A lot has happened in the life of Adem Ljajić since he appeared for Serbia at the 2008 UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Turkey. Today he is a full Serbian international playing in Serie A for ACF Fiorentina, yet his memories of treading the U17 stage remain precious to him.
Ljajić featured in Serbia's three games in Antalya three years ago and though they went home after the group stage, the 19-year-old midfielder described it as a vital learning curve. "It's the first chance to compete on the European stage and the first step is always the most important," he said.
"The whole experience meant so much to me," Ljajić added. "I learned something at every training session and in the matches especially. It was a chance to exchange knowledge with boys from other countries, it was an education. I met many new people and we spoke about everything. During the games I saw that we could compete against anybody and I took confidence from that. In Turkey I saw for the first time some players, future stars, whom I'll be playing against for the next ten to 15 years."
For Ljajić, it was a springboard − he broke into the FK Partizan first team the following season and agreed a transfer to Manchester United FC. When United withdrew from the arrangement, in December 2009, he joined Fiorentina. "That United story was just one life lesson for me," he said.
"I thank everybody at Fiorentina who has believed in me." Ljajić, in his first full campaign in Florence, has become a regular in 2010/11, playing under compatriot and coach . "I learn from [Siniša] Mihajlović every day and I am proud because I have the chance to be here, close to him."
Having made his full Serbia debut against Bulgaria last year, he contrasts the pressure of senior international football with the relative freedom of the U17 scene. "We played without so many tactical duties," he added. "We wanted to play our football. Of course we had a formation and tactics, but at 16 or 17, you want first of all to show something to the public."
With that in mind, he advises the players to savour the experience that awaits on Serbian soil. "This will be a great education for them. Probably, some of them will be great players, but some will end up doing other things. Now it's the time to enjoy themselves and to test themselves. It is a chance to be competitive and to learn so many things, about football and about life."
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