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'Once Vojvodina, always Vojvodina'

Published: Tuesday 23 March 2010, 13.40CET
Milan Djuričić has returned to the FK Vojvodina helm after nearly five years away, but in the interim little has changed as the club strives to break Belgrade's grip on title.
by Aleksandar Bošković
from Belgrade
'Once Vojvodina, always Vojvodina'
Vojvodina coach Milan Djuričić ©Getty Images
Published: Tuesday 23 March 2010, 13.40CET

'Once Vojvodina, always Vojvodina'

Milan Djuričić has returned to the FK Vojvodina helm after nearly five years away, but in the interim little has changed as the club strives to break Belgrade's grip on title.

"Once Vojvodina, always Vojvodina," Milan Djuričić said when his first spell as coach of the club came to an end in August 2005. Four-and-a-half years later he is proving the point after returning on 11 March.

Djuričić, 65, is FK Vojvodina's fourth coach this season, picking up the baton from Dragoslav Stepanović, Zlatomir Zagorčić and Branko Babić who each failed in perhaps the most demanding job in Serbian football – to lead Vojvodina back to the title.

"We must be at the top of Serbian football," Djuričić told "Vojvodina, Novi Sad and our supporters, given our tradition and the quality of our players, deserve it. But you need to walk before you can run. I want to build new foundations at Vojvodina and I'm happy because I have great colleagues who will move forward with me."

The challenge ahead for Djuričić is almost as great as the expectations. Vojvodina, from the northern city of Novi Sad, were founded in 1914 and are one of the oldest clubs in Serbia. In the former Yugoslavia they were top-flight regulars and proudly boast two titles won in 1966 and 1989.

On the European front they reached the UEFA Intertoto Cup final in 1998 and won the now defunct Mitropa Cup in 1977. Famous names to have graced the club include Vujadin Boškov, Ilija Pantelić, Siniša Mihajlović, Slaviša Jokanović, Miloš Krasić and Milan Jovanović.

However, for all its history, hopes and fervent support, for 20 years Vojvodina have been unable to break FK Crvena Zvezda and FK Partizan's grip on the title. Only once – last season – since winning the title, have they been able to split the Belgrade giants and finish second, and only once – in 2006/07 – have they reached the cup final. It is too meagre a return for a club that craves so much.

It is the same story this season. Vojvodina are fourth, 19 points behind leaders Crvena Zvezda, with coaches coming and going as management desperately tries to hit on a winning formula. "We need time, patience and good work," Djuričić said. "This season we must concentrate on the cup [where they face Partizan in the semi-finals on 7 April] and prepare ourselves for future. We cannot rush."

Djuričić is confident he has the quality at his disposal to engineer an upturn in fortunes. Serbian international forward Dragan Mrdja, the club's captain, leads the league with 12 goals; goalkeeper Željko Brkić is also an international regular and winger Dušan Tadić is making his mark for Serbia's Under-21s. The club also boasts a promising youth setup which produced Danijel Aleksić, recently sold to Genoa CFC.

"Last season, I watched all the games from the east tribune at the Vojvodina Stadium," said Djuričić, who has enjoyed a lengthy coaching career in Austria and Serbia. "We must rebuild and create a new kind of play. We must work on the collective spirit. For a club like ours that's one of the primary obligations. We have the right conditions to do that. We must believe in a new strategy and the supporters will follow us."

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