To the satisfaction of Savo Milošević, Serbia's proud record at the UEFA European Under-19 Championship has continued in Lithuania but, as the Football Association of Serbia (FSS) technical director for youth and Under-21 teams told UEFA.com, this is only the start.
UEFA.com: What goals do you set for the team and coaching staff at a tournament like this?
Savo Milošević: Participating is already a great result. The last time we qualified [in 2010] we lost all three matches so we've already done better than that. We [were] looking to get to the semi-finals, but the results were not our primary goal.
UEFA.com: Serbia have an excellent record at U19 level – how can you explain this?
Milošević: At this level it's still down to the talent factor. There is still not that big gap between the wealthy teams who can pay special attention to a lot of different things such as infrastructure and individual training, and who have the ability to hire people who will deal with the team in specialist fields. We can't do that, but at youth level we can overcome that disadvantage.
UEFA.com: Serbia have reached three U19 semi-finals but are yet to reach a final – can you give us a reason for this?
Milošević: Yes, we've been thinking about this as well since I joined last year, and we really want to make that breakthrough. We came to the realisation that our biggest problems were the shortfall in terms of organisation and communication, which are especially important in these tournaments. You have to pay attention to every detail every day so that the team would have the best conditions, to be prepared as well as it is possible, and to recover in the right way for the next match. We figured that somewhere among these factors we could make improvements and for the last three or four months we've done all we could to make this better. We're on the right path.
UEFA.com: How important is the chance to participate in these tournaments for young players and coaches?
Milošević: This is a serious level of competition in which teams went through two rounds of qualification; it's not easy to get here. These players represent the future of football.
It's really a privilege to be part of this, to compete and to show what you are able to do. There is no better way to represent your country.
For the coaches it might be even more important. A national-team coach's job is very different to a club coach. It may seem easier at first glance since the team is gathering only once per month and it may look like there is less work to do, but that is what makes it even more difficult. In qualifying you have only three or four days to gather the players, prepare everything and play the match. That's a problem for a coach, but on the other hand it's a chance to prove himself. You can see a coach's signature and the hard work he puts in.
UEFA.com: Only two of Serbia's U19 squad play abroad – is this an advantage or not? What did your own time in Spain, Italy, England and Russia teach you?
Milošević: It is an advantage since we managed to gather the whole team ten days before the tournament. When you have 11 players around the world it is really hard to organise that, but experience abroad is enormous. I played in four big leagues and that's a great challenge for any player. This helps me a lot in the job that I am doing today. I have seen everything.
Football can be cruel and hard sometimes so I am glad that I can transfer my experience to these young players and prepare them for what might be waiting for them.
UEFA.com: Can you tell us about Serbia's approach to youth football?
Milošević: The results speak for themselves. We approach it very seriously. At least on results, our national youth selection may be the best thing in Serbian football at the moment. We want the level of the domestic league to be higher and have addressed a few things; this is the first year players will appear in the national youth league until they are 19.
We also plan to let three older players compete there as well to make the competition stronger. Somewhere in the future it would be ideal to form a B-team league so that we can help the players that get stuck. Our current goal, though, is to make this youth league stronger because it generates 95% of the players that eventually get to the senior team.
UEFA.com: Is there a clear route from the youth teams to the Under-21s and the seniors?
Milošević: We have plans. You cannot work seriously if you change the coach every five or six months; this can bring some short-term success but not in the long run. So this continuity should provide the players with the stability they need. It happens a lot that players, while they are moving through the age groups, get lost along the way and you can no longer recognise the real talent you saw at the age of 14 or 15. Some of the latest studies have shown that the young boys that mature later can be substantially more talented than the ones that mature faster. We tend to discard them really quickly. Now we will try to make the best effort to have the biggest and best group of players so that, when the time comes, we can pick the best ones for the senior national team.
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