The Youth Academy of FK Vojvodina has always been known as one of the best Youth Academies not only in Serbia, but in the entire former Yugoslavia. During the decades and decades of its existence, the Old Lady has produced countless members of the national team and world-class players, so even today the backbone of the Serbian national team consists of two players raised in FC Vujadin Boškov – Dušan Tadić and Sergej Milinković-Savić.
However, what has profiled Voša’s Youth Academy as one of the best in the region in previous years is not only professional and quality work in the younger categories, but also excellent scouting, ie bringing talented players from Serbia and surrounding countries at a time when their potential have not yet attracted the full attention of the sports public.
One of such cases happened in 1998, when Vojvodina brought Milan Jovanović to its squad from Budućnost Valjevo. As a native of Bajina Bašta, Lane arrived in Voša’s youth team as a 17-year-old, to make his debut for the first team of the Old Lady in 1999. After three and a half seasons in the first team, during which he played 43 games and scored 10 goals, Jovanović started building a successful foreign career at Shakhtar Donetsk, and later played for Lokomotiv Moscow, Standard Liege, Liverpool and Anderlecht, in which he ended his professional career in 2013.
During his active involvement in football, he won a total of nine trophies: the Cup of Ukraine, the title of champion of Russia, four titles of champion of Belgium (two with Standard and two with Anderlecht) and three Super Cups of Belgium (two with Standard and one with Anderlecht). In his first season in Standard, he was named the best player in the Belgian league, and fans in Serbia will always remember the goal he scored for the victory of our national team over Germany at the World Cup in 2010, which also made him the scorer of the first goal for independent Serbia at the World Cup.
Today, Milan Jovanović lives in Novi Sad, he is the father of three sons and, as he points out, after so many games played, today he plays one that is the most important and has no end – he raises his boys, working every day so that they would become responsible, honest and good people. And if one day they decide to play football professionally, he will be their support at every step.
– I am the father of three sons and at the moment it is the center of my world. For me, the most important, and at the same time the most difficult, is to educate them in the right way, to become good people, socially useful. Privately, my wife and I run a business, it’s more like “existential”. We live in Novi Sad, this is somehow our city – Lane Jovanović started the story.
You came to Vojvodina in the summer of 1998, as an exceptional talent from Bajina Bašta. At whose invitation did you come to Vojvodina and how did you feel when you became a member of the Old Lady?
– When it comes to my arrival, I would like to emphasize a few names. First of all, I want to say that I came to Vojvodina on the initiative of athletics coach Nedeljko Đorđić. Believe it or not, today he is the director of the elementary school Đorđe Natošević in Novi Sad, which is attended by all three of my sons. Well, 20 and a half years ago, he connected me with Dušan Mijić, a member of the famous generation that won the title in 1989. At that moment, my qualities were assessed by the then coach Brane Novaković and director Ilija Pantelić. I must emphasize that at that time, sports and football were much cleaner than today. That moral vertical was more accessible and I was lucky to come across honest and competent people, who knew very well how to do their job in such a big club. They worked exclusively and only in the interest of the club and they estimated that I am a potential that can bring a lot to Vojvodina, which in the end came true. If we look at my generation, 1981, and a year older, I was the only one who reached the first team and later made a more serious transfer. After me, there were Stepanov, Vukelja and Miloš Krasić, as players of Vojvodina who are products of the Youth Academy and whom the club managed to cash in on.
Who helped you the most to adapt to the new environment and what do you remember the most from that period?
– Those I mentioned who brought me – Brane Novaković, Ilija Pantelic, Mijić, were important authorities in the world of football, each in his own way. Comrades from the generation also accepted me. The atmosphere was homey, it all made it easier for me. I knew that I had come to a great club, where players are always asked for and expected results. All those investments, including the scholarship contract, must be justified on the pitch. I must say that then, as a very young man, I gained responsibility as a component of the system. To the people who brought me and to everything that coming meant to me.
Miloš Krasić often points out that you were like his older brother when he joined the first team of Vojvodina. How did your great friendship, which continues to this day, come about?
– Everything happened very simply, as things are done and happen in life. Miloš came here in 1999 to take refuge from Mitrovica, which was in war. His father left Miloš with me, because I was the oldest in the apartment where a few of us lived. I remember, like today, the first day of the bombing, only Miloš stayed with me in the apartment. Everyone fled somewhere in panic, and I decided to stay and only he stayed next to me. That is how that mutual trust was created. We watched terrible television reports every day about the scale of those horrific destructions. That was the beginning of the friendship, some sympathies were immediately created, so now we are even each other’s best man.
For three and a half years during which you wore the jersey of Vojvodina, which game do you especially remember? The fans somehow remember the match of the semifinals of the Yugoslav Cup against Red Star the most, played on May 8, 2002 in Novi Sad, when Voša was defeated on penalties.
– Matches with Red Star and Partizan have always had the greatest significance. Therefore, they also had a special motive for the players, because we all knew that in those matches we affirm and prove ourselves the most. I remember that game against Red Star, but even more one against Partizan. We led 4-2, Marko Jovanović and I scored two goals each, and then we both came out in the 70th minute. Partizan managed to turn it around and beat us. These are some special matches from which you learn the most important football lessons – that there is never an end and that you have to beat your opponent if the opportunity arises. We played great in those 70 minutes, but Partizan was also the champion team, which managed to punish our mistakes.
Already on Wednesday, Vojvodina will again participate in the semifinals of the National Cup, against Partizan, which is a replay of last year’s final. Can Vojvodina win again and win a new trophy in the Serbian Cup?
– Vojvodina made an excellent result by winning the Cup. This is only the second trophy in that competition, and I believe that in this constellation of relations in Serbian football, the trophy in the Serbian Cup is the maximum ambition that Vojvodina can have. Unfortunately, that is a painful truth. It is difficult to break the dominance of Red Star and Partizan, for several reasons, but mostly because of the amount of the budget and sponsorship agreements. At this moment, it cannot be expected that a club with a budget of two and a half million euros will compete with clubs whose budgets are in the tens of millions of euros. Vojvodina, as a big and by all parameters the third club in our country, should have the ambition to make a team for the title at least once in a decade. Notwithstanding all those circumstances which I have enumerated before. That requires a good financial background, good work in the Youth Academy. It is necessary to keep one team together, because continuity is needed for every result. Of course, I would like Vojvodina to defend the trophy, but it will not be easy at all.
Did you watch the Cup final last season in Nis and what do you think was crucial for winning the cup?
– I watched, Vojvodina played smartly and on the result, the way such matches must be played. Voša scored goals on time, tactically followed the course of the match and responded in the right way at all times. This match will be different now, because Partizan is in a great series. Even in the derby they lost, they were a better rival.
How much do you manage to follow today’s team of Vojvodina and what do you think should be its identity?
– Unlike my opinion that Vojvodina must put together a team for the title at least once a decade, the more realistic ambition for the club is to be “self-sustaining”. Because, every year, all competitions must be played, salaries to players and employees must be paid, a Youth Academy must live. And that is why my message is that Voša must be a top development club, and it has exceptional conditions to succeed in that. The core and essence of Vojvodina must be its Youth Academy. Voša as a club should present itself to everyone as a club that knows and loves to nurture its players. Whether Vojvodina is third or fifth, there is no difference, nor is it of any significance. It is important to know who it affirmed, how much potential there is in the Youth Academy, how many players it has produced. A club without a large budget can cover its costs by producing its players. It is a model that the club should strive for in the coming years.
As for watching and following Vojvodina today, honestly, I rarely achieve it, but I hope that will change. I am discouraged by all the events in our football. Catastrophic and unworthy actions appear every day, and that is one of the horrors of Serbian football. The public learns that from the newspapers, and the extent and scale and devastation of our football, we who have been in it all our lives, know from direct contacts. Doubts about people, dirty lobbies in the leading structures, in the personnel structures, etc. That is a horror for our football. And when I say that, I mean a value system. That is why I am a little disappointed and uninterested, but I believe that in the future that will improve as well. I wish Vojvodina, as my club, good luck in the continuation of the championship and in the Cup. Also, as a fan, I wish the players luck in the continuation of their careers, because that is very important for everyone for whom Vojvodina is a springboard.
Two of your sons train football in the Youth Academy of Vojvodina. Will the fans of Vojvodina be able to enjoy the masterpieces of one Jovanović in a half white, half red jersey in the next period?
– My sons born in 2006 and 2008 play with their generation, but with a little older. I am a very patient man, reasonable, modest and at the moment the most important thing for me is that they are in football, to play sports. Senior football is another dimension and it is too early to talk about it. At the moment, it is important to me that there is a good ambience around them, a healthy environment and that they enjoy playing football. Those later achievements do not depend only on the talent, conditions for working in the club and their individual work, but also on their desire and determination whether they want to become professional players or not. They set the tone and rhythm for their careers. When I talk about it, I like to quote Jürgen Klopp, who explained it nicely, and that is that until the age of 16, talent determines the place you take in football, and from the 16, it is your head. So, until the age of 16, it is important for them to enjoy and train – said Lane Jovanović.