In your opinion, how does the current state of play in the SFA compare to the time when you last spoke out on the issue? It's worth noting that quite a lot has happened since – Slaviša Kokeza has left the post of president under unusual circumstances , Marko Pantelić has been removed from the position of acting president, and sporting director Vladimir Matijašević has been relieved of his duties…
"I've been following the developments, and I don't like any of it. We're in a situation where Slaviša's staff, the people that he has appointed, run the Association. If they stay on, there will be no changes! We've seen how they've been running Serbian football – we've had a league with the most irregularities in Europe, with people on the SFA executive committee abusing their positions of authority, breaking laws, and voting in favour of Kokeza's destructive ideas… Now they want to distance themselves from Kokeza and so lay all the blame on him, and only yesterday they were his closest associates. Football officials are waiting for the authorities to punish those who break the law."
It looked as if Marko Pantelić might get ensconced in the position of Serbia's top football official. However, he was quickly removed from the post of acting president.
"Marko Pantelić was Kokeza's closest associate, he defended the indefensible, and now he's going for the very same people he once protected and worked well with. I don't believe in such ideas."
The SFA is currently formally headed by Nenad Bjeković. What is your take on the strange goings-on on the day of the SFA Executive Committee meeting?
"I was thinking about Bjeković the other day. He was at the helm in my grandfather's day, then my father's, and he wants to stay at the helm in my children's day as well, with staff cut from the same cloth as him and with ideas from over 30 years ago, both obviously ineffectual. How do you propose to do that?!"
What sort of interest do you have in talking about the problems now? You haven't done so before, even though Serbian football had problems in the past as well, albeit in a different form?
"I've noticed that in the meantime other people have come out with statements about this, people with a clear stance and a strong character. We've been warning and criticising because, apparently, "our intentions are bad", or "we haven't found our meal ticket", so "we see an opportunity in our financial and personal interest"… It goes without saying that improving Serbian football is in my interest. I knew my place and role in the system when I was a player. I respected the hierarchy and the role in that system. Now that my career as a player is over, as I am accomplished and in my mature years, I have a duty to point out the mistakes and problems I have noticed before. I see that a small number of people are concerned with the cause, and the majority are concerned with the effects."
Would you be able to tell us when you will run for President of the SFA? Some say that it is too soon for you, while others agree that it might be too late.
"I'm ready to help Serbian football, even to run for President of the SFA, but I don't see how I can help as an individual in this football system. What we must consider is setting up a team, having honest and competent people here, whose reputations are untarnished and who have no loose ends trailing behind. The SFA must go down the route of professionalization, with each sector being responsible for its actions. The state systems must be involved, and they must penalize officials, footballers, anyone who breaks the law."
Other names have in the meantime been floated as potential SFA President nominees – Rasim Ljajić, Nebojša Leković, among others.
"That's interesting. It's no accident that Ljajić and Leković are lobbying for SFA President. There are even hints that there will be only one nominee, perhaps Ljajić himself. People who are in politics shouldn't take up leading positions in Serbian football. If their politician colleagues allow them to get nominated, then I too can run for head of state."
One gets the impression that things aren't all that bad in Serbian football. Since you made your last public statement, we have got a national team manager – one of the greats, Dragan Stojković Piksi. Surely you are happy with the national team's results?
"Piksi is one of our all-time best players. He has plenty of leadership charisma, and that has rubbed off on the players too, which is evident in the initial qualification matches. He seems to be pushing for the offensive gameplay. I expect that the national team will play even better."
There are many indications that Piksi is someone to be reckoned with in the Association. It was his election that brought about the removal of junior team managers, the sporting director, and other individuals. Some available information suggests that the election of the new SFA president is down to him.
"You can see what's going on…. Here, the coach would like to be the director, the president would like to be the coach, and managers become sporting directors. Everyone should do their own job."
How do you comment on the developments in your very own Red Star? You will doubtless agree that Red Star has had a great track record in the home championship, which is what matters most in Europe too.
"As a football supporter and someone who has spent his youth at Red Star, I'm truly pleased that the club is now winning titles and playing in Europe. That said, I'm afraid that these successes might cost us a great deal in the future. We saw something akin to that in the recent past. I think that it's high time to check where certain people got their money from, given that the clubs are still in enormous debt, as well as who is to blame for Red Star's huge debts. We all know, the Red Star supporters know, but no one is looking into it. Everyone's silent. There must be responsibility. I don't understand how it is that in Serbian football players without any market value have 600,000-euro salaries plus bonuses. For example, in recent years Red Star hasn't had a single player below the age of 21 in important first team matches. I think the average age of the 11 starters is 28. What's left after such policies of the club and the coaches, who aren't accepting of the younger players? Who will train new national team players? I was the captain of Red Star at 20, and Stanković was even younger. In an era of 100 million-euro transfers, Red Star keeps playing in the Champions League and the Europa League, it has won four titles, and yet it is unable to sell a player for as little as five million euros. That's why I think Red Star's debts will only grow, and I'm getting more afraid of the Belgrade JFC scenario. I hope I'm wrong."
It's interesting that neither Red Star nor Partizan, as two of the biggest football clubs, has its own SFA President nominee, and that both are publicly labelling the other nominees as Red Star or Partizan supporters.
"Red Star and Partizan usually put forward their nominations and fight for their own interests, rather than the interests of Serbian football. Many people in football have dubious intentions, they're on wanted lists or are involved in court trials, and have been linked to criminals. Criminal lawsuits have been filed against two out of the three most recent SFA presidents. One was on the run, and is now in custody over financial machinations, and the last one has even more serious allegations levelled against him. Perhaps the authorities should follow the example of Poland and the United Kingdom, which have resolved their problems."
You are appreciated in Europe and globally, especially in the United Kingdom, and you're part of the upper crust of European football. How do Alex Ferguson, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Rio Ferdinand comment on what has been going on in Serbian football?
"In the circles in which I move, people say that there's corruption in Serbian football. But, what all of them see is that we have talented footballers, top players, that we love football. Well, someone needs to take care of the youths who go abroad way too soon. I was lucky to leave Red Star for FC Spartak Moscow, rise through the ranks there, and then go to Man United. We see different examples nowadays. Managers have a lot of say here. They are important in football, but in the sense of being a service, not partners."
The events at some Serbian Superliga matches have tarnished the reputation of club football, and UEFA has reacted to this as well. Have you been able to follow the second part of the championship, especially the fight for survival in which some clubs have had better results than Bayern or Manchester City?
"Everyone involved ought to be punished. Everyone should be held to account. However, we need evidence. What I find most upsetting is that evidence is being swept under the rug. And that's it, as if nothing had happened. Well, that's why I don't like any of it, as I said right at the start."