The Secrets of Red Star’s Coaching Tandem: Building the Red and White’s Success

“Vlada and I are the same age, born in 1970, and we are so compatible that it’s practically unbelievable – whether it’s coincidence, luck or fate, that’s not important. I am overjoyed to have met a man like him. We want to succeed and strive for perfection, we are always pushing one another”.

With these words, Red Star Manager Vladan Milojević began a conversation about how his coaching tandem with assistant Vlada Janković, a tandem that has been achieving great success and strong foundations wherever it goes. Getting their starts together with Čukarički, continuing with Omonio, then with Panionios, they have now have secured first place for Red Star in the group stage of the Europa League competition for the first time in a decade.  

What’s their system, what are their methods and what are the principles that they insist upon?

Perfecting discipline

You won’t hear any big words at Milojević’s press conferences. He’s a man who doesn’t like populism or empty stories – he wants action. It’s simple, that’s all he has time for.

Vladan Milojević and Vlada Janković: FC Red Star

FC Red Star coaching staff | Foto:

“We are dedicated to the job and we love it, we are ready to be on the pitch 24 hours a day – we are giving it our all in Red Star now, the same way we’ve done it before in other places. That dedication sets us apart, I can guarantee that – we love to train and we are hard workers”, the 47-year-old Milojević said, adding:

“To me, the greatest success might be the fact that we left something that we built behind us in every club we worked in, a foundation that you can build upon. There’s no bad blood anywhere and we’ve never been the type of people who have to put down others in order to make us feel superior”.

The word “education” was mention the most during a one-hour conversation with the Red Star duo at the club headquarters. That’s because they live by Socrates’ “I know that I know nothing” motto and they strongly believe that the only way to avoid stagnation is through constant progress.

A Footballer is an Intelligent Being

Vladan Milojević and Vlada Janković: FC Red Star

Speech before the practice | Foto:

The public often underrates the intelligence of a footballer, but football is a complex game in which it’s not easy to be successful.

“My friends are mostly from outside the world of football and I am usually not living in the world of football when I’m outside of the office. One time I was explaining some of our tactics to one of my friends and he couldn’t wrap his head around any of it. That’s when he realized how demanding and complex football is. Players have to know the system, understand how they move around in relation to other players, why they need to be in a certain position, etc. If they don’t understand those types of things, then they can’t play”, Milojević said.

Today, the situation is one in which everything else can be achieved, strength and running and everything else, but the point is in how the player is going to react and recognize the situation when he is on the pitch with 22 other men who are moving around him.

“Successful footballers are very intelligent beings – we can’t even fathom how much information they are receiving at once. If you were to freeze the picture and see a graphic explanation of his vision, you would see: 1. the part of the field in which he is standing 2. the position of the opposing players 3. where the ball is 4. where he is facing 5. where his teammates are 6. what he needs to do…and a bunch of other information all at once”, Janković explained.

“All frustrations are the direct result of a lack of knowledge. If I am striving towards something and I am working on something, and I don’t know how to do it, I am frustrated and then a blame others. We see that in young managers – they want something, they see something is happening, but they don’t know exactly what and they have no solutions, so they are frustrated”, Janković explained while Milojević nodded, which is a something that permeates the entire discussion – one talks while the other gives a non-verbal confirmation. Milojević then chimes in:

Vladan Milojević and Vlada Janković: FC Red Star

The assistant coach Vladimir Janković | Foto:

“No manager that can afford to think that he knows everything. We need to be ready to continue working on ourselves all the time and to accept new trends in order to avoid stagnation. That’s why Vlada is not my assistant, I don’t like to define our relationship that way, we are a tandem, he is my equal because he is a person that loves to educate himself every day. I’m that way too, so we are always pushing each other and exchanging information”.

They are both team players, which is very important in a sport like football – they are great friends, they have deep and mutual understanding for each other, and they are united by the fact that the concept of “discipline” is bolded in their football vocabulary.

“Vlada and I are very disciplined – whatever it is we planned to do, we are going to do, we are like that to the end and that’s why there is always a bit of a struggle whenever someone else starts working with us. For example, I might ask more of Vlada sometimes than he believes he is able to offer at that moment”, Milivojević

Dividing up roles

They were able to take Čukarički to the Serbian first league and introduce them to the SuperLiga, and then the squad from Banovo Brdo won the Serbian league cup and were UEFA qualifiers. They won a cup with Omnio. Under their leadership, Panionios spent two-thirds of the Greek championship in second place right behind Olympiacos.

They have been working together for years and are an experienced duo, so they always know who is doing what and there’s a high level of trust – Milojević mentioned several times that “if Vlada says something is a particular way then that’s the way it is”. Vlada gives suggestions for different parts of practice, with many situational (functional) drills, and both strive to make sure that the players are both motivated and happy while they train. They want to make sure that the players find these practices to be useful.

“We practice coordination, finishing, technique-tactical elements and strength at the same time. Sometimes the training is on paper as well, but we most commonly form a group on a daily basis, in which assistant Kosanović, the goalkeeper’s coach and the rest of our expert staff is involved. I don’t like to do anything chaotically or ad-hoc, so everything we do is based on a plan and is done according to an already-prepared programme so that we will be able to both realize the plan and analyze everything later”.

However, no matter how much effort we put into preparation, football is a living thing and you can never predict everything that is going to happen on the pitch, so nothing can really be “carved in stone”.

“Adaptability is one of the most important characteristics – improvisation needs to exist, to see how the players are feeling, what we did in previous days, etc. Vlada and I are in contact 24 hours a day, he has a great feel for the players and if he says that the training regime needs to be changed for the coming days, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Vladan Milojević and Vlada Janković: FC Red Star

Vlada Janković prepares players for testing | Foto:

Vlada Janković is known for having a lot of success in working individually with players, and his main specialty is getting them physically ready, which is a segment of preparation in which the Red Star staff is a step above the rest.

“We are aware of the micro-cycles that exist depending on how many matches there are each week – we are not reinventing the wheel, we are simply disciplined when it comes to achieved everything that’s available to us. However, we develop strength a bit differently – in Vlada’s methods we have all but thrown out the weight room as an individual training session because we want functional strength, we want everything that we do to have its practical use on the field and to do it on the field. Vlada works on preventing injuries and knee ligament strength as well, which are things that can’t be achieved in the weight room”, Milojević stressed.

Authority, but what kind?

“An authoritative personality and authoritative knowledge are the only valid types of authority. A player must see a personality that is worthy of a coach in his coach and every player will easily see if a manager does not have enough knowledge to help him”.

Milojević sees managers demonstrating authority the wrong way and the repercussions this causes as the greatest deficiencies of some coaches.

“I didn’t wish to remain at the level of knowledge that I had while I was a player -I closed my player’s book the day I decided to become a coach. I think that’s the biggest mistake that Serbian managers make – they reopen those books and behave like player-coaches. That’s why we see some ugly trends that aren’t acceptable in Europe – for example, trying to establish authority through a dictatorship, insults, physical abuse, throwing bottles and things like that. That type of authority is short-lived.”

Besides the above-mentioned competitive success in all of the clubs that have worked in, the next fact is particularly impressive – no player on any team they have coached has ever suffered a muscular injury, the only type of injuries that have occurred were mechanical – injuries while playing against opponents.

It’s obvious that Janković’s method have shown effective results, which is even more important when taking into consideration that time is always of the essence – putting together a playbook and preparing the players should last about six to eight weeks, while Red Star only had three this year.

“We put together tests that show us their level of preparedness and then based on those indications, we create a programme. The needs of each player are different, there needs to be an individualized approach today – you don’t train the drill, you train the player,” Janković said, stressing the last statement.

Vladan Milojević and Vlada Janković: FC Red Star

Each coach has his own task in organizing the training | Foto:

The manager puts together the vision and philosophy of the team and the assistants are there to “follow” their areas of that philosophy – as Janković says, “we assistants and players have to see the demands of the manager with their perspective in order to become a successful whole”. Of course, Janković’s role isn’t just demanding in terms of getting the players ready physically.

“It’s complex, I participate in the entire process – in organization, running the training and analyzing afterwards as much as needed. We have a lot of props that need to be set up – cones and things of that nature – we perform different drills multidimensionally and the practice space needs to be prepared beforehand”, Janković said, adding:

“Also, we have players who are on an individual regime, there are always tasks for all four coaches at each practice – someone will read out the teams for certain drills, someone will carry the cones around, someone will organize the space for the next drill, someone will stretch out the players and someone will be instructing them and telling them what they are going to do in the next drill”.

In Milojević’s philosophy, practices lasts no longer than an hour and a half or two – no moment is wasted and nothing is left to chance. Why? Because practice is for nursing the flowers that are supposed to bloom during matches.

Tactical preparations and communication with players

Milojević takes a deep breath, concluding that we would have to live with him for at least two months in order to understand how he prepares for a match…However, he manages to give us a succinct and illustrative example.

“It starts with an analysis of the last match, everything that happened in it. We like to have a game plan, I insist on organization on defense and offense, but there are always going to be changed in the plan – we then analyze why and how those changes occurred. We then work on analyzing the opponent, we need to know all the information because they are doing the same thing at a very high level on the other side – your rival knows everything about each of your players, his blood type, what they’ve had to eat and drink. Football has come a long way, the pitch is an arena in which everything is permitted”, Milojević said, adding that this isn’t everything:

“Sometimes you have to go on assumptions, the manager assumes how the other team will play. That’s why you need a plan A, B and C – simply, you need to neutralize the passion of the opponent strategically, and you have to use his shortcomings to your advantage at the same time. Through play, during breaks, during transitions, through physical preparation, there are holes to be found in many places when looking at your opponent. Namely, if you see that a rival is not as physically prepared as you are, you will want to but more pressure on the stopper”.

However, even the best strategies and most clever tactical surprises are useless if communication with your players is not on a high level – at the end of the day, they are the ones who are putting the plan in action.

Vladan Milojević and Vlada Janković: FC Red Star

Vladan Milojević gives instructions to his player | Foto:

“The most important thing is that the player knows what’s exactly being asked of him – if he doesn’t know that, how can he possibly be sure in himself and mentally strong? If he knows what he has to do, all he has left to do is focus on the task at hand and that’s it. Unclear directions create chaos in the minds of players, they create uneasiness and consequently lead to trouble on the pitch. All that comes with practice, these are demands that I have at practice as well”, Milojević said.

They communicate with players both individually and in groups, they work with them on the pitch, but the trick is in how the information they need about what they need to do on the pitch is being transferred to them.

“All of the players have different personality types, a different psychology – some already have a family, some just turned 18 and just made it onto the squad. Their perspective on life is completely different and we have to approach them in accordance to those differences. For some, a match is always a matter of life and death, for others it’s just a game. The job of the coaching staff is to find a balance – to make sure everyone has the same approach and that everyone is doing what is expected of them and working towards the same result”, Janković pauses, and then continues:

“Players feel it when you know something and are an expert, that’s when respect is created through what they give to you and what they take from you. The result is homogeneity and harmony, they feel that you understand them and a collective is formed”.

Statistics as an important part of preparation for matches

Red Star has implemented some of the most modern programs such as WyScout and InStatScout, so it’s much easier than before to get to all of necessary information about each player. Nikola Leposavić is an analyst in the Red Star coaching staff and he brings filtered statistics to the rest of the coaches, which they then analyse in preparation for the next match.

There is a “fitness report” and a “tactical report” for the entire match, and the team is given key information – what formations the opponents are using, how they are attacking, how they are defending.

“Analysis is being used in football now as much it’s being used in other sports and now everything is based on analysis, there’s no more ‘this is what I thought happened’ and similar guesswork. It was harder to perform an analysis in football than it was in say volleyball, but now there are huge companies who are working on that and we are able to get the statistics for just about anything”, Milojević said.

The manager must get to know his players very closely in order to know how they will react in all types of situations – when everything is going as planned and when unexpected things are occurring. Milojević has one motto he sticks with and repeats constantly, that a dictatorship doesn’t result in anything positive.

“You need to listen to your players and understand if they do something that they were not supposed to, why it was that they did it. We are men, this is an adrenaline-filled sport and emotions are running high, and tension in the locker room is great. If someone makes a hand gesture or curses, you can’t take that personally, you should be able to know that it’s an affect because you know that person. There are always issues that arise and all I demand at the end of the day is respect, respect within the squad and respect for all of the coaches, and to make sure that no individual is putting themselves before the team”.

There’s always a general plan and principle while playing that we don’t back away from, special preparations for every match and ways in which information should be relayed to the players – if mistakes are made in any of those segments, there are going to be problems during the match. That’s when the speed at which you react to these mistakes is most important.

“You can’t anticipate everything during the course of a match, whether a player is going to have a great day or not. The first half is analysed and suggestions are offered. Many times all I want to do is call a timeout, just to take a minute to tell them something – you can just yell something out to them here (in Serbia), but at the next level players won’t hear you. That’s why all your players need to be aware of the plan and know what they are doing, then they can communicate among themselves and help one another, it’s a system in which everyone is connected”. Milojević said.

One thing is sure – football is not simply that game we play in the courtyard and it’s definitely not as simple as it seems to be to some who are watching on it on television.

That’s why successful tandems like Vladan Milojević and Vlada Janković are so rare these days.