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Dusan Tadic: From Serbia to Southampton, this is my story

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(Dusan Tadic talking to Joe Prince-Wright)

When I was growing up as a kid in Serbia, I had always dreamed of this moment. Last week we did it. We qualified for the World Cup. When you play for your country, everyone remembers you if you play in a World Cup. It is that simple.

I remember the 1998 World Cup when we were Yugoslavia, I had the sticker albums of all the players and I still remember that squad and who was playing.

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It is very nice to be there, at the World Cup, and we need to try and go step by step and see how far we can get. A lot of people are saying we can provide some surprises and not much is expected of us, but we don’t see it like that.

With Serbia, there will always be pressure.

We are the kind of players and people who do not know how to live without pressure. Even if we play against Brazil or some of the other bigger countries, we think we are better than them. That is the way we are. People expect us to beat the big teams and we have plenty of pressure from within.

It has always been that way, lots of pressure, but at the start it was all much simpler…


HOW IT ALL BEGAN

There were a lot of kids, everywhere, and we were always playing outside in the streets.

I think this is the best way to learn football, to play with your friends, street football, looking back, those are wonderful memories and I look back on that time in my life fondly.

My hometown, Backa Topola, was in the north of the country near the Hungarian border. It is a nice part of Serbia and I am very happy I grew up there.

Growing up, one of my best memories is getting my first pair of boots. There were Adidas and one of my fathers friends gave them to me. They were a special present and I wore them all the time. When it came to my first shirt, well, this was a little interesting. My father likes Partizan Belgrade and my uncle, well, he likes Red Star Belgrade. They are huge rivals and they would always get me a shirt from each club. Ah man, that was rough.

The shirt I held closest to my heart is one I had when I was 13. It was the shirt from the 1998 World Cup that Yugoslavia wore and had Predrag Mijatovic’s name on the back. You remember that shirt, the one with the big collar?  We did really well in that tournament and I wore that shirt everywhere. I still have it somewhere at home.

Our country has gone through a lot of tough times, especially when I was growing up, but I think playing football gave myself and other kids at the time an escape from everything else that was going on. Those were tough times.

When it is like this, it is important that kids play football or another sport because you are in nicer situations and have positive vibes around you. Because if you don’t play sport at times like that, I don’t know what you would do.

I am very happy I grew up in Serbia. You can have tough times, good times, but you learn a lot. I am incredibly proud of where I am from.

My father, that’s where my love for the game comes from. He watched every single game I played in growing up. He still does now. All of my family and friends, they would come to watch me and their support was incredible.

Every coach I’ve had, even if something was wrong, you still learn something from every single one of them. I am very lucky to have had so many good coaches over the years who I tried to learn from.

My idol growing up was Zinedine Zidane. I tried to learn from him. He did everything to perfection. Everything was easy for him. I loved watching him. He was a genius.

Not just the way he played but I also like his personality, the calmness he has off the pitch and the way he carries himself. After I watched him on TV I would go straight out into the street in Serbia to try and play like him.

I was lucky that I moved to a team like Vojvodina at the age of 14. They are known to have the best academy in Serbia, so there are many similarities to how things are here at Southampton with an emphasis on bringing through young talent.

Vojvodina always gave young players a chance and by the time I was 16 I was in the first team and then we went to the Europa League and it was a great time for me with wonderful coaches who pushed me to my maximum. I’m pleased that the pressure was so high when I started off there. That made me into the player I am today and helped me want to succeed and get better.

When I then moved to Holland, at the beginning I was looking around like “why is everyone so relaxed?” I was confused. After you lost a game, everyone was laughing and everything. If you did that in Serbia, that would be a big problem.

It took me time to adapt to the less intense atmosphere in Holland but I played with, and against, some great players who ended up with me here at Southampton. Graziano Pelle and Jordy Clasie from Feyenoord and then a young Virgil Van Dijk was just coming into the first team in my second year at Groningen.

When I played in the Netherlands, the league was very strong but a lot of players have left the Eredivisie and they are struggling a little with a lot of young players coming through.

But when I look back at my time in Holland with Groningen and FC Twente, this was the most important period of my life. I was at that stage when I had to grow as a player and a person. I am happy I was there. Holland has a philosophy of football which links up with how I like to play.

I learned a lot and it prepared me well for the challenge at Southampton.


SETTING RECORDS IN SUNNY SOUTHAMPTON

It wasn’t always my aim to come to England but everyone thinks about the Premier League because it is one of the strongest leagues in the world.

You want to show yourself in the strongest league and this was the right moment.

I knew back in 2014 that Ronald Koeman really wanted me. Southampton are a nice club with great supporters and I came here with a lot of new players in that summer of 2014 and some people expected a lot from me, but that didn’t bother me because as a player you have to trust in your qualities and show yourself and help your club.

After 2014 we had the two most successful years in Southampton’s history. Everyone was proud of that and I was pleased to be a part of it.

I have so many great memories here at Southampton. I’m in my fourth season and I have a strong connection with the fans who sing my song and support me no matter what.

From the first moment they accepted me very well. I try my best to entertain and make them happy and to give them joy. A lot of people come to watch and support you as a player so you need to try to give them enjoyment. Ii try to entertain.

I live in a marina called Ocean Village in Southampton and it doesn’t feel like you’re in England. When you say to people “oh, I live in England” everyone is like “it is rainy and cold there, why are you doing that?”

But Southampton is not like that. It is not like the rest of England. Here the weather is very good (at least compared to the rest of England!) and every day I am happy for that. Trust me.

So far we’ve had a lot of success but when I sit back and think about all of the good times we’ve had since I arrived, my winning goal at Old Trafford against Manchester United back in 2015 is the best.

We hadn’t beaten United away from home for 28 years and it was my first time playing at Old Trafford. I will never forget that moment. Ever.

Our aim here at Southampton, and my aim, is to get us back to Europe.

It is very important for us. Just as important is another good run in the cup, just like when we went to Wembley last season and lost to Manchester United. I don’t have any regrets about the League Cup final. None of us do. We did our best and I think we should have beat Manchester United. Anybody watching would have said that. We were unlucky. Sometimes, that’s football.

Someone told me earlier that a year ago today we were getting ready to play against Inter Milan in the Europa League at the San Siro. Wow. Time flies. We have to get back to playing in big games like that.

It will be hard to keep improving every year because there are so many quality teams in the Premier League but that is my main focus.

Well, that and my two kids. People say it a lot, but being a father has changed me as a person and I live a different kind of life. I am very happy with my life and my two children. I enjoy every moment with them.

I know on the pitch I can seem a little on edge. I’m a fierce competitor. Off the pitch I am easy going and I relax more. A lot more. Honest.

On the pitch I’m sharp and I show my emotions a lot more. I’ve always been like that, wearing my heart on my sleeve. On the pitch I want to win. We all do. We give everything for our team. We are all winners and we want to win every single game.

Every training session. Every game. Even when I play cards… I have to win. It is interesting that only this makes me happy. If you want to learn one thing about me from reading this, it is that I do not like to lose. Nobody likes to lose, but especially me. It is difficult to accept.

When some of the players play table tennis or basketball, I have to be the best. I can’t stand losing. I’ll throw things and get upset because I just want to win. It’s simple.

My teammates know that and some of the players I’m closest with, like Cedric Soares, will tell you that.

Sometimes Cedric and I go up to London on our days off and hang out and have dinner but with two young kids, I spend a lot of time with my family. I’m just looking forward to meeting Cedric in the World Cup if Serbia play Portugal. We owe him one. Portugal beat us in the qualifying for the European Championships. I want revenge and on the pitch I’d be in his ear all of the time. I wouldn’t stop.

I’d enjoy that…


WORLD CUP DREAM COMES TRUE

After reaching the World Cup last week, our first time as a nation since 2010, Serbia is fresh in my mind.

Perhaps the thing I’m most proud of in my career is to be the reigning player of the year in Serbia.

When I look at some of the past winners, Nemanja Matic, Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Vidic, Dejan Stankovic and guys like Mijatovic, it makes me very happy to be in that kind of company. It proved to me how much respect people in Serbia had for me after goals and assists for the national team and also what I’ve achieved here at Southampton.

This award motivates me to get better and better.

And the fact that I will hopefully be heading to the 2018 World Cup with Serbia, the first major tournament of my career, it is an incredible feeling. Even now when I look back at photos from the night we sealed qualification in Belgrade against Georgia, it makes me emotional.

When I look at the photo below, I get emotional. I was just so happy. Even though I’m crying.

Going into that final game of qualifying, as a team we were under the biggest amount of pressure I’ve ever felt with the national team.

If we didn’t win that game against Georgia and qualify for the World Cup, I think they would have taken our passports away and told us we could not come back any more! It was like that. Seriously.

Those games like that, where it is so incredibly important, we are not a country that goes to every tournament, so it was a huge success for all of us.

I’m already 28, so for my national team career this is massive because playing at a World Cup is something everyone remembers. To seal the qualification in Belgrade, in front of our own fans, it is something I will always remember. The celebrations that night were quite special…

It is something I will never forget but hopefully there are many memorable moments to come both with Serbia and Southampton.

Tigres scores goals around Veracruz side protesting unpaid wages

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Incredible scenes in Mexico, where CD Veracruz allowed Tigres to score in comical fashion while protesting unpaid wages.

The home crowd at Estadio Luis Pirata Fuente saw their side take the kickoff and play the ball back to the goalkeeper as the substitutes walked to the touch-line to stand in solidarity with their teammates on the pitch.

[ MORE: Interview with Claudio Reyna ]

After a little over a minute, goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado sent the ball into the Tigres half, where the visitors offered a very odd vision, dribbling and passing down the pitch to loft a ball into the unguarded goal. Tigres would score another after barely more than three minutes of play, and had a 3-0 lead after eight minutes through a goal by Andre-Pierre Gignac and an Eduardo Vargas brace.

According to the TV broadcast in Mexico, relayed by Tom Marshall of ESPN, Veracruz is upset that Tigres shot on goal during the 3-minute protest, the planned length of which they believed was communicated to the visitors.

Not a great look for Tigres.

And so the match got chippy, with Jesus Duenas of Tigres sent off in the 26th. Will Veracruz somehow fight back for a point?

Veracruz is last place in the Apertura season, while third place Tigres has buttressed its goal differential. Unreal.

2-0 didn’t feature anything too much more active from Veracruz.

Mbappe returns, scores as PSG beats 9-man Nice 4-1

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NICE, France (AP) Angel Di Maria scored twice and Kylian Mbappe marked his return from injury with a goal as Paris Saint-Germain stretched its lead in the French league with a 4-1 win at nine-man Nice on Friday.

Di Maria got the visitors off to a flying start in the first half before Mbappe sealed the win in the 83rd minute after the home side had two players sent off. Mbappe also set up Mauro Icardi for PSG’s fourth goal in injury time.

[ MORE: Interview with Claudio Reyna ]

Mbappe, who recently missed a month with a thigh injury, hadn’t played since suffering a reaction to his original injury in Champions League win over Galatasaray on Oct. 1.

The win lifts PSG five points clear of Nantes ahead of the rest of the 10th round of matches.

Di Maria opened the scoring in the 15th minute after being sent through all alone from the halfway line by Icardi as Nice’s defenders all pushed up. The Argentine stayed cool with only goalkeeper Walter Benitez to beat and picked his spot inside the far corner.

Di Maria’s second goal six minutes later was even better as he lifted the ball over Benitez with his first touch from a difficult angle.

Marquinhos replaced Brazilian compatriot Thiago Silva for the second half and struck the crossbar with a header from a corner.

A Marquinhos mistake – made while attempting a backpass to Presnel Kimpembe – allowed Ignatius Ganago to pull one back for Nice in the 67th.

But the home side’s hope of an equalizer were hit in the 74th when Wylan Cyprien was sent off with a second yellow card after he criticized the referee for not awarding a foul against him.

Christophe Herelle followed Cyprien off minutes later with a straight red after the video referee picked up a slap he gave Leandro Paredes, who fell theatrically to the ground.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS Cup Playoff Predictions

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There will be upsets.

While Major League Soccer’s playoffs certainly should provide plenty of love for home teams in the one leg format, it will also give underdogs the chance to outfox better seeds over 90 minutes.

[ MORE: Reyna talks NYCFC, youth soccer in U.S. ]

Considering that 92 of 408 MLS matches ended in ties this season, we may also see a few matches hit penalty kicks.

Here’s where we see the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs going…

Round 1

East
(5) DC United defeats (4) Toronto FC
(3) Philadelphia Union defeats (6) New York Red Bulls
(2) Atlanta United defeats (7) New England)

West
(5) LA Galaxy defeats (4) Minnesota United
(6) Portland Timbers defeat (3) Real Salt Lake
(2) Seattle Sounders defeat (7) FC Dallas

Why the upsets? DC’s defense has been very good this season, and there’s something about Wayne Rooney‘s MLS exit that doesn’t seem immediate. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a big game player and Minnesota’s experiencing the playoffs for the first time. Portland is missing Brian Fernandez but has enough savvy and experience to outlast a decent (and very strong at home) RSL.

Conference Semifinals

East
(5) DC United defeats (1) New York City FC
(2) Atlanta United defeats (3) Philadelphia Union

West
(1) LAFC defeats (5) LA Galaxy
(2) Seattle Sounders defeat (6) Portland Timbers

Why the upset? If there’s one team equipped to deal with the NYCFC possession-based attack on a baseball field, it’s DC. The back line and Bill Hamid do enough to stun a No. 1 seed which will not have played in nearly a month.

Conference Finals

East
(2) Atlanta United defeats (5) DC United

West
(1) LAFC defeats (2) Seattle Sounders

MLS Cup Final

(2) Atlanta United defeats (1) LAFC

Why the upset? Just to be different, and so all the people who laid Atlanta’s early struggles at the feet of Frank De Boer and not adapting to the post-Miguel Almiron era can sigh, “Ohhhhh.”

NYCFC’s Reyna on building “inspirational pathway” for youth

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When it comes to American soccer, there are few fonts of wisdom as well-earned as Claudio Reyna.

Before he was New York City FC’s sporting director, the New Jersey-born midfielder did just about everything possible for a player of his era en route to becoming a USMNT centurion (112 caps, to be exact).

[ PL PREVIEW: Man Utd v. Liverpool ]

Reyna played for Bruce Arena at the University of Virginia, where he won the Hermann Trophy as the best player in college soccer. He left for Europe following the 1994 World Cup, embarking on a 14-year career in Germany (Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg), Scotland (Rangers), England (Sunderland and Manchester City), and the U.S. (New York Red Bulls).

Now closer to home with NYCFC, where he’s helped build the East’s No. 1 seed in these MLS Cup Playoffs, Reyna is constructing a giant of American soccer. We spoke with Reyna about the status of youth soccer, scouting the globe, his NYCFC heading into the playoffs, and a United States U-17 World Cup roster which includes his son Giovanni (Borussia Dortmund) as well as several NYCFC players.

NYCFC has also used its resources to build 50 public soccer pitches around the metropolitan area. The club is on track to have 30 finished by the end of this calendar year, which is where we started a wonderful conversation with the living USMNT legend.

ProSoccerTalk: Considering the many facets involved with a project like this, bureaucracy, red tape, community challenges, how heavy of a lift was this and how rewarding is it to see it moving toward completion?

(Photo by Anthony J. Causi)

Claudio Reyna: “It certainly is a heavy lift but it’s not just NYCFC. It was a partnership with adidas, Etihad, the Mayor’s Fund, and U.S. Soccer Foundation. They certainly helped in getting this off the ground, on time and on budget. We still have more until we complete the 50. We wouldn’t be able to do it without the team effort but it was a lot of heavy lifting and coordinating of people’s schedules. It’s very rewarding and satisfying when you see the pitches bringing communities together and having kids playing unstructured, fun soccer, all kinds of ages coming together. To have that space and creativity to have fun and play soccer.”

PST: How important is it that young players are competing in free-flowing games, trying new things, and techniques? And how can you help maximize their use?

Reyna: “Within the community they know the pitches are there, and word will continue to spread. But it’s important to leave a legacy and give something that really does so much to a community. It’s not about developing soccer players — it certainly helps the sport grow and get visibility — but in urban areas there is limited park space and just in general it’s difficult to get out and play and exercise. It’s attractive, these blue pitches. It’s all these players, their stadium.

It’s a magical place for them to go and they’ll never forget that. It’s that spark for kids. It brings people together like it does at all levels.

“That’s what we’re most proud of, all the partners are. You continue to change lives, and we’re certain that’s going to happen. It’s one of the best projects that we’ve had, and it’s something you can see with your eyes the impact that it’s making.”

PST: Looking at soccer here on the whole, there have been magnificent strides in the past 10-15 years. What’s your status report of the youth game here in our country at this point?

Reyna: It’s good but we’re not anywhere near the best leagues and soccer nations in the world. In terms of investment and facilities, level of coaching, and level of players coming through the academies is much better than in years past, but every club is at a different place and different environment. You have to understand your market and your areas.

“We are fortunate that we have a rich talent pool of players, but we have to take them in and teach them about life first, that’s a big thing for us in character traits, make sure they are respectful to the team and wearing the jerseys. At our academy we’re focused on pushing players and when it gets too easy, we move them up. When we feel a player is ready for the first team, we push them up.

“Despite winning the last two U-19 national championships, we’re always focused on the long-term development of players. We won last year with very young teams, so that speaks to what we believe in. We have four Homegrown Players, and there will be more in the future. There’s that inspirational pathway, a really good pipeline where they see the first team.

My path was a bit unclear for me. I didn’t dream of playing professional soccer at 10, 11 because there’s no league. But now a kid goes to our stadium, to our academy, he sees a local kid make it, and knows he can be the next one.”

PST: What are the biggest challenges for your academy in bringing in young players for the first time?

Reyna: “We have many players that come with a very good background, and we’ve made a lot of efforts in partnering with local clubs. We start bringing the players in at 10, 11 years old. Before that they have a different development and understanding.

“We have to bring down some habits because the kids who come to us are the best players on their other teams and they get away with more than they will when they come to another level. We focus on breaking habits. We believe in a collective game where everyone needs to play and be comfortable on the ball.

“The first year we may have to shift players around because what you find is when the best players come to us, most were center forwards, center midfielders, central defenders. You have to say, okay, this player’s good but his long-term potential is a right back.

“The perfect example is Joe Scally on the U-17 World Cup team. He came to us from a club in Long Island as an athletic box-to-box midfielder. He was very strong, but we saw him as an outside back. The lesson that we now we share that with our players, don’t get upset if you move to a position, but Joe Scally understood, never complained, he played wherever he was told to do, and now he’s a right back now, 16 years old going to the World Cup after being in our academy for two and a half years.

“Players who buy in like that, and Joe, Justin Haak, and James (Sands), they tend to have more success. In New York we continue to work with local clubs like NYSC and Met Oval and a lot of smaller clubs around the NY area have helped us produce players who come with a good foundation and good base.”

PST: I wanted to ask you about the U-17 World Cup. Obviously your son being on the team has to make it an incredibly emotional thing, but to have have three academy players in the fold, too, man… that must be a sensational feeling.

Giovanni Reyna with Borussia Dortmund first team head coach Lucien Favre(Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

Reyna: And a coach, too (NYCFC academy coach Matt Pilkington is an assistant on the squad). It’s very special. My son, obviously, it’s a very proud moment for him to be able to compete in a World Cup. But for me, I’ve known these kids since they were 10 years old. When I see them run out, it’s kinda like “Whoa,” I remember them hanging out at 11, 12, 13. It’s really great to see.

“Then again it’s a credit to what we do here. We prepare players for the next level. That’s what an academy is. You’re not there to win academy games. You’re there to prepare them for the next level. These guys are mature. They are winners. They have a winning mentality that has translated to this team. I’m definitely get down, and go back and forth because of the playoffs, it’s super exciting for me. Very emotional as well. I love them like they’re my own kids.

PST: And one of them is.

Reyna: (laughs) One of them is.

PST: I wanted to ask you about the first team. I’m thinking of Alexandru Mitrita of Romania (who came from Universitatea Craiova) and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi of Libya (Austria Wien), and how you’ve found players from everywhere. Obviously there are thousands of hours of video on massive leagues, but how do you judge whether players from “smaller” places can get the job done for NYCFC in MLS?

Reyna: “I believe there are players everywhere in this world. Anyone who doesn’t understand this, they’re behind. The first thing is, really, how bad do they want to come here. Why do you want to come here? The players we’re recruiting, why New York? Why MLS? Why now in your career? You get a straight answer and a feeling, because from then on you can always go back to that.

“I’m very open about how we work and how we play and the expectation of a very high standard of professionalism. Ultimately for them, it’s important to say if you do really well, there’s another step for you. Like Jack Harrison. You’ve gotta be honest about the league, the competition, the travel, different conditions and climate. You’ve gotta give them the picture. Prior to that you see the player play. It’s the eyes, ears, and then the data after that.

“The data is there to support the decision, not drive the decision. These are human beings with emotions. Alexandru is the perfect example. At the beginning of the year he was alone waiting for his fiancee — now his wife — to come, and I knew besides other things and adaptation, that’s why he wasn’t yet where he was going to be (on the field). Not everyone sees that, the fans don’t see that. Then you see him with his wife, and his family, and he’s got a big smile on his face, and data’s not picking that up.

“You have to look at all these things, so we make a big effort to make sure we help them settle in. A player who feels welcome, will give 100 percent back. If a player doesn’t work out, I look at ourselves first. Too often, clubs and coaches and supporters blame the player. It’s my responsibility to say what could we have done better. They are human beings first. I will never turn my back on a certain league. There’s a very good generation coming through, look at the U-21s this summer. Our squad, the players fight, they wanna be here, and now the players are playing as hard as they can for the jersey.”

PST: You look at NYCFC’s place in the stats this season, and it follows suit with what you’re saying that the club is at or near the top of the league in a lot of the desire stats.

Reyna: “The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit. Stats are important. I asked a colleague to compare them to years past, and it gives you so much information. The difference between when I played and players today is they like this, they want to see it, and we didn’t have it growing up. It’s another way to learn. They want to see how goals are scored, how they are given up, whether they are in transition or whatever. Set pieces for us was something we wanted to see how we could get better. The stats gave us a clearer picture of what we’re doing well. After every game we get a review of what we did, and I look at everything because a stat can show you something you might not have seen with your eyes during the game.”