Arsenal are hosting Red Star Belgrade for the first time since the UEFA Cup in 1978 when Arsenal were eliminated in the third round of the competition. Ena Bilobrk talked to Red Star defender and former Watford player Vujadin Savić about his father’s legacy and manager Vladan Milojević opens up about the downfall of a once glorious club.
“The feeling of playing at the Emirates against Arsenal is incredible. My father scored against Arsenal 30 years ago. It was a last minute goal and Red Star went into the quarterfinals. It could happen again. History could repeat itself”, said the 27-year-old.
His father, Dušan Savić, was part of the team that made it all the way through to the UEFA Cup final the same season and will always be remembered as one of the club’s greatest. There is no surprise he hence grew up as a passionate Red Star supporter and his love goes way under the skin:
“For me Red Star is everything. I have two red stars tattooed on my legs. One is on the thigh and one is on my calf.”
For him and for most supporters this match is loaded with history and memories of a golden era.
In 1991 Red Star finally won the UEFA Champions Cup – the equivalent to today’s Champions League – making them the most successful club on the Balkans. Yet, it didn’t remain that way.
“Historically Red Star went through hard times, like all teams from the Balkans during those crazy 90s. The whole world went on in one direction and we just went in the other one”, explained manager Milojević.
He joined the Serbian club only this summer but is well aware of its rich history and its downfall: “A lot had been lost during the war and now we and all other clubs on the Balkans are a bit behind.”
But more than any other club playing in Europe, Red Star have devoted and unconditional support of the 12th man – their fans.
“I have the feeling that when we went through bad periods with bad results the support was even bigger”, mentioned Savić.
Red Star haven’t played in Europe since 2007 and according to their new manager they “owed it to the fans”. He continued: “The dream has finally come true after many years but we will not stop here. Now, we have to continue.”
Playing against a Premier League club is always difficult. Savić had little experience playing against the ‘big boys’ as he joined the Hornets during their Championship campaign in 2015. Yet, he is confident that Red Star have “not come here to mess around with the big clubs but to get through the group stage”.
Milojević agrees, that “the players are motivated by playing against such a big club” and that they “dream about playing against the best and now the chance has come”.
Nonetheless it will be a David versus Goliath challenge. Domestically, Arsenal are playing intense games every week, whereas Red Star have only one main national competitor – their next door neighbour FK Partizan.
“I still see Arsenal as a club good enough playing in the Champions League. For them it is easier to play in the Europa League than in their own league. For us it is the other way round. We are not used to this pressure on constant level”, explained Milojević.
The target is to qualify second behind Arsenal and to get though the group stage, but they will be certainly pushing for a win and maybe history will repeat itself with a little bit of luck.
“Those glorious days will always be remembered”, said Milojević. Yet, he is not the man to wallow in the past: “History is definitely what the club had been built on and what it makes so special. Now it is on the new generations to write their own history.”
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