Slavoljub Muslin, Head Coach Serbian National Team

Slavoljub Muslin is a very busy man. Since last May, he has been the manager for the national team of his country, Serbia. With his team being second of its group in the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the man that has travelled Europe to convey his knowledge and experience took some time to answer our questions, with kindness and simplicity.

1. Was it an ambition to become coach of the Serbian national team?

When you become a professional football coach, it is not necessarily the peak of a career, but it is most certainly a very important moment. When I was a player, I played for the biggest team in Serbia, Red Star Belgrade. I told myself that if one day, I had the opportunity to coach this team, it would be a great accomplishment. After I had made it there, I thought that the only greatest thing to accomplish was to become the national team head coach. It was evident that if such an opportunity was offered to me, I could not miss it because it is a fantastic honor to coach your country’s national team.

2. Needless to say, the mission is accomplished since you took the team in 2016.

The deal was settled last May, and of course, I did not hesitate a bit to come back to Serbia and take the job. There is a huge challenge ahead of us since we want to qualify for the next World Cup in Russia. It has been since 2010 that the team has not qualified for a major competition. The country wants to see us competing in Russia in 2018. For the moment, it is going pretty well, but the road is long and complicated.

3. How do you evaluate the progress of Serbian football?

I would say that the situation is difficult since our football is not rich. Our clubs do not have a lot of money. The lack of means is critical, and therefore, the league is not very good, and we struggle to be competitive. We still have strong talents, playing in top European leagues. Unfortunately, it has become close to impossible to keep our good young players and avoid seeing them try their shot abroad. The main issue is that we do not have the funds to keep them. Clubs must sell because they need money. Players leave way sooner than they did 20 or 30 years ago, but they do not play a lot in their club because they are not ready to play at the highest level. The league is getting poorer, both economically and football wise. Proof of this is the fact that we rarely see a Serbian club in the group stage of the Champions League or the Europa League.

4. Would you say that it is difficult for you to select some players from the Serbian League in the national squad right now?

Yes, I believe so. There is none or few players evolving in Serbia that has a chance to play for the national team at the moment. If you look at my last squad, all the players are playing abroad. In the team that won the Under 20 World Cup in 2015, and in the one that will play the U21 Euro next summer in Poland, some strong talents are still playing in Serbia, and could potentially be eligible for the senior team pretty soon. Our formation is still good. But it lost of its superb lately because of scarce funds. Our academies work in harsh conditions, with limited resources. Nowadays, talent is not enough anymore, not in modern football. You have to work and prepare well, with good structure. One of the main issues in our clubs at the moment is that there is third or fourth choice foreign players coming to complete the squad because they do not cost a lot. But ultimately, they are taking a spot in the team from a young Serbian player that needs to play to keep his progression going. That is a critical issue in my opinion.

5. How would you assess the current level of your team and the players that are composing it?

We have a good team. Some of them are getting closer to the end of their career but still represent a great added value to the selection. Not only regarding football skills, but also regarding experience of course. The team has strong potential but the individuals needed to play at their best level when they were playing with Serbia. I believe it is the case now. We succeeded in creating a good atmosphere inside the group, and everyone is giving 100% for the team. It has been working pretty well so far.

6. You are currently standing at the second position of a very challenging group to qualify for the next World Cup. Do you think that your team will be able to keep it going and go to Russia?

With Ireland, Wales and Austria, we have in our group three times that were part of the last Euro in France. Wales went on to the semi-finals. So of course, the group is challenging, and we were prepared for that. When I look at the level during the Euro, I think that my team belonged in the competition. Right now, we are in a good position, but we have to remain careful. Everything is open in this group, and all the games are complicated. We have to keep securing a maximum of points, without paying too much attention to the standings. I sincerely hope we will be able to keep up the good work until the end of the qualifiers and that we will qualify, it is our sole objective.

7. Could you describe your work method and philosophy to all our readers?

I like players that play attractive football, with good skills and that have the desire to play forward. I wish to offer a pleasant game to watch, an offensive type of football. At least that is why we are trying to propose with the national team. We scored nine goals in four games in the qualifiers, so, for now, we are not doing too badly. I also try to set up a confidence climate within the squad, in putting everything possible for the players to enjoy joining the team and playing together for their country. It is the most important thing I believe.

8. Do you like your team to play in a specific tactical system?

We have to work different systems during practice, but also different ways of playing the game. We can face nations that will play defensive football, which will force us to attack and play most of the time in their half of the pitch, by a large ball possession. We can also be confronted to teams that will have more comfortable playing offence, which will force us to play closer to our goal, but that will also allow us to set up counters. It is a type of game that suits our wingers and full backs, with their speed being an unyielding asset. In both situations, we have players that can adapt and play in those settings. Regarding a particular tactical system, I make my choice considering the qualities of my players. Right now, we mostly play in 3-4-3, even if I mainly enjoy a more traditional 4-3-3. In both scenarios, the players that I have at my disposal will determine the system that will be chosen, to highlight to the fullest the men’s strengths.

AEFCA would like to thank the Football Association of Serbia and Coach Muslin for their availability and kindness.