Early Doors

Serbia already set tone with Mihajlovic appointment

Early Doors

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Sinisa Mihajlovic can best be described as a 'divisive' character

Early Doors was probably the least surprised of anyone that Serbia's under-21 play-off defeat to England was accompanied by racial abuse and a mass brawl.

This is a nation, after all, for whom defiance is a national trait and whose federation appointed Sinisa Mihajlovic as its national team coach.

A man who was once banned by UEFA for racially abusing Arsenal's Patrick Vieira, who was once sent off for spitting at and kicking the prone body of Chelsea's Adrian Mutu, and who counted Serbian warlord (and genocidal maniac) Arkan as a personal friend. A man whose career record of unsavoury, violent nastiness makes John Terry look like a common or garden playground bully.

Unsurpringly Mihajlovic's tenure has started with controversy, as he banned Bosniak player Adem Ljajic for refusing to sing the national anthem (which charmingly makes explicit references to defending the Serbian race). Unsurprisingly, his tenure has started with failure, as a beautifully timed 1-0 defeat to Macedonia followed the U21 side's disgrace and left the Serbs six points off joint group leaders Belgium and Croatia. Schadenfreude doesn't do it justice.

Obviously Mihajlovic was not involved in Tuesday's scenes in Krsevac, which saw monkey chants aimed at England's black players and a mass brawl follow the away side's last-minute winning goal. And it would be grossly disproportionate to decry an entire nation on the basis of its hooligans — ED found the Daily Mirror's "Scum of Europe" headline particularly uncalled for.

But the national football federation's tone was set when — despite having been warned, censured, punished and threatened with expulsion for a litany of hooligan and race-related incidents over the years — Serbia steadfastly refused to put their house in order, telling global football authorities they would fight to stamp out racism and hooliganism, before appointing a racist and hooligan as national team coach.

Harsh words, perhaps, but the evidence hardly points to a counter argument. Mihajlovic is an individual, so it would be unfair to tarnish a national football culture with that lone brush, but their collective behaviour has been atrocious enough to sense a pattern.
We all remember when Serbian hooligans forced the abandonment of a Euro 2012 qualifier against Italy in Genoa, an incident which saw them punished with a one-match stadium ban, plus another match suspended, and a 120,000 euro fine.

The year before a French fan, Brice Taton, died after being attacked by Partizan hooligans before a Europa League match. There has been plenty of domestic violence too, with most recently Radnicki handed a domestic suspension for ethnically-motivated chants and banners against Red Star's Croatian coach Robert Prosinecki.

England have been on the receiving end of it before — Nedum Onuoha was racially abused by Serbian fans during the European U21 Championships in the Netherlands five years ago. This is not an isolated incident.

There is a clear problem that UEFA has a clear opportunity to solve. A quick rumble through this website finds a direct and apparently uncompromising warning from Michel Platini on Serbia and Croatia's problems:

"I must stress... that unless UEFA sees positive and clear signs that concrete measures are being taken within this calendar year, there is the serious risk of suspension for the national and club teams of both associations from UEFA competitions.

"We must see a clear improvement, if not, we will not hesitate to take firm action. Violence in football is a core concern for us that needs to be addressed urgently. I have seen in my meetings with the heads of state of both Croatia and Serbia that they share our concerns and wishes to commit to finding solutions."

That statement was delivered last year. Croatia, in ED's view, got off rather lightly after pushing the boundaries somewhat at Euro 2012 (the FA was fined a total of 105,000 euros for various misdemeanours, including the seemingly mandatory racist chants against black players).

This latest incident is somewhat clearer-cut — a quick YouTube for the footage should silence those in denial — and it spilled into violence that involved Serbian players and staff.
FIFA head Sepp Blatter embarrassed himself by claiming racism on the pitch could be solved with a handshake, and unless Platini backs his words with action ED can only assume that international football's governing bodies have adopted a lip-service policy to racism and violence.

Certainly Serbia's FA will not do anything about it. They are terrified of the local hooligan firms — so terrified that they have moved national team qualifiers from Belgrade so as to avoid the wrath of fans who turn on each other and their own team if things go wrong.
The aforementioned national trait of defiance has been used to positive effect, mostly in the practice of sport, but it continues to linger in its politics and that of the nation — and in matters that encompass the two, such as Serbia's vehement protests at the admission of Kosovo to FIFA.

ED noted that yesterday's ruckus came after a big day at the Hague for Serbian nationalists — former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic finally began his defence at his trial for overseeing the siege of Sarajevo and allegedly ordering the Srebrenica massacre during the Balkan war. He was typically defiant, shocking attendees with claims that he was "a man of peace" who "reduced the suffering of all civilians", claiming the Bosnians shelled themselves.

Obviously the scale and importance of the events cannot be compared, but last night Serbia under-21 coach Aleksandar Jankovic refused to accept his side or supporters had been in the wrong, saying England were equally culpable when all evidence points to the contrary.

ED awaits UEFA's response to all this with baited breath — but it's not holding out for more than a fine and a stadium ban. ED would like to be proved wrong.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "If it was me, they would be kicked out for the next five tournaments. This takes us back to the dark ages." — Paul Ince reacts with horror after watching his son Tom during England's U21 win over Serbia.

FOREIGN VIEW: "The situation was absurdity in its purest form. It was like a Stanislaw Bareja film. We built this stadium before the Euros, and it was not exactly cheap. It also has a roof. Roofs are designed to protect us from the rain, although apparently this roof is different. Apparently it can't withstand a heavy downfall of rain. There is a type of roof that does not shield from the rain, the awning type that shields from the sun. This can be the only logical conclusion after last night's events" — our Polish colleagues at Eurosport are similarly bemused by the wash-out of their match with England last night.

COMING UP: ED resisted the urge to laugh at its Polish friends after last night's more humours Eastern European debacle, particularly after having been forced to endure Adrian Chiles's inane wittering for an hour longer than should be legal. but it is looking forward to the rescheduled kick-off between Poland and England in Warsaw. Much like Wimbledon's initial reluctance to use the roof was tempered by initial failure, we can assume their house will be in order. Match starts at 4pm UK time.

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