When Dejan Djurdjević was given control of the squad that would eventually become Serbia's entrants in the 2007/08 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, he began a systematic 18-month process that has taken them to the final tournament in Turkey, which begins on 4 May.
"I had a big remit but not much information about players and their potential," Djurdjević told uefa.com. "I started with a tour, I visited almost every club. I watched matches in domestic youth leagues and tried to find the best players who were born in 1991 or later. One by one my list came together and I also kept an eye on our players based abroad. The biggest help for me was cooperation with the Football Association of Serbia officials, who organised a few friendly matches. In them, I saw our strengths and also our weakness. Then when I'd picked my players, I continued with technical and tactical details, just step by step."
'Like a father'
His methods worked as the former international midfielder, most associated with OFK Beograd, took Serbia to as comfortable a qualification as any of the teams who will compete in Turkey. Djurdjević started coaching with OFK's academy and says that managing at his level is not just about matchdays. "They were and still are just kids," he said. "At 17 they still learning – learning football, but also learning some life lessons. I am their coach, but I must also be a father. If they miss a chance or do something wrong, you cannot punish them. We live and work together, that is the only way to a better future."
Of course the aim, as Djurdjević emphasises, is preparing his charges for a possible career in the senior national team but first there is a competition to win and Group A fixtures against Scotland, the Netherlands and hosts Turkey. "I am not happy because Turkey are in our group," Djurdjević admitted. "Not only because they are the home team, but also that they have a really strong team. I saw them in Ukraine last year – they made a great impression on me. I know very well that in youth tournaments the first match is probably the most decisive. This is psychological and I want to prepare my team to be at their best against Scotland. The Netherlands are European giants and their youth system always produces new and great players. Of course, the semi-finals are our first target, we will try to earn a place among the best four, but it is really so early to speak about that. Just step by step. Scotland are on our minds."
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