that experience will come with age. The essence of my coaching philosophy is that I like attacking football - football where we play to score, and I will press for it whenever we have a possibility for it. But, of course, that is not possible all the time. One has to take into account many things: the quality of the opponents’ team, players they have at their disposal and so on.

The game in Germany must have been a special moment for you, given you spent a long part of your career in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and Schalke?
Yes, it was a really unique experience. For me, Germany is a country where I learnt a lot, where I gained various types of knowledge and experience, and where I really had a great professional career. Arriving in Wolfsburg was pretty emotional for me. I met many football people I had not seen for a very long time and we had great talks. It was a really great feeling.

Germany are clearly in a transitional period at the moment. What do you think about the new German generation?
Germany is a football superpower. They have 50 different players they can count on and who are of great quality. Just look at their start in the qualifiers and how they beat the Netherlands in the away match. Germany has a generation of players that can reach great heights.

Serbia's coach Mladen Krstajic gives a press conference at Samara Arena

Serbia didn't qualify for the last three EUROs. How important would it be to play there in 2020?
We have a very talented generation of young players. Together with them are experienced players and that is a combination I believe can achieve a lot. We have not been at the EUROs for 20 years and it is really difficult to describe how much it would mean to us to qualify this time. We would have continuity of taking part in great competitions after a long period of time, and the benefits would be numerous for the Serbian national team, and for football and sport in our country generally.

Your talented young players include several U-20 world champions from 2015. Do you think this could be a golden generation?
Those are all boys with great qualities and exceptional human and professional values. They have a victory gene. They are hardworking, persistent and always go for maximum. Their capacity is great and I firmly believe that a great future is in front of them.

Dusan Tadic of Ajax celebrates as he scores his team's third goal
© Getty Images

Finally, Dusan Tadic is obviously enjoying a fantastic season with Ajax. Have you been surprised by how well he has done?
Dusan is mature, he has experience, knowledge, leadership qualities and his performances have been of the best possible level. It is obvious that the change [of club] has done him good. Ajax is one of the greatest European clubs, and Dusan Tadic is one of the best European players. He is proving that match after match. I am not surprised at all. Everything that is happening to Tadic is well deserved.

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