FK Sutjeska have the youngest squad in the Montenegrin top flight, but much to coach Nikola Rakojević's surprise, with only a handful of games to go the club that nurtured AS Roma striker Mirko Vučinić are on course for a 2009/10 European place.
With five games to go the Niksic-based side are third in the Prva crnogorska, four points clear of third placed OFK Grbalj. While they have little chance of finishing higher – nine points separate them from FK Mogren and FK Budućnost Podgorica – holding their current position would be enough to put them in the first qualifying round of next season's inaugural UEFA Europa League.
For one-time Yugoslavia Under-21 coach Rakojević that would represent a huge achievement. "I never expected we'd get this far," he conceded. "My only wish was to have a peaceful season, without fear of relegation. Now the players must cope with another kind of pressure. I am looking forward to see how they respond, but we are not talking about European competition: I'm just telling them to play best they can."
'Their success, not mine'
Such simple instructions seem to have worked well for Rakojević, who took up the reins at the start of the season. "There's no secret to it," he said of his coaching style. "I just told them that if they wanted to be professional football players they had to work and behave like professionals. We shared the opinion that we had to work hard and we got these results as a reward. But, this is their success, not mine."
Sutjkeska's success is founded on getting the best out of young players. Just three of the squad are over 25 while only two members of the side did not come through the club's youth programme with five – Vladan Giljen, Milivoje Delić, Darko Bulatović, Boris Bulajić and Admir Adrović – already capped by Montenegro U21s.
All that augurs well for Sutjeska, one of only two Montenegrin clubs – along with Budućnost – to have played in the Yugoslavian top division before the former socialist republic splintered, but Rakojević is not ruling out bringing in more players, saying: "We need more quality if we want to make a step forward next season, but it is too early to talk about that. Now we have to finish the work we have started."
'Our biggest success'
Nonetheless, he is glad that Niksic – the second largest city in Montenegro – finally seems to be getting the successful club it has yearned for. "Football has a long tradition in Niksic," he said. "This town deserves a stable club. The team and the club have grown together this year. We have good organisation, the fans are coming back to the stadium and this is our biggest success – even bigger than the results we have had."
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