Recognized as the sole successor of the Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro by both FIFA and UEFA, Serbia has always been proud of its football history.

Semi-finalists of the 1930 FIFA World Cup, two-time UEFA European Championship runners-up in 1960 and 1968, and the 1960 Summer Olympics gold medallists, Serbia boast a long and rich football tradition.

Serbia has been long renowned for its raw football talent, which has steadily yielded fascinating results at youth ranks. Most recent history has seen Serbian Under-19 national football team being crowned European champions in Lithuania in 2013, as the golden generation of players lead by the 21-year-old Newcastle United striker Aleksandar Mitrovic defeated France 1-0 in the final to lift the European trophy.

The latest of the formidable results by the glorious generation of Red Star’s Luka Jovic and Marko Grujic was recorded this year in New Zealand where Serbia Under-20 national football team became the world champions, having beaten the tournament’s favourites Brazil 2-1 in an exhilarating match which was solved after extra time.

This year’s title has been Serbia’s second FIFA U-20 World Cup crown, after the triumphant year of 1987, and it has also served as the definite confirmation of the nation’s talent and passion for the game.

However, much to the contrast of their young colleagues, the Serbia senior squad has been depressively disappointing over the last 15 years, failing to qualify for any major tournament since the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

With the experienced manager Radomir Anti? at helm, Serbia went into the tournament as the dark horses.

A star-studded squad with some of the members such as Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov still actively involved, Serbia opened the campaign with the surprising 1-0 victory over Germany, but had ultimately failed to go past the group stage, having been beaten by Ghana 1-0 and Australia 2-1 respectively, to finish the campaign last in the group.

Demise of the Serbian national team began with the sacking of former Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona manager Radomir Anti?, two games into the Euro 2012 qualifying process which was subsequently rendered yet another – chronic even – disappointment, as Serbia failed to qualify for the European Championships, making it at the time 12 years since the last involvement in the competition.

Lost confidence, poor atmosphere and the lack of healthy team-spirit have all been the main deficiencies of the Serbian national team during this period. Unfortunately, little has changed since.

Current AC Milan manager Siniša Mihajlovi? was expected to shake things around as he was appointed the national coach in 2012, but his unique and unorthodox methods, most notably his famous expulsion of Adem Ljaji?, who refused to sing the national anthem, marked the entire spell which ended in yet another disappointing failure to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

With their seventh coach since 2010, Serbia began the new era in 2014 opting to go for their former assistant, caretaker and Serbia U21 coach Radovan ?ur?i? taking over from Dick Advocaat two games in the new qualifying cycle for the Euro 2016.

With the team valued at €176.95 million and some of the star names such as the captain Branislav Ivanovi?, Aleksandar Kolarov, Nemanja Mati?, Dušan Tadi?, Lazar Markovi? or Aleksandar Mitrovi? at his disposal, Radovan ?ur?i? was expected to lift the team-spirit and restore the lost confidence in the players he used to work with at younger levels of the national team.

Experiments with foreign managers Javier Clemente and Dick Advocaat did not prove successful, Serbian FA opted for ‘the man of the people’ who had the complete understanding of the players’ needs and requirements.

Impatient for the glamorous squad to finally start producing worthy results, the fans have been putting a lot of pressure on the national team. Somewhat quite reasonably, considering the individual quality to the Serbian squad.

With 82% of the players plying their trade abroad, Serbian internationals were expected to share the same determination and effort they displayed week in and week out as the key-members in their clubs. However, lack of resolve, motivation and dedication were recognized as the main problems by the Serbia faithful.

The problems are rooted much deeper, though, and players were not the only ones to take the blame.

As the country of many issues, Serbia failed to pass the adequate sports laws that would regulate the football scene, still engrossed in the socialists’ rules and regulations. Poor infrastructure and strong hooligan base have been the deteriorating factors as well.

With huge pressure on their back and nation’s pride at stake, Serbian national team opened their UEFA Euro 2016 qualifiers with a 1-1 draw against Armenia and notorious game against Albania which was abandoned after a drone was flown into the Partizan Stadium, creating chaos on pitch.

Serbia were deducted three points that were originally awarded to them by the UEFA, went minus two points at one moment in their group and eventually succumbed to their old illnesses.

Lack of determination, will and desire were followed by the predictable tactics and obsolete playing style from Radovan ?ur?i?, ending the group stage with only four points from eight games.

It has now been 16 years since Serbia last made it to the European Championships, and the latest disappointment has had a huge impact on both the players and the management as well.

Getting to the bottom of the nation’s chronic failure will require deep structural analysis from the Serbian FA which are at the moment blaming the players for their most recent uninspiring showings on 13th November against Czech Republic. Serbia were dealt a huge 4-1 blow in their friendly visit, and it seems as if the Czech debacle has been the final straw.

The game was followed by the incident involving Fiorentina’s Nenad Tomovi? and Newcastle United’s Aleksandar Mitrovi? who were blaming each other in the locker room for the poor showings in Ostrava.

The atmosphere in the squad has hit the rock bottom, and even the ever calm and composed Nemanja Mati? threatened to quit the national team after the latest defeat.

Chelsea midfielder publicly shared his disappointment, claiming that there is no use in wasting his efforts when other players lack the willpower to perform at the highest level and to represent their country with honour and courage.

Hoping to turn the new page following the Euro 2016 bid debacle, the Serbia’s new dawn has quickly seen dark clouds once again setting upon the national football team which is preparing to enter the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying cycle with a huge elephant in the room.

And for the past 15 years no one has yet been able to get that elephant out.

About the author – Miloš Markovic

Sports journalist from Serbia, Editor in Cheif at and contributor to FutbolgradLive. Worked with Inforstrada and FIFA covering Serbia’s international games during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

twitter: @milosemarkovicu


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The 31-year-old Serbia captain is entering the final six months of his contract, and with the form he is currently in, the new offer is unlikely to follow.

Contrasting opinions exist over the Chelsea’s distinctive transfer policy.

The Blues have opted not to discuss new contracts with players over 30 years of age, at least until February of the final year in their deals. What is more, the most experienced players in the squad can mainly hope for nothing more than one-year offer with an option for a further one if additional requirements have been met.

Branislav Ivanovic has been living in London and playing for Blues since 2008, and being a proper family man Bane, as he is called in Serbia, is not the kind of a person who is keen on changing his surroundings that often. Hence, all the Inter Milan rumours that have been circulating recently should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Serbian defender has become an established first-team member, gave his best for Chelsea through thick and thin, proving his worth and maintaining his place under seven different managers.

It took him some adapting to do under Avram Grant, since he arrived with a lack of fitness due to the fact that the Russian Premier League season ended a couple of months before his signing. However, once he got his feet back on the ground, Ivanovic was not to be removed from the starting berth.

Physically strong and dominant, the Chelsea vice-captain is characterized by his great areal ability. In addition, Ivanovic can be very useful as an extra presence for defending and attacking set pieces. Even though his natural position is centre back, Branislav Ivanovic has been mostly deployed as the right back, but his quick pace has made him a real threat in the attack as well.

During Chelsea’s triumphant run last season, Branislav Ivanovic had been one of the most prominent and outstanding performers throughout the campaign. Jose Mourinho praised his spirit on numerous occasions, publicly calling for the Chelsea management to wrap up the new contract for the Serbian defender.

His stats were impressive.

With the total of 38 league appearances and 4 goals on his tally in the entire season 2014/15, Ivanovic had created total of 36 chances for his teammates, had an average pass accuracy of 81%. Ivanovic won 56% of his duels and even had the 60% success rate with his tackles.

If we are to break down his numbers even further, Ivanovic’s stats for the first 12 games of the last season, the same number of games that have been played so far in the new campaign, are even more imposing.

Successful tackle rate of 69%, 62% of duels won and an average pass accuracy of 82% speak volumes of Ivanovic’s influence.

He bled for the team, literally in some occasions, and was publicly applauded for his relentless fighting spirit. And then, everything changed overnight, as Branislav Ivanovic became a shadow of his former self.

His numbers suffered a major dip and today they illustrate the size of his demise.

With 12 games gone, and eight of those which Branislav played before his injury, he had disappointing 38% successful tackles, 0% shot accuracy and 48% of duels won.

What numbers cannot show is that Chelsea vice-captain looks lost on the field. Without the appropriate support from the rest of the team and the fear factor gone, rivals are not afraid to take him on any more and, what is worse, he is unable to stop them.

Lack of pace, lack of speed and poor positioning have made him a laughing stock this season.

Far from steady and reliable, the 31-year-old defender has been dealt with a dramatic turn in form and was even forced to face the wrath of many who blamed him for the club’s poor results this season. Fans called for Jose Mourinho to drop Ivanovic and their wishes were granted when the Serbian captain picked up a hamstring injury while on international duty.

Ivanovic however did not turn out to be the main culprit for Chelsea’s disastrous form this term as it was witnessed in his absence. So, did Ivanovic deserve the heavy barrage of criticism?

Modern-day football has lost its charm in a certain way. Current financial tides have raised the bar drastically, you are expected to give all you’ve got, to give it right now and to keep giving it all the time. Chelsea’s ruthless transfer policy is there to prove it.

Failure is not an option, rough patches never forgiven – Branislav Ivanovic has become a fans’ scapegoat.

A quick line from the personal perspective I hope will give a different perspective to the story. The author of this article, yours truly, had the chance and honour of meeting Branislav Ivanovic on one occasion. A quick chat and a couple of minutes spent with the Serbia captain made me realize that he was the player of a different kind.

Not your regular professional football player most of the time unaware of the world surrounding him, Bane is a level-headed, emotional guy.

And the heavy criticism did play its part on his poor form this season. However, the above presented numbers do not reveal the real truth behind Ivanovic’s game – effort. That is one thing not a single Chelsea fan can use against him, as effort and dedication to the team’s cause are Ivanovic’s main traits, the strengths that have made him the player he is today.

Or was until recently.

In any case, his time has not passed. That’s one thing I am sure of.

About the author – Miloš Markovic

Sports journalist from Serbia, Editor in Cheif at and contributor to FutbolgradLive. Worked with Inforstrada and FIFA covering Serbia’s international games during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

twitter: @milosemarkovicu


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