The last few years have been difficult if you are a supporter of former European champions FK Crvena Zvezda – financial problems, four presidents since July 2006 and the sight of fierce rivals FK Partizan lifting the Superliga trophy for the past two seasons have been painful for fans to endure.
After finishing 21 points behind Partizan last term, Vladan Lukić was elected president in May and immediately went about restoring the fortunes of the 1990/91 European Champions Clubs' Cup winners. One of his first tasks was to reappoint one of the greatest players in the club's illustrious history, Vladimir Petrović, as coach. During 12 years as player, the 54-year-old made 530 appearances, won five league titles and lifted the domestic cup six times.
Having returned to the side he coached between 1995 and 1997, Petrović's mission is simple – "to rebuild Crvena Zvezda", adding that "I want to give everything to ensure a better future and to make my club, my second family, strong once more in Europe". That could come sooner than expected if last week's comeback against FC Dinamo Tbilisi in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League is anything to go by. Three goals down on aggregate after three minutes of the second leg, Crvena Zvezda recovered to win 5-4 and reach the play-off round, where they meet SK Slavia Praha.
"Crvena Zvezda are a former European champion, a very famous club," continued Petrović. "To reach that level again we must do many things but we are ready for them. We are progressing and we will once more become an important member of the European football family. Defeating NK Rudar and Dinamo Tbilisi has given us a boost and I believe we can beat Slavia. That would put the seal on a good start to the season and give us hope for the future."
The newly expanded Superliga kicks off on Saturday – it has increased from 12 clubs to 16 – with Petrović, unsurprisingly, predicting Partizan as the team to beat. "They have capitalised on our weaknesses in the last two seasons," said Petrović, who is also looking to develop the club's youth system. "FK Vojvodina are usually in contention as well so we must also be aware of them."
Petrović, however, admits his biggest challenge may be fulfilling the expectations of fans used to seeing their side lift silverware. "We have millions of supporters and the sight of trophies is the only thing they really know – for them, an empty season is forbidden," he added. "I know and accept that and we will do our best. I believe we can be champions this season and also win the cup but those words can only be proved out on the pitch."
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