A few months after deciding that the destination for this summer’s city break was Belgrade I remembered reading an article that rated FK Partizan Belgrade’s Youth School as second only to Ajax. So I thought it would make an interesting post for the blog, a comparison with Rangers youth setup, see were they differ and perhaps areas we could learn from.
When I contacted the club, from the initial e-mail until I visited the Partizan Stadium they have been superb. I believe they saw it, however small, as an opportunity to promote their club.
As a club playing in one of Europe’s smaller countries (population around 7 million), being out with the big TV markets and the country’s economy facing some stiff challenges, with little money to buy players Partizan are well aware of the need to produce their own.
The study was carried out by The International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) in Switzerland. It looked at the top divisions in the 31 European leagues and assessed the number of players produced by each clubs youth systems playing in these leagues. Ajax came out on top with 69 players playing in Europe’s top divisions with FK Partizan Belgrade a close second with 66 players.
A look at a few of these players highlight how successful the school has been in recent years.
Back in late 2009 Manchester United signed an agreement to sign Zoran Tošić and team-mate Adem Ljajić. The deal for Tošić went ahead in January 2010 for a reported £7 million but they withdrew their option to sign Ljajić. Although Tošić struggled to make the breakthrough at United he moved on to CSKA Moscow for a similar fee and has been a regular in the Champions League in recent years. His colleague Ljajić didn’t have to wait long for his big move as he was immediately snapped up by Fiorentina for around €8 million. He has since moved on to Roma for a reported €11 million.
Two recent Manchester City recruits further emphasize the quality produced at Partizan. Their £22 million signing from Fiorentina Stevan Jovetić came through the Partizan system before moving to Italy for £8 million. His colleague Matija Nastasić followed a similar path, moving to Fiorentina in a deal worth approximately €2.5 million, before Man City paid around six times that for his services.
A few of the next generation have moved on in recent years, 22-year-old Miloš Jojić joining Broussia Dortmund in January this year for around £2 million, At the beginning of last season Anderlecht paid a club record fee of €5 million for 19-year-old striker Aleksandar Mitrović. In recent weeks Liverpool have been linked with a £25 million move for Benfica’s 20-year-old Lazar Marković who moved to the Portuguese club from Partizan only a year ago for around €8 million. This is only a sample, there are many more that have left Partizan for significant transfer fees.
The following may not be names familiar to Rangers supporters, Živko Živković, Nikola Petrović, Nemanja Petrović,Miloš Ostojić, Nikola Ninković, Darko Brašanac, Andrija Živković, Nikola Drinčić, Saša Ilić, Danko Lazović, Petar Škuletić, Ivan Šaponjić, Nikola Gulan, Danilo Pantić.
These were first team squad players from last season who have come through the Partizan school. A few like Saša Ilić and Nikola Drinčić have left the club and had careers around Europe before returning. Then there is the new generation like Andrija Živković already capped by Serbia at 17 and Danilo Pantić another 17-year-old that has broken into the first team.
So how do they do it and how does it differ from Rangers ?
Recruitment & Competition
Like Rangers Partizan recruit from the age of ten through to eighteen, both clubs coach players below the age of ten on a less formal basis. Where as Rangers can only sign a maximum of 20 players at each age group, Partizan are only limited by the fact there is only one team for each age group and the quality of the available players. Should there be an exceptional year of talented players they may recruit more than in less productive years.
The four oldest age groups U17’s, U16’s, U15’s & U14’s compete in the Serbian National Youth Leagues, and the U13’s and U12’s play in the Belgrade youth leagues, below under 12’s they compete in some competitions and play friendlies. Although it may not be high on the list of priorities the club are proud of the fact that they have won more Serbian youth titles than any other club, winning three of the four available in the most recent competitions.
This differs greatly from Scotland where we are completely out of step with the rest of Europe and effectively don’t have a competitive youth league for our top clubs. The Under 20 league is not a youth league with so many overage players allowed, and it is also an age that wouldn’t be considered “Youth” in Serbia and many other countries. When I tried to explain the rational of the Development Leagues (basically a series of friendlies) to the people at Partizan they found it hard to comprehend.
Another difference between the two countries is there is no formal compensation scheme if a youth player moves between clubs in Serbia. It is left to the clubs to negotiate and come to an agreement, where as in Scotland there is an agreed compensation formula.
Facilities and Scouting
Rangers Murray Park facility is up there with the best but it’s probably a wee bit behind Partizan’s facility The Sports Centre “Partizan-Teleoptik”, also known as “Zemunelo”. It is located in the northern Belgrade suburb of Zemun and was opened in 1998. The Youth School itself has been in operation since the 1950’s.
The complex has seven grass and two” latest generation” all-weather pitches , but the main difference is that the building also has 19 apartments (14 two and three bed rooms for players and five for the technical personnel). There are also plans to increase this number to 56 apartments and a boarding school, the club currently uses hotels if the current capacity is insufficient. This allows Partizan to scout and recruit players not just from around Serbia but from other former Yugoslav nations. Their geographical location may be a slight advantage as the nearest alternative area for Rangers to scout just happens to be the biggest and richest football economy in Europe. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try though.
A similar setup has to be the long-term aim for Rangers. With the commitment in time and money required from families to commit to pro-youth it is becoming increasingly difficult for Rangers to recruit from out with West Central Scotland. This was highlighted with the recent closure of Rangers centre in Edinburgh, and I don’t believe we have any scouts in Dundee or Aberdeen.
When I asked how many youth scouts Partizan employed, the answer was “we do employ professional scouts but every Partizan fan is also a potential scout”. A few players within the school were initially recommended by enthusiastic fans and of course this service is free. I feel this concept would alien to Rangers.
This is one aspect where Partizan leave Rangers a long way behind. There has been talk at various times of Rangers having a B Team in the lower leagues, or linking up with a smaller club.
The “Teleoptik” in “The Sports Centre “Partizan-Teleoptik” refers to FK Teleoptik. They play in The Serbian League Belgrade, which is one of four regional leagues in the third tier of Serbian football. The club is Partizan’s nursery team or as they were described to me as “part of the Partizan family”. It is a natural progression path for an eighteen year old to move to Teleoptik to gain some experience before returning to Partizan’s first team squad, their most recent first team squad had five players on loan from Partizan. Partizan also loan players to other clubs to gain valuable experience. Where as we currently have eighteen year olds that barely play any competitive football.
An added bonus is the FK Teleoptik also have their own youth teams, under the watchful eye of Partizan coaches and at least one first team squad player progressed through the Teleoptik youth teams and on to Partizan.
For the past seven years Partizan have also organised an Under 17’s international youth tournament that has seen the participation of top European clubs side such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Panathanaikos, Roma, Olympic Marseille, FC Porto, CSKA Moscow, Barcelona, Fiorentina, Olympiakos.
The club have won the tournament on four occasions with Real Madrid being successful on the other three.
In the short-term I would love to see Rangers compete in such a tournament, I believe we have a good batch of players moving into the Under 17’s age group over the next 1 to 3 years and this would be a good measure of their progress.
I would also like to see Rangers organise a youth tournament of their own, not only would it assist in the development of young players but it promotes the club to a wide audience.
When I asked the question “What do you think is the key ingredients that make the FK Partizan Youth School successful ?”. There was no magic bullet or secret formula but three aspects that should be at the core of any youth academy. Hard work, quality scouting to identify the talent and a high standard of coach to develop the players.
Please see the links below:-
The excellent FK Partizan Belgrade website with lots of information in English
A link to the CEIS report PDF
Thanks to secretary Dragan Susnjar for replying to my initial e-mail, to Gordan Petrić for arranging things and especially to Marketing Director Snežana Fiipović and Marketing Manager Atila Hasanagić for giving me their time and an insight into the Partizan Youth School.