Partizan squad returned to Belgrade after 16 days of mid-season preps staged in Turkish resort of Belek. Meanwhile, boss Gordan Petric summed up mid-season training and turned to next week`s restart of the domestic league, starting with Napredak Krusevac away on February 4.
“We were lucky with the weather here in Belek, conditions were great overall, don`t know if we had it like this in the past at all. Behaviour of the players and everything we planned in advance in physical department was fully executed. If you ask me if we are pleased with it all – yes we are, we are ready for the season`s restart. Lots of youngsters got their opportunity, don`t know if they ever spent so much time on the pitch, we did shuffled a lot in each friendly.
We also played two friendlies a day on two occasions and we`ll see if we were wrong there or not but the results are not that important to me although it would be better if we won a couple more. What matters is that the team is fit, we have no problems there”, said Petric.
Do you have your starting line-up for the opening game against Napredak?
“I do, we are painting a picture for that game. But, that doesn`t mean the same line-up will be involved in a match that follows, the one against Mladost GAT. Players need to be in a competitive mood, especially early on. Napredak is quite an uncomfortable opponent but we`ll see if the pitch surface will allow us to play our game. But, we know the line-up for that day”.
Petric also stated that such starting line-up was never on the field during Belek friendlies.
“I made sure not to field them together, I was careful with everyone`s minutes because I wanted all of the players to get their opportunity. All of them deserve to be in the starting line-up next weekend but we will have to pick 11. Only three players played a bit more compared to others – Belic, Ilic and Sehovic. But, we were not hiding aces up our sleeves during preps and friendlies.
We had kind of round robin line-ups, trying to pair them differently each time. I was making sure that everyone get their chance to prove themselves and they did their job”.
Partizan boss also spoke about youths who joined Belek preps.
“I think kids got their opportunity, more than ever. Let me be clear – they will all return to Partizan youths and Partizan B Teleoptik and play the game they need to play. We have senior team members who can get us through the rest of the season. To be honest, club should decide to give more opportunities to Partizan youngsters although there will be ups and downs as a result. We have talented boys who can become base of this team in a space of one, two or three years and our decision is to push that idea all the way. We also have to send the message to the Partizan fans about that, they need to know what we plan to do. But, as it stands, it`s not possible to have them regularly in the team over the next six months.
Actually, we already have a big senior roster while youngsters among them like Bazdar, Belic or Ilic will get their playing time, all the others as well. We want them to show they are able to play for Partizan. It doesn`t matter if I`m going to remain their coach, that`s the decision of the club”, said Petric.
What can we expect from Partizan in a game away to Napredak?
“I`m sure we`ll look better than we did before the break. First match is important, lot of it will be clear after Napredak away. Urosevic is suspended but Sehovic was good in friendlies and it seems he made a progress”.
Petric on possible new signings.
“I`m not interested in players just for the sake of the new signings, only those who can make a big difference compared to existing players. Therefore, we want players of better quality, not the same or similar one. I was mentioning Haziza, he`s got that quality. With his arrival, it would seem we have too many players on that particular playing position but he is a kind of player for next two to three years. We need quality only, someone better from the current players or a player who will be important in the future, not necessarily now. I have players I can finish the job for the season already.
I`ll say it again, I would love to have stronger squad but I don`t want to sign similar players to the ones we already have, we need those new signings to be much, much better. That`s my stance but there`s always someone above me who can make decisions”.
Partizan finished Belek training camp with a friendly against CSKA Moscow.
“It was hard to play it and in the first both teams could have scored two goals each. Windy conditions were slowing down the playing pace and CSKA handled in better. I was surprised to hear ref going for five minutes stoppage time and it seems he was relieved when CSKA scored the winner. I`m joking, of course. It would be nice if it remained a one-all draw but it changes nothing. What matters is that we are ready and have no injuries. Even those previously injured, like Pantic or Traore, got their minutes on the field”.
Journalists wanted to know if Milos Jojic will rejoin Partizan after being part of the mid-season preps.
“He trained with Partizan B Teleoptik and us and I wanted him to sign as we had a problem in the midfield at the time. Back then, he was clear he doesn`t want to sign for personal reasons but I told him I can handle anything regarding his relations with Partizan fans or else. Now, it`s not realistic Jojic to sign although he is a quality player who would adapt to the dressing room and our style of play. Jojic showed he is a true professional and he will find a new club in a space of next few days. I wish him lots of luck in the future”.
Petric on main Partizan aims for the rest of the season.
“Our main aim is to play football, not to just enjoy in a football game. We were enjoying it too much even tonight against CSKA. My aim is to have players understand that and I think they got it. They have to do their job, to finish it off and go home. Sometimes we enjoy it too much and you may think it can work out domestically due to our strengths and quality overall. However, our aim is to have opponents understand they`ll have it tougher against us compared to other teams”.
Petric was asked about Fousseni Diabate as well.
“Diabate was late for training camp and I was clear that club needs to be attentive on such matters and, at that particular moment, I may decide to suspend him from the team as it wasn`t the first time he did something wrong. But, Diabate is not malicious character, he`s just a different character with good soul but he simply forgets certain things. For example, he was enjoying his football too much tonight. Since the Eternal derby game, he played football in a right manner and I would love Diabate to play football not to see it as a playground. But, sometimes we can forgive football maestros, as you like to call it, a bit of a fun”.
Is Partizan capable of catching up with standings leaders and make the title race more interesting?
“I don`t know if Crvena Zvezda can drop points but we have lots of games left to play. Teams around are experienced, well set, teams like TSC, Vojvodina or Novi Pazar. The latter will set up well with the new coach at the helm, I`m sure about that. It won`t be easy to play such games and there`s many left to play. I`m not going to burden myself with Crvena Zvezda results, we`ll move forward step by step to create something for the next season when we`ll have some youngsters added to the squad, one of them is Jevremovic for sure”.
Another Eternal derby is coming up soon as well.
“Derby win is important to both teams but I`m not burdened about it too much. We have Napredak to start with, followed by Mladost and European game. I`m really interested in first game in line and all that matters now is that we had good atmosphere during mid-season preps, no injuries and players ready for the season`s restart”.
Petric was also asked about young centre-back Mihajlo Ilic as an option at the back.
“Ilic was good in all games he played but everyone was. He`s a player able to read the game and he can also play as a defensive midfielder. He`s not that physically imposing but he knows how to position himself. I met Ilic when he was playing for Serbia youths and you can see he`s got that something. Everyone will be a option and if you ask me, Ilic will get his opportunity”.
Finally, Petric spoke about Partizan UEFA Europa Conference League opponents Sheriff.
“They will arrive to Antalya for a training camp and three friendlies. They had seven departures but six of those were not regulars, only one important player left Sheriff. They also signed two players and plan to add more new additions to the squad. Sheriff plays traditional block game with fast players. We have to be cautious”, said Petric.