Note for the reader: this interview was originally conducted in October 2018, when the player was at FK Vojvodina, however most of the information stays relevant to the current day.
Though Serbia is outside the spectrum of most football fans when it comes to watching the sport, the fact that the Balkan nation has produced some of the finest footballers over the past few generations is widely acknowledged.
In just the past five years, we’ve seen Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savić become a household name thanks to his performances and potential transfer to the Premier League; Ajax talisman Dušan Tadić be at the forefront of one of the most memorable European fairytale runs of all time; and 18 year-old striker Slobodan Tedić sign for Manchester City, making waves at youth level.
The Belgradian duo of Red Star and Partizan have been the nation’s most successful clubs, both at home and in Europe. With 57 league titles and a European Cup shared between the two, they haven’t allowed the rest of their peers and challengers to achieve monumental success.
Unsurprisingly, their respective academies are among the best in not only Eastern Europe, but perhaps the world. The exception to the rule that Red Star and Partizan have established over Serbia comes in the form of a club from the nation’s second city, Novi Sad.
Named after their home province, FK Vojvodina were founded in 1914 and have knocked on the door of the dominance asserted by the big two for the majority of their existence. With just two national league trophies (won in Yugoslav times), one Serbian Cup and one Intertoto Cup to their name, their trophy cabinet isn’t as well-decorated as that of Red Star or Partizan.
However, there are areas wherein the perennial outsiders are on a par with the Belgradians. One of those areas is youth recruitment and development.
The reason Milinkovic-Savić, Tadić and Tedić were specifically mentioned in the first paragraph over other Serbian stars, is that all three of them were made at the Vojvodina academy. Among the most prestigious and lavish academies in the Balkans, the ‘Vujadin Boškov Centre’ is the sole reason that the club has managed to keep up with the nation’s elite duo, and still does.
To understand more about the inner workings and magic of the Vojvodina academy, we spoke to three people at the club, all fulfilling different roles there. First in the list of three was then 19 year-old attacking midfielder Aleksandar Mesarović.
Born in a small town near Novi Sad and made at Vujadin Boskov, Mesarović is now at Vojvodina’s feeder club FK Kabel, that plays in the second tier of Serbian football. Capped at under-21 level and capable of playing on the wings as well as centrally, the youngster played 53 times in two years for Vojvodina before moving south to Napredak Krusevac, also of the Serbian Super League. At Napredak though, he unfortunately struggled for game time and joined Vojvodina’s feeder FK Kabel in February 2020 for a second chance in Novi Sad.
How did you feel when you signed the first professional contract of your career with Vojvodina?
When I signed my first professional contract with the club, it was a fantastic feeling for me. I’ve spent 10 years at the club already, and joined it when I was a kid. I grew up there and the club has given me everything that I have today.
What are your long and short term goals as a footballer?
At the moment, my only focus is to play well for Vojvodina and to achieve enough to be proud of myself when I leave the club. I think that it is too early to talk about some long term goals, since I am still in the early stages of my career, and you never know what the future will bring.
What is the best part of playing at a club like Vojvodina? Is it the facilities, the staff, the experience?
The best part of playing at Vojvodina is the atmosphere among the players, as well as in the club in general. We have lots of young players in our team, which is something that is the tradition here, and we are all friends even off the pitch. This is why it is a pleasure to be a part of this team.
Young players have varying answers when they’re asked about their transition from youth football to senior football. How did you fare when facing this challenge?
Honestly, it was very hard, mostly because on a senior level football is played on a different plane compared to youth level. However, some older players in the team have helped me adapt and overcome all difficulties.
Did you have any idols growing up as a young footballer?
Although there were lots of great players at Vojvodina in the past, I’ve never had a specific idol. Even in the entire world of football, I’ve never had a role model, because I have tried to be unique and build myself as an individual.
Most of the players at Vojvodina are under 24-25 years of age; how does it feel being part of such a young yet talented group?
It is really great, especially for those of us that came through Vojvodina’s academy. We all know each other very well, which means a lot for our team spirit. I hope that in the future more players from the academy will have a chance to sign a professional contract with the club.
You come from a very small village in Serbia. How was the transition from there to a large city like Vojvodina?
While I was in elementary school, I travelled almost 40 kilometers one-way regularly to get to the Vojvodina campus to train. When I started going to high school, I moved to Novi Sad and I lived in Vojvodina’s training center “Vujadin Boškov”, where players from the senior team and the most talented youngsters from the academy have access to fantastic accommodation.
This includes a room, kitchen, restaurant, gym, jacuzzi, entertainment facilities; basically, everything that a person needs! At the beginning, it was hard and strange for me to adapt to a larger town, just like it usually is for people who come from smaller places. However, now in Novi Sad I feel like I’m at home.
What is your message to young footballers aiming to become professionals like yourself?
They need to be aware that Vojvodina is a big club and that they need to work hard to deserve a chance to become members of our senior team. By that, I don’t mean that they need to work hard only while they are in the youth academy, but especially after they move to the senior level.
If they get a chance to go to the senior team directly from the youth squad, without going for a loan to some other smaller club, I’d like them to know that it is one of the best feelings in the world. This applies not only to players at Vojvodina, but to footballers all across the globe!
We’d like to thank Aleksandar, and Milos Subotin from the PR team at Vojvodina for making this interview possible.