Thank Serbia for Its Best Export: Football Coaches

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/06/2010 01:39:00 AM
With apologies to ABBA:

I'm nothing special, in fact I'm a bit of a Bora
If I show a formation, you've probably seen it before
But I have a talent; a wonderful thing
Cause everyone listens when I start coaching
I'm so grateful and proud
All I want is to manage it now...

It is with great sadness that we must lament the ouster of the brave Ghanian team at the hands of Uruguay under dubious circumstances. In the closing minutes of the game, the latter's scoring machine Luis Suarez who tallied 35 goals in 33 matches [!] for Dutch powerhouse Ajax handballed a surefire goal by Ghana. While rightly red carded, the subsequent missed penalty by Asamoah Gyan that hit the crossbar eventually set the stage for Uruguay triumphing on penalties. Such gamesmanship is unbecoming despite the favourable result, no?

Somewhat overlooked, however, was the role played by Ghana's Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac. When it comes to coaches plying their trade internationally, few compare to the Serbians' drive for adventure. There is something innately curious at work here, so much so that I must say Serbia's best-known exports are football coaches. Some greats ply their trade mostly at home like Ljupko Petrovic who led then-Yugoslavian side Red Star Belgrade to victory in the European Cup--today's Champion's League--in 1991.

However, there is a peripatetic legend who stands above them all: Bora Milutinovic. Our man Bora is justly famous for his international exploits. Together with the Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira, he is one of only two persons to coach five different teams at the World Cup: Mexico (1986), Costa Rica (1990), the United States (1994), Nigeria (1998), and China (2002). While he can't boast of winning a title like Parreira did in 1994 with Brazil, nobody has equalled his record of taking four different national sides past the group stage until he was unable to do so with China in 2006.

Now, some African players have expressed caution over the continued influx of Serbian coaches as they have made their way to Africa alike other parts of the world. A few months ago, this story made waves in the sporting media:
Rwandan star striker Jimmy Gatete has challenged the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) to be careful in appointing the national team Taifa Stars coach and he expressed his reservations against Serbian tacticians. He said the TFF must avoid Serbian coaches at all coast for what he said they are not good enough.

Paradoxically, Gatete who features for St. George of Ethiopia is under the Serbian coach Milutin Sredojevic Micho. "I'm telling you this from experience. Serbian coaches are not good, they talk a lot but they hardly deliver," he said. "Tanzania should not hire coaches from Serbia. They are noise makers. They are not good enough; they do not live to their billing," he said.
Yes, whatever. Speak for yourself, pal. It turns out that Ghana's coach Milovan Rajevac--who led Ghana to victory over Serbia in the World Cup if you remember--worked under Bora himself prior to striking out on his own. What's more, he's taken some time to win over Ghanians, and, indeed the whole of Africa. Although Ghana was the youngest side in the competition, (Germany is second youngest--there's a lesson here), they almost made their way to the semis but for some crafty foul play. Here is the key bit from his FIFA profile:
Qualifying two unheralded Serbian clubs, FC Vojvodina and FK Borak, to the UEFA Cup were the achievements that earned him the notoriety to seek a national team job and when Ghana were looking for a replacement for Claude le Roy before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, Rajevac proved their choice, even though the public had never heard of him before and were somewhat sceptical. Rajevac signed a two-year contract and immediately set about taking the Black Stars to their second successive FIFA World Cup finals appearance. Ghana had some tough games in their first round group [of qualifying] but were surprisingly ruthless against much tougher opposition in their final group phase, thereby enhancing the reputation of the 56-year-old coach.
It is only fair to infer two things. First, Serbian coaches are pretty damn good at cross-cultural communication to be able to work in so many international contexts. Second, they obviously know a thing or two about coaching the sport. Unsurprisingly, previously obscure Coach Rajevac is now hot property after taking Ghana so far in the competition when much more fancied African sides fell by the wayside and did not even make it past the group stage. Remember, too, that Ghana didn't even have the talent of Michael Essien to call upon this time around and was bested by mighty Germany by only a goal.

Remember too that Ghana's 2006 squad was coached by another Serbian, Ratomir Dujkovic. Yes he had stars playing in top European competition like Sammy Kuffour, Stephen Appiah, and Michael Essien, but it takes some talent to make them gel with their countrymen. Ask France or Italy, for instance. That 2006 squad made it past the group stage, too, but Rajevac did them one better. To me, it's these stories of previously obscure talent unbeknownst to most fans making the most of their opportunities on the biggest stage that make the World Cup something special.

Before ending, then, here's a salute to Serbia for its best export--football coaches. Teaching the game across the globe, their work exemplifies cross-cultural communication at its finest. To paraphrase ABBA...

So I say thank you for Milutinovic
The plays they're making
Thanks for all the goals they're bringing
Who can live without them?
I ask in all honesty
What'd football be?
Without a free kick or penalty?
So I say thank you for Milutinovic
For bringing football to TV!