Last season, Nikola Jovanic deputized for U-17 coach Vladimir Jesic for half a dozen games and officially took over Partizan U-17`s this term. Previously, he had good record with Partizan U-15`s, winning Belgrade and Serbian league youth title. We spoke to Jovanic on his new job, players and season so far.
This season, you are in charge of Partizan U-17`s with a completely new coaching staff and roster. Was the pre-season good enough for you to get to know your associates and players?
“When coaching, you always need more time to get things in order but we had enough time to do everything as planned. Last season, I was in charge of U-17 team for six games and I got to know current coaching staff, we knew what to expect from each other. As for the team, I only managed to watch them for weekend games, I didn`t have in-depth information at first, but i received lots of info from their previous coaches later on”, says Jovanic.
Most of your current roster played in a Belgrade youth league with U-15`s last season. Was it hard for them to get used to compete with their peers on a Serbian league level?
“Last season, most of them played with U-15`s, only five or six of them joined U-17`s in the meantime. It wasn`t hard for them to get used to the Serbian U-17 league, it was more about getting used to a new workload. We introduced lots of new things this season regarding preps, tactics, video analysis, individual and team training. That`s more of a problem as we ask so much more from them now. They need to talk about football more, to live and think football more. Demands are slightly bigger as we are getting closer to the senior level, they are closer to the football world as it is. It`s a process but we knew how this is going to look like”.
Do Partizan youths have huge pressure similar to the senior team?
“Size of a club on its own creates some sort of pressure. We are presenting Partizan in every sense, on and off the field. Partizan always aims for the top, whichever age group we talk about. Our aim is to develop players and get them ready for the senior team and that`s the beauty of this sport – this pressure is pushing us, both coaches and young players, to be as good as possible and to get the best out of all of us”.
Your team is currently third-placed at the standings, three points behind leaders Crvena Zvezda and joint on points with second-placed Vojvodina with both of the rivals having a game in hand. Moreover, they both beat Partizan this season. What do you think Partizan U-17`s lack to get to the top of the pile?
“Over this early period of the season, we were short of 8 regulars and important subs for three weeks. We had to line-up a completely different team from the one we worked on during pre-season, including some younger players. Matches against Crvena Zvezda and Vojvodina were kind of strange. Against Vojvodina, we scored own goals and trailed 3-0 at half-time although we played better than them. We started the second half good too, but we conceded a fourth goal somehow and no one could believe we are 4-0 down at home with such a performance. We did manage to score three goals and reduce it to 3-4, had two more clear-cut opportunities but we lost a game we shouldn`t have, eventually. Against Crvena Zvezda, we conceded as a result of bad positioning but it could have been 5-2 win for us easily. In both these games we had no luck but you need to deserve it and we are working on it”.
In total, Partizan suffered three defeats this season but you managed to get back on the right track achieving a number of wins in a row. How important is it for a team`s morale, especially after the derby defeat?
“Defeat to Spartak, we were also short of eight important players. Once again, we were much better side on the day but we lost. We conceded a set-piece goal in the first minute of the game, missed several clear-cut opportunities but it just wasn`t to be. It was one of those games when better team cannot win, It was important that our youngsters didn`t lose their heads, they were aware we are doing the good work, they were aware things are moving in a right direction. Kids didn`t give up, we were all positive and didn`t allow negative energy to take over after those unfortunate defeats, we just kept going in our pace, we got the result eventually. After that Spartak game, we achieved three wins, against some good teams – Kiker, Graficar and away to Mladost Lucani, a really tough away encounter. After we lost to Crvena Zvezda, we played another derby game, the one against Cukaricki, and won it 1-0. This team is not giving up, that`s what really matters. When we were down 4-0 to Vojvodina, we didn`t surrender. We got back so close to equalize. We work a lot on players psychology, there`s lot of off-field activity involved when we talk with kids, teaching them football game in a way”.
Novak Petrusic is fourth top league`s goalscorer with 11 goals to his name, Rakonjac scored 6, Mircevic and Stojanovic scored 5. Besides, many more players got on the scoresheet. It seems everyone is contributing?
“Novak Petrusic is among the top goalscorers and that`s good for the team. It`s also good we have lots of players scoring, including subs. There are no regulars now, everyone scores in a rotation game we play, they all play good and it`s just little bits that separate starters from subs. Kids are growing with each new day and that`s the result of our work. I don`t want to single out anyone, team work matters”.
You are away to Rad next. They are 12th placed but they don`t seem an easy ride.
“They are quite an uncomfortable side, especially at home where they lost only two games so far. Their top goalscorer scored 10 goals so far. We have no right to go there and expect an easy ride looking at the standings alone. We teach our players that our team is the one that matters, whoever we play against. This week we will work on details regarding the upcoming match – how we can threat Rad and how they can threat us. This is what we will work on during the week and we hope for three more points and continuation of our winning streak”.