Famed ex-Romania defender Miodrag Belodedici, who is now the director of the nation's youth department, believes his team's Under-17 finals debut provides invaluable experience.
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Miodrag Belodedici was a key man in the great Romanian generation of the 1990s – and is now charged with bringing through talent to match.
Director of the Romanian Football Federation (FRF) youth department, Belodedici is at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship with the first team from his country to qualify for these finals. The first man to win the European Champion Clubs' Cup with two different clubs, FC Steaua Bucureşti and FK Crvena zvezda, Belodedici is in his old home of Belgrade for the group stage, where his team have held the Czech Republic 1-1 but lost 1-0 to the Netherlands.
A win against Germany in Smederevo on Monday could take them to the semi-finals and ensure a FIFA U-17 World Cup berth, but Belodedici knows that his pioneering team's task is tough. "Of course there are nerves when you take on teams with big names like the Netherlands and Germany," he told UEFA.com. "For an evolution you need time. We've seen that they have improved."
The former defender, who played at two UEFA European Championships and the 1994 FIFA World Cup, is delighted Romania are in the finals at all. "It is my first time in a youth final tournament and so far everything is perfect," he said. "To be part of a final tournament like this is hard, as they have to get through two qualifying phases, but these are good matches for them."
He added: "It has been very hard for us to qualify for final tournaments and even now the standard is not where we want it to be. We hope that in the future we will qualify for more final tournaments but it will not be easy. There are a number of things we need to improve in Romania, starting from the quality and number of pitches, academies for young players, the leagues..."
But one thing Belodedici – whose international career spanned 16 years – can do is pass his experience on to the players, such as when Romania were denied victory at the death by the Czech Republic. "Of course it is a good thing for me to talk to them and give them my experience," he said. "They ask me about whether I had conceded a goal in the last minutes and I told them: 'You are very young and you wouldn't know all my matches but there will be a lot!'"
Now he hopes the current Romania senior team will follow his example of inspiring the youth sides. "It's the best thing you can do to have a role model – not only on the pitch but in life," Belodedici said. "I think the players can look to the senior Romanian national team. It is a very good idea that players can see them and speak to them personally. It's something I know that when young players come for trials or training camps the big players could be there to speak to them or exchange experiences."