By Babajide Alaka
Rwanda coach Milutin Sredojevic has had an eventful career. He was chosen ahead of Ratomir Dujkovic, Stephen Keshi, Patrice Neveu and Branko Smiljanic for the Wasps’ coaching post. Sredojevic famously led Al Hilal of Sudan to the semi-finals of the African Champions League in 2010.
His Rwanda side beat Eritrea in a two-legged encounter in November 2011 to get into the next round of 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Sredojevic led Rwanda to the final of the 2011 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in Tanzania in December. Now he faces his toughest challenge to date as his team will file out against Nigeria’s Super Eagles, who are in buoyant mood after their 2-0 success over Liberia in Monrovia on Wednesday.
Goal.com spoke exclusively with the 42-year-old coach, who started his career in 1990 in Serbia.
Goal.com: How well is your team preparing for the Nigeria encounter?
Sredojevic: We are having many setbacks in preparation for that match. Friendly matches have had to be postponed; there have been injuries to some of our most influential players. But I do not belong to cry babies as we need to accept anything because life without problems is not life.
Any problems we have faced we have looked at and we are looking for a solution and trying to be ready to not be reduced to a punching bag the way we have been in our last qualification match when we lost 0-5 to a second string Cote d’Ivoire team. We shall try everything in our powers to be honourable sporting opponents to football giant, Nigeria.
Goal.com: How do you see the Nigerian team under Stephen Keshi?
Sredojevic: I count myself as a servant and soldier of African football in the last 11 years. Even if we do not play against Nigeria, I follow every football step in all 54 member countries of Caf because I am addicted to African football. Now that we are playing against Nigeria I will call upon all my knowledge and memories regarding Nigerian clubs and the national team.
I will analyse every detail in order to counter the Super Eagles. I personally watched the match against Ethiopia in Addis Ababa under Samson Siasia and I have made comparisons with matches played under Stephen Keshi and there are differences which I will not reveal to the public now. But every detail noticed will be injected in the heads of my players so that we would be able to counter the Eagles’ football philosophy under Keshi.
Nigeria under him is a very well organised team with pure Nigerian identity with the trade mark flair of Nigeria with iron tight marking defence, creative build up and unpredictable, sharp, dangerous attack. Top of all this, Nigerian football is a wounded lion with a terrible 2011 behind them and that raises the level of the danger because wounded lions are the most dangerous. I like challenges and the challenge in front of us is like cake and who will eat sweet cake and who will eat humble pie between both teams?
The Super Eagles | Rwanda's next formidable opponent
Goal.com: What is the pitch like at the stadium in Kigali?
Sredojevic: With all due respect to all pitches where I played in Nigeria where grass vegetation is much different, our field is maintained by professionals and is many times in better playable conditions than for example the stadium in Abuja. To the knowledge of everyone, Rwanda has the best playing facilities in east Africa.
We are organising Chan 2016 with ambition in the future to be first east African country to organise the Africa Cup of Nations in the 21st century.
Goal.com: What are the expectations of the people?
Sredojevic: Like in any African country, football is second religion and people are demanding but also supportive. We are in a rebuilding phase after failures in past qualifications, the same as Nigeria and unfortunately we are meeting such a giant in the first step of that rebuilding process. We are mostly banking on the generation of the players which played final of Caf Under-17 championship last year and we are looking to the challenge with hope.
Goal.com: How much pressure is on your shoulders?
Sredojevic: Before this job, I worked with five of the very biggest clubs in their respective countries. SC Villa in Uganda, St. George in Ethiopia, Orlando Pirates in South Africa, Young Africans in Tanzania and Al Hilal in Sudan. The pressure of getting results at these clubs was enormous so I am used to the pressure.
In a sense, I am addicted to pressure. I take all the pressure on my shoulders so that my players can be relaxed without pressure. On a serious note, I have a philosophy that those who do not like pressure should go and become fishermen where there is no pressure. In football you are under pressure all the time. Instead of feeling pressure I pray hard and work hard; promising God in the morning that I will do my best and reporting in the evening that I did my the best.
|"One of my good friends told me that a prostitute and the devil had a baby and named it football. This game is unpredictable but that is why I love football so much"
- Milutin Sredojevic, Rwanda coach
Goal.com: Can you predict the scores of the encounter?
Sredojevic: In my country, Serbia, there is a mania to predicting scores but I have never fallen under that mania because I live for the tricky, unpredictable and funny game called football. I cannot ever predict any match but I do anything in my powers to influence a match to go my way.
And I have 11 years experience in Africa with unbelievable results which means that I am doing my job correctly. One of my good friends told me that a prostitute and the devil had a baby, and named it football. This game is unpredictable but that is why we love football so much.
Goal.com: Can local players stand the test of time – like perform well at the World Cup?
Sredojevic: To perform on that level, players need consistency. What our African players need to have in European leagues where employers count them like African master machines to produce results without any emotions for the bad day and human aspect of the game.
We in Africa are very emotional and those emotions cause that rising on occasion we could do the unbelievable in football, but once is not enough, we need consistency and that comes with experience in quality leagues. I dream of a time when our local leagues will be on organisational and all needed levels to produce that ingredient of consistency than no country in the world can stop Africa because God-given gift in bodies of African players is something that no one can cope with in the world with all due respect.
That power is nothing without control. We need that power and we have to control and channel it the right way.
Goal.com: Your advice for growing football on the continent
Sredojevic: As a witness in the last 11 years, I can tell you that African football is miles ahead from where we were. Football is made of management, to organise and finance football, coaching, to recruit, train and make players compete.
We cannot rest on our oars because in any of these segments we have room for unbelievable improvement. From my side I know that I will serve the cause because that space for improvement and development is the main factor which has kept me in African football and will keep me forever.