In the space of a calendar year, FK Budućnost Podgorica's 17-year-old attacking midfielder Andrija Vukčević has gone from Montenegro's Under-17 team, through the U19 ranks, to being selected for the upcoming UEFA European U21 Championship qualifiers against Germany and the Republic of Ireland.
"I am seeing the Under-21 call-up as reward for my efforts and I am happy that coach Dušan Vlaisavljević thinks I deserve to play with the older guys," beamed Vukčević. "I didn't think I could make such an improvement and such big steps forward in such a short time, but I know I am still at the beginning of my career. Everything is happening so fast – I must be very careful and keep both feet on the ground."
Just 16 when he made his First League debut for Budućnost Podgorica in August, Vukčević has scored twice in 14 top-flight games and is benefiting from the club's decision to make the most of its home-grown talents. "I was lucky that Budućnost started to rebuild their team and give a chance to young players," he said. "In pre-season, I tried to convince the coach that I could help. I hoped I would get a few minutes, but things have turned out better than expected."
Budućnost's side is dominated by young talent – just two of their regular players are aged over 23 – but they lie third in the table, five points adrift of leaders and reigning champions FK Sutjeska. "We were shaky at the start, because most of us were just beginning at senior level," said Vukćević. "Now we feel more comfortable and confident. We are under no pressure from the board and the only thing we need focus on is playing the best we can."
A left-back who has shone since being shunted forward as an attacking midfielder, Vukčević has captured the imagination of fans in his home country, being touted as the 'Montenegrin Gareth Bale'. "He is my favourite player," admitted the teenager. "I watch a lot of his matches and his movement – he is my role model."
He has a way to go to emulate the Real Madrid CF livewire's success, yet Vukčević has his head screwed on. "Of course, I dream of big things like playing for Montenegro, but I am realistic. The most important thing is to work hard, play well consistently and gain experience," he said. "I don't mind where I play. I used to play left-back but am happy up front. I need to improve my finishing and I am working hard to do that."
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