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Young Partizan coach gunning for Arsenal scalp

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Jonathan Stevenson | 16:13 UK time, Monday, 27 September 2010

Aleksandar Stanojevic might not be very well known in England right now, but the upwardly mobile Partizan Belgrade coach could be about to change all that.

At the tender age of 36, the Serbian leads his team into Champions League battle against Arsenal at the Stadion FK Partizan on Tuesday with a reputation that is burgeoning by the week.

After being named Partizan's third manager of a fractured season in April, Stanojevic quickly set about making a good impression at his boyhood club. They wasted no time in turning around a deficit to win the league title and then went a step further by beating Belgian champions Anderlecht on penalties to progress to the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in seven years.

Not content with all that, the hugely ambitious Stanojevic told me he is lining up another stellar moment in his club's recent history at their fiery 32,000-capacity cauldron of a stadium, as they prepare to welcome Arsene Wenger and his team to Eastern Europe.

"I'm not scared of playing Arsenal, certainly not. I've never thought that way about anyone," said Stanojevic, who was born in Belgrade and spent five years playing for the club. "The players won't be nervous because they are playing in front of their own fans and it is a special experience, as you will see.

Stanojevic is enjoying his first campaign as a Champions League manager

Stanojevic is enjoying his first campaign as a Champions League manager

"My players and I are very pleased to have the opportunity to play against Arsenal and in this competition and though I am hoping that we can stay in Europe until the spring, we must wait and see. Finishing in the top two in the group and reaching the last 16 is still unrealistic for us, but you never know. It was unrealistic for us to get into the group stage of the Champions League, so..."

In his fledgling managerial career, over-achievement has been a regular occurrence for Stanojevic after he cut his teeth first as assistant at Partizan, then as assistant coach in the Serbia set-up and finally with a role in charge of his country's Under-19 side.

It was this success that prompted Partizan to act in April after the resignation of Goran Stevanovic, throwing Stanojevic into the deep end towards the end of the Serbian season. If it was a case of sink or swim, the one-time Atletico Madrid midfielder did more than just keep his head above water as they impressively overhauled a two-point Red Star Belgrade lead to beat their fiercest rivals to the title with a game to spare.

"I was lucky to work at a high level very young," said Stanojevic, Partizan's youngest manager in their 65-year history. "At the Under-19 European Championship in Ukraine we won third place, defeating England in the qualifying and then Spain at the tournament. They were the things that recommended me to the Partizan board as head coach.

"The success we have had... in football nothing is a coincidence. It is the beginning with Partizan, but I've had success before with the national team so I just continued along my path, doing the same as I have always done - with studiousness, commitment to my job and a faith in being successful.

"It means a lot to me that I am coaching the best club in Serbia, especially because I am a child of Partizan. I started at the Partizan youth school, made my way up to the first team and now here I am."

Stanojevic is clearly not short of confidence, with the club's 1-0 defeat at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk in their first group game failing to diminish his belief in his team. In Brazilian-born striker Cleo, who became a naturalised Serb only last week, and midfielder Sasa Ilic, they have two players with the quality to threaten any defence on their day.

Partizan rely heavily on the goals of Brazilian-born striker Cleo

Partizan rely heavily on the goals of Brazilian-born striker Cleo

But Stanojevic also knows that in Arsenal, themselves wounded after a 3-2 humbling at home by West Brom on Saturday, Partizan face an enormous challenge to gain their first victory in the Champions League group stage at the eighth attempt.

Stanojevic, like many impressionable young managers, is an avid fan of Wenger and the way his team play the game and will take the opportunity to learn from the veteran Frenchman at close quarters. "What can you say about Arsenal, the team that, along with Barcelona, plays the most beautiful and most attractive football in the world?" he pondered.

"There is no need for me as a young coach to comment on Wenger. I was at one of his summer coaching forums, monitoring Arsenal and their style of play. My way of thinking in football is a way of how to reach the goal from greater possession of the ball - so what do you now think about how much I like the way Arsenal play?"

There is no doubt that in Stanojevic, Partizan have found a perfect fit. It is difficult to imagine another manager watching their team in Europe this week who will have the same level of emotional investment in the outcome; no other manager has had to live in their team's city while war raged around them to get where they are today.

Belgrade was capital of the former Yugoslavia, but when the Federation disintegrated in the 1990s, the city was for the best part of a decade the focal point of almost continuous war. The conflict ended in 1999 when NATO bombed Serbia to force the Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his security forces from Kosovo.

Despite brief spells in Spain with Atletico and Real Mallorca and one in Hungary with Videoton, Stanojevic has lived in Belgrade his entire life and he will never forget what the people of the city have had to go through.

"I had nothing to do with it, but the war has had a little influence on me," he says. "Of course I was thinking about leaving the country while it was going on, but in the end I decided to stay. Emotionally, though, everyone knows that we as a people have been through a lot of stuff."

The mere fact that Arsenal are returning to Serbia after a 32-year absence (when they lost 1-0 at Red Star) should be a cause for celebration, but there's no doubt Stanojevic will want more than that to remember his day by.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Partizan is rather poor side. I saw them in both matches against Anderlecht and they were mediocre at best. The match against Shakhtar showed that too. Arsenal will run over them easily, unless they're aiming for West Brom Pt. 2, the Sequel tomorrow.

  • Comment number 3.

    I want to know why you don't like posting my txt messages on live premiership league? i sense partiality and am disappointed.

  • Comment number 4.

    I watched both legs of Partizan and Anderlecht as well, and I thought Partizan were good. Anderlecht seemed a bit smoother and passed better, I thought, but Partizan were organized and Cleo was the difference between the two sides.

  • Comment number 5.

    Even if Partizan lose tonight by some number as long as they keep their heads and play attractive flowing football the manager will earn many plaudits. Potentially a championship manager next season maybe?

  • Comment number 6.

    #5 - "Potentially a championship manager next season maybe?"

    Worst tautology I've seen for a while, a good while, but a fair point. Is this the only hope for people now, to come to England, grab a job in the Championship or lower league of some sort, and then wait and wait until a Premiership club sacks a manager in March/April and is desparate to stay in the league?

    Oh no, wait, of course it is.

    But then if you had read the article you would never suggest that Stanojevic would leave Partizan for Preston, Plymouth or Portsmouth would you?

    My mistake.

  • Comment number 7.

    FYI Rob, Plymouth are in League 1. ;)

    Interesting to see how they play. I like Arsenal's style of play, but I always like an underdog so I'm undecided on this one.

  • Comment number 8.

    for the 1st time in my life, i wd love to see arsenal loose via a fabiyanzki clanger jus so he repays wenger's religious albeit ludicrous faith in him and his compatriot almunia.

  • Comment number 9.

    "Worst tautology I've seen for a while"

    Sorry but do you actually know what a tautology is?

    Anyway, I hope it's a good game tomorrow and that Arsenal recover from their poor showing at the weekend.

  • Comment number 10.

    @ 8.

    Great supporter you are. hoping for a loss.

  • Comment number 11.

    Tautology was used correctly, was it not - wait is that more of the same....... Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Sorry - been a long day over her in Florida. Arsenal do need a new keeper though, so they do (darn - did it again!!!!).

  • Comment number 12.

    @ 10, colin.
    If loozing in belgrade would solve arsenal's calamitous goal keeping, i would be more than glad, jus sick of almunia and fabiyanski most of all.

  • Comment number 13.

    As an Arsenal fan obviously i hope for the win. However if the defence and goalkeeper (looking like Fabianski) play like they did on Saturday it may be more likely a draw or worse.

    Club affiliation aside i really can't see Eastern European clubs ever reaching the heights of their illustrious former glories. Sadly the Champions League format doesn't favour them as it's only the big fish that reap all the financial rewards and thus prize away what little talent, in the form of players, the lesser clubs possess.

    One last note on Arsenal; i know Wenger tried hard to bring in a goalkeeper (sadly the 28 year old Mark Schwarzer) but he really needs to try harder in January to find alternatives to the calamitous two he already has at the club. Almunia is a no.2 at best with Fabianski way off the standard. Oh and please can he be under 30 so we don't have to go through this process again so soon (after all we had Seaman for the best part of 12 years!)

  • Comment number 14.

    *Obviously Schwarzer is 38, silly me....

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm as frustrated as anyone else that Arsenal's wonderful football seems to be so undermined by frailties in the green shirt, but why is it none of these posts ever point to actual replacements ("anybody would be better" is just lazy and untrue, before you say it). Names mentioned in the past Schwarzer, Reina, Hart have made pretty outstanding bloopers already this season and why are City happy to get rid of a shot stopper as good as Shay Given? Keeping at the top clubs is harder because you have to concentrate for long periods when you don't have much to do - Almunia was a genius in the first leg against Barca last year because he was making a great save every 30 seconds - and the pressure is greater - same reason why promising young England goalies get eaten by tournaments when they move up from West Ham (for example). Arsene has been right to stick with Almunia and build up his confidence, until (as recently) that also has begun to crumble. Fabianski isn't going to make it though, I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 16.

    Partizan Belgrade won't get anything tonight, and probably end up being kicked out of CL with no points. They'll memory will be distinguished very promptly. This article is a waste of internet space.

  • Comment number 17.

    I was extremly disappointed when the tranfser window slammed shut and Arsenal supporters were still looking at another season of holding their breath every time the ball starts on its way toward the keeper because it will still be either Almunia or Fabianski waiting on it.

    I was equally disappointed when the only name that was seriously mentioned as a possibility was Mark Schwartzer? Doesn't that go against everything Wenger believes in? He needs to go back to his default player-search setting of young French talent and pull one of the 3 promising young keepers that currently ply their trade across the Channel. Steve Mandanda, Remy Riou, or Hugo Lloris.


  • Comment number 18.

    If Partizan play an attacking game, they have a chance. Put pressuse on Fabianski and you'll score for sure. If they (PArtizan) come to contain Aresenal and don't get near Faianski, they'll get murderd, 6-0.

  • Comment number 19.

    This game and this part of the season is the best to show Wenga what he did wrong, so I wouldn't mind losing the game vs Partizan or Chelsea. His goalkeeping, central defensive and center forward background is poor. These are the positions he is unable to nurture talents (maybe just yet). However, the second 2 was solved with decent buyings.

    Unfortunately, goalkeeping wasn't as he didn't try hard enough. I dont really believe that Fulham wouldn't let Schwarzer go for Ł 3M instead of 2. Anyway, Wenga was far too cheap there, pathetic...:-)

    Both Fabianski and Almunia should be get rid of ASAP and buy a decent one in January - Mannone and Szcezny would be great backups as both of them are U-21 nationals.

  • Comment number 20.

    Can't see a tautology there myself.
    Besides that though I do think it is disrespectful to suggest he might make a Championship level manager. He has led his team into the group stages of the Champions League with financial resources less than some of the championship side and is at the biggest club in Serbia. Why would he leave a club with the 2nd best youth academy in Europe to join a decidedly average, non-achieving club who will sack him if he doesn't win his first 3 games?
    Arsenal should win this game, but they should win a lot of games that they don't. Can't wait to see the Belgrade fans in full swing though they always make it a cauldron.

  • Comment number 21.

    # 8 Not only are you wanting your team to lose but you also seem to be a bit confused.. Almunia is Spanish and Fabianski is Polish.. Compatriots they are not.

    I think Wenger has made a complete mess of Fabianski.. he gives him little game time and had to throw him into a pressure situation and he lost a couple of bad goals.. he has made mistakes when coming in out the cold. I think a normal manager who has hopes for a player would have then sent a player like this out on loan to a smaller team.. not only for game time but to get them out the spotlight and build their confidence.. Wenger does this with his outfield players to great effect but wont with his keepers..

  • Comment number 22.

    I was at the Braga game and it appeared that the fans were starting to warm to Almunia again, then he went and fluffed it at the next home game. The only positive from the weekend was that had Chelsea and Arsenal both won, we'd be no worse or better off than we are now in terms of points difference (however was a perfect opportunity to catch them). If we lose on Sunday, we're 7(?) points behind and I just can't see where that will be made up given the two teams recent form.

    I would love to see Wenger put out a team tonight akin to the one he played against Spurs last week and save the strongest XI for Chelsea, but it won't happen. If we drop points tonight, we'll still have 4 games to make it up. We should be turning over Braga (A) and Partizan (H) and will beat Shaktar (H). I'll be happy for a draw at the weekend given our recent results against the big boys the last couple seasons.

    As for the keeper situation. Nothing will happen in Jan, purely because Almunia won't go to a club where he can't play European football. Because of that, we won't get anybody in (unless we loan Flappyhandski and Mannone). Equally, if Wenger doesn't play Sczeszny against Newcastle in the Carling Cup, I fear we'll lose him on a Bosman next summer much like we lost Fran Merida. Sczeszny will be a future Arsenal #1 (if we keep him and play him). Not saying he's on a par with Iker at Real Madrid, but they played him at 16 and look at him now. They weren't afraid to drop him either.

    Just take a gamble Wenger. Either that, or make sure you have Hugo Lloris ready to come in next summer!!! Don't get Schwarzer (even if he will be a free next year)...I wouldn't have paid £4m on him either.

  • Comment number 23.

    It seemed Wenger's team had one eye on this game when they played West Brom on Saturday and judging by early team news ahead of this game - Fabianski, Eboue, Djourou etc I think he's got the other one on Chelsea this weekend. That's Arsenal's problem at the moment always looking to the future whilst taking their eye off the ball in the present.

    It will be tough for some of the second string in a hostile atmosphere with Partizan needing a result of some kind, but we thought Braga would prove difficult and West Brom a guaranteed 3 pointer - you never know nowadays.

  • Comment number 24.


    Is that not EXACTLY what a backup keeper is for and as such has to be able to handle the pressure?

    Fans can tolerate mistakes, if there's a flip side (i.e some awesome saves to make up for it), but with Fabianski there's been nothing of note, just mistake after mistake.

  • Comment number 25.

    I'm not an Arsenal fan, but I've been perplexed over the last few seasons by Wenger's apparent disregard for buying a really top-notch goalkeeper.

    While I don't think Almunia is a bad keeper, he clearly isn't one of the very top goalkeepers in the world.

    It's not like Arsenal are unable to attract top players; they are surely one of the most attractive propositions for any professional footballer.

    When goalkeepers such as Schwarzer and Given were available, then why doesn't Wenger see the need to sign keepers of this calibre ?

    He can't be oblivious to the general feeling of discontentment amongst Arsenal fans, in regards to Almunia and Fabianski.

  • Comment number 26.

    # 24 my point wasnt a broad statement on all backup keepers though.. I mentioned Fabianski as an example due to the subject of the blog.. my point was that he hasn't handled these situations when thrown in.. so instead of keeping him in that role and possibly leaving him open to doing so again.. why not send him on loan and let him get more game time to see if he can make it as a top class goalkeeper..

    Wenger had high hopes when he signed this guy.. he has used him sporadically and his confidence will be shot.. a year playing consistently for a smaller team would maybe have helped this..

  • Comment number 27.

    Why do people keep talking about Schwarzer & Given. Do monkeys do as monkeys see?

    There is a world class goalkeeper in the making at Arsenal already. Szczesny cannot be any worse than Almunia & Fabianksi so why do people keep going on & on about the Schwarzer & Given?

    I would drop Almunia to third choice, send Fabianski on loan so he can improve & then sell him, make Mannone second choice & put Szczesny in the first team.

  • Comment number 28.

    I'm hoping for a 7-6 win with Three absolute clangers from Fabianski who gets subbed at half-time a 50 yard own goal from Sagna & Two more clangers from Mannone. Then hopefully Monsieur Wengers eyes will open to what everyone else can plainly see that our goalkeeping situation is not good enough. Give the young Lad Szczesny a chance he cant do any worse and if he does then we know for sure that our Goalkeepers are rotten to the core

  • Comment number 29.

    i fed up with all this people who put the blame on almunia last saturday.
    We ve got beat not because of him but because of our midfield (Nasri not include) and our fullback were playing like amateur.Song,diaby,eboue,arshavin were abysmal.Clichy and sagna were absent from defense duty.True is not the best we could have, but if the rest of the team were doing their job(like Nasri) against west-brom,we would not be here talking about almunia and how bad he suppose to be.i think he is a decent gk and he is far worst in the EPL).

    As for Partizan,if the player decide to turn up (we cant do any worst than last match)we will win easily

  • Comment number 30.

    Nothing has changed from Arsenal. They cannot beat many teams without those teams beating themselves first - we had won games against teams that got their players sent off, as well as those that sit back and let us pass the ball.

    Sunderland and West Brom, by no means world class but were very organized and determined, easily caught Arsenal ball-watching and our passes were easily intercepted.

    I think some teams we've beaten this season have given Arsenal too much respect and already beat themselves mentally based on reputation alone.

    Yes, Arsenal can pass many teams off the pitch, but only if you give them time and space. Some teams tried to kick us off the pitch (illegally) but Sunderland and West Brom accomplished the tasks via workrate and determination (without using dirty tactics) so kudos to them for great performances.

    I think if we beat Partizan Belgrade tonight, they would need to beat themselves first. If they are organized and determined then the best I can hope for is a draw....

  • Comment number 31.

    Watch out for LB of Partizan in the names of Nestroy Kizito, if he makes the squad. Small man big heart, full of confidence. Bad that Walcot is not playing; we would have got a real entertainment tonight.

  • Comment number 32.

    Hmm, far be it from me to stifle creativity, but seems to have gone a little off topic, this thread.

    Was kind of hoping I might get a bit more chat on the Partizan boys, though that's probably being a bit too optimistic.

    UG_born - that's the stuff. What can you tell us about this Cleo character, too? I hear he's on the brink of a call-up to the Serbia squad.

    kfresh - Sorry mate, but we do get quite a few you know. Hey, try again tonight, and maybe your luck will turn.

    Anti_Stan_KRONK_EE - But as internet space is plentiful, it's not a disaster is it?

    Live text on the Champions League starts at 1845 BST tonight - with all Arsenal eyes on a certain Lukasz Fabianski, it seems.

  • Comment number 33.

    Good luck to him and his team. They've done extraordinarily well to get to where they are now, given the bedlam of the last decade in their country. Wealthy clubs in countries such as England have all of the advantages over clubs like his, but passion and desire are free and Partizan are clearly well-equipped in these departments.

    Serious Football


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