Football proletariat’ brave Serbia’s crumbling, violent stadiums
Belgrade, Serbia | AFP | Khalid Aucho and Takuto Yasuoka are two of hundreds of footballers from Africa, Asia and South America whose dream of stardom has brought them to Eastern Europe.
Aucho, a 23-year-old from Uganda who has already tried Scotland, and his 20-year-old Japanese counterpart Yasuoka train together at OFK Belgrade, currently bottom of the Serbian second division.
The pair would rather be at Manchester United or Barcelona and their prospects are as uncertain as the club’s south stand — which looks ready to collapse — and even Serbian football in general.
There are about 30 foreign players in Serbia, a one-time football powerhouse now better known as a springboard to Europe’s big leagues.
Serbian football has slumped deeper into trouble ever since the former Yugoslavia collapsed in the early 1990s.
The main clubs are crippled by debt and no one really knows who the owners are.
The trophy rooms are the only reminders of the glory years of Belgrade giants Partizan and Red Star, winners of the 1991 European Cup.
Stadiums are empty and have become a haven for hooligans and bandits. One Partizan supporters’ chief, a known drug trafficker, was killed gangland-style in October 2016. The faces of the victims of the violence are painted on Belgrade walls.
The FIFPro international footballers union this year warned players not to sign for clubs in Serbia, where 68 percent of professionals are paid late and 65 percent earn less than 1,000 euros ($1,070) a month. The average is 958 euros, according to a FIFPro survey.
Twelve of the 16 first division clubs have only temporary operating licences and four are not allowed to buy players because of their debts to coaches and players.
The Serbian football federation, FSS, and major clubs like Partizan and Red Star declined to comment on the crisis.
– ‘Football proletariat’ –
Most foreign players are now paid by their agents as they hope for a move to a bigger championship. Serbian sports journalist Mihajlo Todic said: “Foreigners here are in a kind of waiting room.”
Clubs can only sign six foreigners, along with two from other ex-Yugoslav states.
Those at Red Star and Partizan are paid well enough. Todic said foreign footballers in the Serbian provinces are “football’s proletariat”.
Aucho, who comes from the Ugandan capital Kampala, followed the advice of Ugandan national coach Milutin Sredojevic, one of the many Serbs who manage African and Asian nations.
After a frustrating spell with Aberdeen in Scotland, the Ugandan went to Red Star. “The coach said it could open up possibilities,” Aucho told AFP, hinting at his hope of securing a bigger move farther down the line.
But he has since been farmed out to second-tier basement side OFK, where the legendary Josip Skoblar, one of the stars of the 1962 World Cup, was once a top goalscorer.
Aucho said he had been “treated well” by his OFK teammates and is convinced he will move on to a bigger team elsewhere in Europe.
Yasuoka left Japan two years ago with another Japanese player to try his luck in Montenegro.
He played with two clubs there before moving on to Serbia.
“The conditions are good but I would like to go to a country where they are better,” he said, highlighting his dream of a London club or Barcelona.