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Name Veljko Paunovic
Gender Male
Ethnic Serbian
Job Serbian Footballer

Affiliation

Club as Coach Chicago Fire
  Serbia U20 National Team
Club as Player Atletico Madrid

Relationship

Father Blagoje Paunovic

2015 11 28 Retrieve

[Newly appointed Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic, who guided Serbia to their maiden FIFA U-20 World Cup title earlier this summer, during his first press conference at his new club] Soccer is a lifestyle that I live and preach my whole life. I love this kind of challenge, where you have to build a champion by giving your best in every moment. I see the Chicago Fire as a hurt lion ready to unleash all its power

2017 04 01 Retrieve

[Veljko Paunovic speaks about the club’s new signing, Bastian Schweinsteiger, in an introductory press conference] You just have to see how much his influence is important for our players. It was the mood, the atmosphere. Everyone was inspired. Everyone wanted to give their best and everyone’s thrilled to play next to Bastian. I think we got not only a world class player but a world class person and a man who can inspire our players, our fans and our city

2017 05 06 Retrieve

[Veljko Paunovic explains his reasons for signing 2014 World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger to the Major League Soccer club] We were looking for a long time for the kind of player we needed, but also the personality we needed. And we always felt Bastian could be that guy - we just weren’t sure if we could get him. But from the first meeting we had, it was clear that not only was he completely right for us, but that he also genuinely wanted to come here

2019 12 03 Retrieve

Sometimes I had to walk for four hours to get to training, because there wasn’t any petrol for the buses to take you. But not even that was hard for me. Going without food and going to train, not eating until after school. For me, it was normal. I didn’t even realise what was happening. Looking back now, with the benefit of hindsight, you can tell the war in Yugoslavia had a huge impact on the direction a lot of people took. But being young, you always view the future positively. And football was, without me even being conscious of it, my escape route. My refuge. A subconscious bubble for me to go into

I never saw my father play. When I was born, he was 30 and his career was coming to an end. But if you mention his name in my country, everybody knows who you are talking about: Blagoje Paunovic. Partizan Belgrade. Yugoslavia

He talked a lot about playing in the final of the European Championship in 1968, when Yugoslavia lost to Italy. He told me that when he came back from Rome after the tournament, there were 10,000 people waiting to welcome him home, shouting his name. He and his teammates were proud of what they had done, of coming so close to winning gold. He said he hoped that, one day, I could feel that

My father was a defender. He played as a sweeper, read the game well from the back, passed with great precision into midfield. I was more of an attacking player, more creative. I liked to join up the attack, overtake players. He didn’t talk much about my position, though. He only demanded one thing from me. ‘Son, run like a horse on the pitch, and eat like a horse off it’

When I was 17, my father told me he was going to get me out of Yugoslavia. He was the one who took that decision. He contacted the right people and took the right steps, and eventually I signed for Atletico Madrid

The people at the club, led by Miguel Angel Gil Marin and Radomir Antic, gave my family and I the opportunity to change our outlook. Football had been a decision before I moved to Spain, but it also now became a blessing. I think I simply followed that blessing, and am a better person and professional because of it. My family’s future is secured thanks to my father’s vision, to the decision he took back then. If he hadn’t done what he did, I’m sure I would have had to stay in Belgrade and fight to survive the situation there

You have to understand, though, that we never changed our national team, our flag. It was always Yugoslavia, and when Yugoslavia disintegrated it was Serbia and Montenegro, and now Serbia. My father always spoke to me of Yugoslavia. He died feeling Yugoslavian, but he was also very proud of being Serbian and that is now my country. I was born in Macedonia, but I am 100 per cent Serbian

When I was given the chance to work with the national team, then, it was an honour. I had always known I wanted to be a manager. I completed the first level of training when I was 29, and by the time I was 34 I had all my badges. Then, when you start, you realise if it is for you or not. In my case, it was a definite yes. I still remember when I finished my first training session as a manager. It felt impressive. I felt good



After the semi final, we were euphoric. We were in the final against Brazil, and it felt like we had nothing to lose. But I remember, when everyone went to bed at about 4am, I opened my computer, looked at my notes and said to myself: ‘No. We are going to win this final. We will beat Brazil’.

That is what we had come for, and I was sure we would win. Before the tournament, I had asked for everything to be recorded, for a cameraman to follow us throughout. Even in the build-up to the final. We didn’t include the technical bits, but the motivational stuff is all in there. In it, you can see me tell the players that we were born for this moment

We scored the winning goal three minutes from the end of extra time. The whole bench was in a state of euphoria, but I told everyone to stay calm. There were still three minutes left. We could still score a third goal

At the final whistle, I pointed to the sky. My father had hoped that, one day, I could feel what he had felt all those years ago. It is a shame he couldn’t live to see it – he had passed away in December, six months before – but of course I thought of him. My whole life has been about football, and that is thanks to him

Back in Belgrade, in the main square where big events are celebrated, we were welcomed home by more than 50,000 people. And these kids? I think, at the World Cup in Russia, at least one of them is going to play an important part. Things are changing, and if not now, I do believe that this generation will have an important role in future tournaments

Sooner or later, I am sure Serbia will win a tournament. It’s our turn

2020 05 11 Retrieve

[Veljko Paunovic says Jovic needs a mentor to succeed at Real Madrid] We all hoped to see more of Jovic and I think he’s had enough time to adapt. But I still have a lot of confidence in him.

He [Zidane] has taken good care of Jovic. But I think he is missing a veteran to show him how these big teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atletico Madrid work. Jovic has to do his part and find someone to be his mentor. The demand at Real Madrid is extreme and you have to be up to it

He is the only man who does one hundred per cent to ruin his career! Jovic works against himself. He was lucky that Adi Hutter gave him a shot at Eintracht and then made the biggest transfer in Serbia’s history and went to Madrid. I can’t believe what the boy is doing to himself

2020 05 11 Retrieve

[Jovic family had said the striker injured himself by falling off a wall while at home in Belgrade during coronavirus lockdown] He [Zinedine Zidane] has taken good care of Jovic. But I think he is missing a veteran to show him how these big teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atletico Madrid work. Jovic has to do his part and find someone to be his mentor. The demand at Real Madrid is extreme and you have to be up to it.