Sunday, June 25, 2017

A (not that long) summer break

I don't mind at all (on the contrary!) that the summer break is this short in the football season. Compared to the two-month-long winter break, when I almost cut my veins, this few-week-long holiday is really bearable, especially that the CL-qualifyings are at the corner and afterwards the championship starts as well. (Meanwhile it's hot as hell, Average Fan tries not to get cooked, nor to get a heat stroke.)

The biggest happening of the transfer season was the return of Danilo Pantić to Partizan. I tell you, I’m one of those few who’s very happy for the boy’s return.

I know it's been trendy lately to curse, mock, spit and threaten Pantić as well as anyone who’s on his side. Yes, I also did get a portion after raising my voice for the kid and/or telling off a few haters. It made me laugh hard to see all those neurotic, spitting armchair-smartasses who put all possible threatenings into sight in case of Pantić’s return. Some of them looked as if ambulance should be called for them. So, I’m happy for Pantić being back to Partizan and can’t wait for his goals and assists.

Danilo Pantić in all smiles at his arrival at Partizan’s training camp in Zlatibor

Posing with Neca at a training

He even played at a friendly against Mladost

Another thing - independent of Pantić - that the team have played two friendlies so far and lost both. One against Zeta (MNE), to 0:1, another against Mladost (again 1:0). Oh well. These games are just friendlies, with no consequences and better to lose now than in the championship/CL.
As for other transfers, little Milenković went to Fiorentina. Partizan's management decided about his fate with the Italians back in the spring, what is more, it seems, Fiorentina takes Vlahović, too, as soon as the kid reaches the coming of age. No news yet about possible arrivals. There are a few rumours about Seydouba Souma though, but Partizan have been trying to get this midfielder from Guinea since forever, so far with no success. (Maybe, if I remember well, there was a Brazilian player as well in the possible transfers, but nothing happened.)
Meanwhile the team travelled to Slovenia for a training camp, there will be friendlies, then on 11th or 12th July comes the Champions League qualifying against Budućnost Podgorica.


I honestly admit, I didn't follow the basketball team for a while. Their performance was so very depressing and awful that every single game (among those I actually watched...) made me totally pissed and very sad at the same time. It was painful and infuriating to see the very same tactics - regardless of opponent or league - on every single goddamned game. Same tactics, same half-talents who will probably never have any more chance in life and especially to see every single game have the same screenplay, moment to moment. Shitty first quarter, struggling second (when we somehow equalized), suicidal third, finally (if we had luck) a combative fourth in a style that should have been present in EVERY SINGLE FUCKING QUARTER. Then, if we were lucky enough, we could win the game with this last quarter, if not, then not. It happened every time, on every game. And I hate to say it, but I was right: I said right in the beginning that even though this performance might take us until a certain point either in the freshly baked Basketball Champions League (the Euroleague of the poor...) or ABA Liga or in the Serbian superliga, but it's not enough for happiness. After this in Champions League PAOK smashed us into the face, in the semifinal of ABA Liga Cedevita simply stepped over us (based on our shitty performance we wouldn't have deserved to qualify to the final...), but the really bad surprise was in the Serbian league: we were eliminated in the semifinal by FMP (!!!). They say the last time it happened to KK Partizan to get eliminated in the semifinal was in 1998. Honestly, it didn't surprise me after this very disappointing season. Head coach Aleksandar Džikić has left for Budućnost, the two Americans left - Robinson has left during the season (he added absolutely nothing to the team), Hatcher left at the end of the season (he had some performance, though in a team like this even Michael Jordan himself couldn't make any miracle). I can't pick any player who had an exemplary or just an acceptable performance. I know that everyone is all over Novica Veličković, but the thing is, that in his case it was more about routine and heart than abilities/talent, but as the saying goes, in the land of the blind the one-eyed will be the king. The team is searching for a head coach now, but most of all it's searching for its old self.

As for the rest of the team sports: the water polo team has won the Serbian league. After practically the whole team left last year, it was a miracle even that there were a few remaining in Banjica to continue the work. They continued, so much that they won the championship title and will enter Champions League.
The handball team were running the gauntlet during the past season. Key players left, one after the other, a new coach was needed, too, plus the play-off became play-out at the end of the season. They finished on the 3rd place of the play-out, avoiding relegation, but who knows what comes in the next season.
The volleyball team ended much worse. OK Partizan was factually an U21 team for the season and they got releagated to the 2nd league. Honestly? I'm not surprised. My heart breaks for the team, but knowing their circumstances, it couldn't be avoided. It's no wonder at all, with so young players and such financial possibilities that are worse than worst. The team was practically on an amateur level.
That's all, folks.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Musings about the 2016/17 football season

Roller coaster.
This expression perfectly sums up this season.
It started in the deepest depths of hell. We got the chance to play in Europa League (we squeezed it out in the previous season) starting it in Round 2 of the qualifyings. Excellent. Our opponent was a not entirely dominant

let's be honest: a totally mediocre

Polish team named Zaglebie Lubin. We played a goalless draw on both games with them, then we got relegated through the penalty shootout. Well... yes. We tried to have our piece in the European football life with a fresh team, with players that signed to Partizan right before the qualification games. And it striked back. These players had zero chance to get used to each other or get to know each other. We lost, we got relegated, it was a big slap in the face for both the team and the fans.

The stunned face of Partizan’s sports director Ivica Iliev at the first game against Zaglebie. The moment when you realize you got a bunch of talentless idiots signed for Partizan

After the penalty shootout. Filip Kljajić giving support to Janković, who collapsed after Partizan got relegated

Then came the superliga and it wasn’t any happier. On the contrary... We started with a goalless draw against a newbie team, OFK Bačka. You get what I mean. This was OFK Bačka’s first ever time to play in the superliga. And we played with them a goalless game. Afterwards came a defeat from Napredak, after that head coach Ivan Tomić resigned.

I felt sorry for Tomić, because he looked a very reliable person humanly and his dedication for Partizan was also out of question. Perhaps he shouldn’t have debuted on Partizan’s bench as a head coach. Perhaps the pressure was too big... Who knows, maybe it doesn’t even matter anymore. He failed before he could have actually started it. It would be nice to know though, how he’s doing. It seems he has no activity as a football coach.

The management decided to call back Marko Nikolić - that Marko Nikolić whom they got rid of in 2014 in an exceptionally disgusting way. That Marko Nikolić, who was fired and right after his firing the team started to fall deep down and probably this defeat from Napredak was the lowest point. In the next round we were defeated again, now from Vojvodina, and it wasn’t an easy game again (1:3, home game) and this was really the worst. Ever. Partizan was on the 14th (!!!) place of the league table. Then finally we could win against Javor, in the 4th round (0:2, away). The machine started to run, crunching, with hiccups, but it was running (1:0 against Čukarički at home, then a 2:1 defeat from Spartak, away, right after that a four-goal victory at home against Rad), but the level of our game didn’t change at all. Partizan was an unmotivated, pathetic team that didn’t remind even of their own shadow. It was terrible to watch. We were 11th on the league table.

I got totally upset on every single goddamn game. I haven’t seen such a futile thing as Partizan and its teeth-clenching then. It was awful, depressive and very saddening. We didn’t function as a team.

Somehow it was running though. Victories were on the way, we won the 152nd Eternal Derby (1:0, Leonardo’s memorable goal in the 89th minute). We crawled up on the league table, reaching the 4th place (!!!) in Round 10. But something was still missing. Despite all these victories (1:3 against Radnik - away, 3:2 against Napredak - home) the team still didn’t look to be coherent. Our game was still terrible, the results didn’t give a clear picture about our actual performance. Simply put, the opponents were worse even than us. Our tactics were predictable, none of the players had any character or characteristic feature. We finished the autumn season on the 2nd place, but it was really high time for some rest, retrospection and thinking over things a bit.

Then the team underwent major changes during the winter break. Marko Nikolić surely came up with something special, because this unstructured, disorganized team started to get a shape. Players with special character or talent slowly started to emerge. Đurđević and Leonardo were especially this kind, they seemed to have that kind of special power to make a great duo.

They did. And it was really... HUGE!

The first game of the spring season ended as a small warfare against Rad, with scuffles, yelling and scandal. Everton’s photo made it through the entire world press, as this rock-hard, hot-headed defender leaves the pitch in tears, after Rad’s primitive, neo-Nazi fans spitted racism, hatred and xenophobia on him for the entire game.

The world-famous photo: Everton in tears, Filip Kljajić comforting him

But the machine was running and there was no stop... Partizan had no defeat, I repeat, NO DEFEAT in the entire spring season. NONE. We made a draw on the 153rd Eternal Derby (1:1, goal by Đurđević in the 88th minute), and this derby brought the most controversial goal of the season (or even the whole year).

The most important was that we didn’t get defeated, even when the opponent got a shameless support from the referee.
We marched ahead. 3:0 at home against Metalac, 0:2 at an away game against Mladost, the Leonardo-Đurđević axis was on full speed already. We stepped over Voždovac easily (4:0, home), Radnički Niš caused no headache either (0:2, away), the difference between us and those you-know-who at the first place of the league table was 6 points. Then came a rough, tensed game with Radnik, we kept the 3 points at home (2:0 for us), then we finished the regular season with a tough game against Novi Pazar (1:3, away). Time for the play-off.
I think we can say, from here the team made a fantastic resurrection, especially compared to what we had been at the beginning of the season. Obviously we needed all these events and circumstances as well, but our performance in the upcoming 7 rounds, with all these games - seriously, it should be prescribed against depression.

Play-off, round 1. Eternal derby. The 154th.
We tore them to pieces. To very small pieces. We swiped them off so aggressively that they were just gasping for breath. Their huge ego vanished, they looked at each other with pale face, while Đurđević or Leonardo brought life-danger to their box. Then in the 20th minute Leonardo was so dangerous that he scored our first goal. We pressured them ahead, the Đu-Le axis brought a lot of new grey hair for Zvezda’s goalkeeper... In the 40th minute they equalized, but they could make it only because Miletić was just one step behind Boakye - had he made it just one step ahead, he would have tackled the Ghanaian and the neighbourhood would have left without goal... No problem, the Parni valjak was rolling ahead on full force. We got back the lead in the 67th minute with Tawamba’s goal, the Đu-Le duo brought the third in the 79th, the first passed, the latter scored. With this 1:3 (because we made it all at their side, OF COURSE, where else? The best place to humiliate the opponent enemy is their own stadium, isn’t it?) we caught up Zvezda. Both teams had the same amount of points (40-40), the only reason Zvezda was still on the top of the table was their better goal difference.

And we were rolling ahead. Only victories came. Vojvodina (1:0, home), Napredak (3:1, home), Javor (1:2 away), Partizan was marching. And here, in the 4th round of the play-off came the surprise of all surprises: the neighbourhood got defeated by Voždovac. This small team from Belgrade’s outskirts beat the state-donated one to 3:2, which state-donated team lost its first place on the table - - - which it kept only because of the better goal difference, nothing else. AND PARTIZAN WAS LEADING ON THE LEAGUE TABLE, if someone had told this to me in autumn, I would have laughed them off before smashing them in the face with a shovel covered with pig shit.
We were leading.

In the meantime we qualified to the semifinals of the Serbian Cup. We got Vojvodina for our opponent, first we played with a hard-as-rock, teeth-clenching, goalless draw, then at the return game we beat them with one goal. We made it to the final, where Zvezda was waiting for us as well as the 155th eternal derby.

But let’s not forward this fast. We still have the last rounds of the championship, which were like a dream. Even if we had to play one of our games behind closed doors, but Partizan-fans are Partizan-fans - there’s a reason why they are one of the toughest and most loyal, if not THE most loyal fans in Europe. Not even this could keep them back. A big group of Grave Diggers gathered at the outside of the stadium and among them you could see the players of Partizan’s basketball team. Yes. Because Partizan is a team like this. FYI. (We won the game to 2:1.)

KK Partizan players among Grave Diggers outside of stadium JNA

Then came a very tensed, very nervous away game against Radnički Niš. We knew that we must not make any mistakes, because it might cost our (so much desired, closer-and-closer-approaching) championship title. While Radnički also wanted to win; a victory would have ensured them a place to qualify for Europa League. (Extra: Marko Nikolić was suspended at this game after the referee gave him a red card at the previous game. Because why not.)
We won. First we played very tensed, but after our first goal (Leonardo, 55th minute) we got more and more loose. Đurđević’s beautiful goal must be remembered. 58th minute, goal kick, Leonardo gets the ball...

It ended with 1:2. But it could be felt even here, that it will have a huge, fantastic, beautiful end.
It did.
Last round. Partizan vs. Mladost, neighbourhood vs. Radnički. The difference between us and them was still only 3 points. We knew that - theoretically - a draw is enough for the title, but a win would be much better.
We won.
On an amazing game, with 5 goals.
And there was this. Janković scored our 4th goal in the 70th minute and the stadium, this old stadium JNA that witnessed so much during the decades got a Ring of Fire.
(It still brings tears to my eyes.)

We were the champions.
It was time to celebrate. At long last, for a real, heartfelt celebration.

No sit-back and relax yet, we had one huge job to do. The Serbian Cup final.
Have we made it?
We have!
Double crown?
Double crown, for God’s sake!
155th eternal derby, Serbian Cup final. The world’s most tensed, most nervous game for sure. Bojan Ostojić got booked after 30 seconds (!!!). The neighbourhood wanted revenge so much, so so much. And even more.
But we all know how such a tensed, nervous pressure ends.
Yes. With a huge goal in Zvezda’s box. 44th minute, Milenković.

And with such a beautiful rainbow during the game

At the end "Little Baldhead", our reverse goalkeeper, Stevanović made such two saves that must be and will be remembered forever.

And yes. We won.
Championship title and cup winning. From the deepest of hell to the seventh heaven.
Do we deserve it?

It’s unbelievable how Tawamba can party. This "Balkan feeling" seems to fit him a lot

Leonardo immediately got among the fans

Right now I don’t want to think about how the next season will be. Marko Nikolić resigned almost immediately

I didn’t want to believe for quite a long time that the reason behind was a thick offer from none else than Videoton...

the new head coach Miroslav Đukić has just started the preparations with the team. We’ll see. What is sure: nobody can ever take this double crown from us. Big big big thank you to all of you, boys. For everything.