Interviews

Former Singapore NFA coach plotting for Vanuatu under-20’s rise

In 2011, Dejan Gluscevic led Singapore under-15s to a stunning 4-3 win over Newcastle United in the Lion City Cup. Now, the Serbian is in charge of the Vanuatu under-20 side that will compete in the upcoming under-20 World Cup and FFT caught up with him recently…   

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Widely known as one of the best coaches who had taken charge of the National Football Academy (NFA), Dejan Gluscevic oversaw the rise of the batch of ’96 who shone in the 2011 and 2012 Lion City Cups.

The likes of Adam Swandi, Amirul Adli and Mahathir Azeman flourished under his tutelage, matching up to some of the best youth teams around the world over the two editions.

In 2011, they scored three goals in the last nine minutes to stun Newcastle 4-3 and thumped their Juventus counterparts 4-0 to finish third.

Like I said to many, I have a lot of ‘sons’ here who are either already or going to be professional players

The following year, they edged Ajax Amsterdam 2-1 and thrashed Vasco Da Gama 4-0 to go all the way before being defeated by Ajax in the final.

Gluscevic went on to coach the Singapore under-18s and under-19s before leaving May 2014, but insisted that the Lion City will always have a place in his heart and spoke with pride about his time here.

“I’ve never left Singapore actually!” the 49-year-old quipped to FourFourTwo. “I spent five beautiful years here (from 2010 to 2014) and had a really good time here. Like I said to many, I have a lot of ‘sons’ here who are either already or going to be professional players.

“Lion City Cup was a great tournament where we were able to identify players and improve on our weaknesses. We were not just performing against very good academies, we were even winning those games. I’m happy that I contributed to the development of these players.”  

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The two talented teenagers were formerly under Gluscevic. Photo: FAS

Gluscevic’s Midas touch with youngsters stemmed from the experienced he gain, early in his coaching career.

“I’ve worked with youths in North America and Europe (before coming to Singapore); I was coach at Red Star Belgrade and FK Rad where I’ve worked with the most talented boys,” he shared.

Gluscevic left Singapore to further his coaching horizons and joined now-defunct Serbian third-division outfit Donji Srem as a staff coach in July 2014 – spending 18 months there before leaving in January 2016.

“That really helped me in my development and helped to challenge myself as a coach. Developing youth players helped me to mature as I started to decide on my coaching philosophy and future.

“It also helps when I have children around the same age and I understand what they need in their development. My daughters Angela and Andrea was born in 1995 and 1996 respectively, my son Luca was born in 1998.”

Gluscevic left Singapore to further his coaching horizons and joined now-defunct Serbian third-division outfit Donji Srem as a staff coach in July 2014 – spending 18 months there before leaving in January 2016.

He then linked up with the Montenegro national team a month later and was part of their backroom staff for 13 months till February 2017.

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Gluscevic's newest assignment

On February 24, he embarked on his latest and perhaps biggest challenge yet to lead the Vanuatu under-20s at the upcoming Under-20 World Cup, which will kick off on May 20 in Korea.

The little-known Oceania island, with an approximate population of near to 300,000, are placed in a tough group along with more illustrious counterparts from Mexico, Venezuela and Germany in their maiden World Cup campaign.

I’m glad that I can come back here to see my friends and the players whom I coached before. I’m also grateful to FAS for providing grass fields and a quality environment to prepare my team

With less than three months to prepare for the tournament, Gluscevic could not resist making a SOS call to his former employers at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to assist in arranging some much-needed friendly games.

The Vanuatu under-20s set base in Singapore from May 1 to 8 – playing three friendlies against the Singapore Under-22s, who will be playing in August’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Gluscevic’s boys lost the first match-up 3-2, before drawing the subsequent two games 1-1.

Besides the competitive nature of the games, Gluscevic was also happy to look at the progress of the youngsters whom he once coached.

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Vanuatu were recently in Singapore to play friendly games. Photo: FAS

“We have very short preparation time, so it’s difficult to find quality opponents to play against,” he lamented.

“We wanted to have high standard games and high standard of facilities; I was aware and still kept in touch with some of my ex-colleagues in Singapore, so that’s how we came here.

“I’m glad that I can come back here to see my friends and the players whom I coached before. I’m also grateful to FAS for providing grass fields and a quality environment to prepare my team.”

With Vanuatu making history by becoming the smallest country ever to make the World Cup finals, Gluscevic believes there are lessons for Singapore to learn and be inspired from.

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Gluscevic believes Singapore can learn from smaller nations. Photo: FAS

“We should not forget what football is all about – players and coaches,” he said. “Any country that invests in them will be successful. Other factors like facilities or management follow behind. If Singapore or any other country struggle to provide (the right coaching) to players, then we cannot expect too much.

“The organisation have to follow and really believe in their goals. I really believe Singapore have a good opportunity because of the very talented young players whom I used to coach.

“They will mature in a few years’ time and FAS should help to continue their development by letting them experience games of the highest quality; bring them on international tours where they can see the professional environment of other countries and play against better players.

I’m taking this opportunity to perform at the World Cup and hopefully this will be my last youth football development position. Many people forget that I was CPSL (Canadian Professional Soccer League) Coach of the Year in 2005

Having worked with youths for so long, Gluscevic is now yearning to take the step up.

“I’m taking this opportunity to perform at the World Cup and hopefully this will be my last youth football development position,” he revealed. “Many people forget that I was CPSL (Canadian Professional Soccer League) Coach of the Year in 2005.

“Back then, I thought I needed something else in my coaching development so I went to do grassroots, females and youth football while getting the highest attainable coaching license to mature as a coach.

“Now I believe I’m a more matured coach and I’ll be ready to take charge of professional or bigger clubs.”

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Gluscevic with his Coach of the Year trophy

And he is not ruling out a return to Singapore in any form of capacity in the future.

“There’s always an opportunity to come back; Andrea is now studying at Bocconi and has summer work at JP Morgan London, she will be coming to Singapore for work,” he shared. “For sure, I’ll be interested to come back here because like I said, I spent five beautiful years and was successful here.

“If you look around, there’s many friends of mine and I was happy to see the parents of my former players. That’s something that you cannot take away from any person.

“Me and Singapore are bonded forever, no matter where’s my next destination. The progress of every player whom I used to work with is also helping the reputation of mine.”

Main Photo: Dejan Gluscevic