WORLSSOCCER: What are your first impressions of your new job?

Dragan Stojkovic: Compared to the job I did before, it is of course very different. Playing football is a big pleasure and basically it requires full concentration only for the 90 minutes on the pitch. With my new task there is a big responsibility; it is a more complex activity, where you have to ensure good organisation, where you must pick the right people who can work with and who have good motivation. Our wish is to create the best possible organisation in order to raise the level of football in our country.

So what will change in Yugoslav soccer under the new FA leadership?
Already it has been encouraging how things have developedat the start of the new League season. Our top priority is to bring back regularity to the competition. Then, I am sure, people will be more satisfied, because they will watch more interesting and less predictable matches. What is happening now is only the beginning. What we must do is to solve this problem completely.

How do you intend to prevent match-fixing?
A lot of people are sceptical, to say the least. There will be much more control and, if necessary, there will be rigorous fines. It means that those who wish to gamble with their destiny as players, managers or officials, let them do it, no problem. But they will be given a hard time. Of course, I am neither a policeman, nor a lawyer or judge. But there willbe people who will deal with everything.

Many think that Yugoslav football will go the way of Hungarian soccer. What do you think about such a dark forecast?
One cannot blame people for thinking like this. Our clubs have already been eliminated in the first round of the UEFA Cup, the national team failed to qualify for the World Cup. But I see the present situation as a new start and I enter the job with a huge motivation to improve things. I do not believe that we will experience the same destiny as Hungarian soccer. We are a nation that is very talented and it would be a pity if we did not take advantage of it. Everything depends on us; on the people in and around soccer.

No doubt domestic critics will ask why you are living in Paris, and not in Belgrade?
As a matter of fact I move between Belgrade and Paris. My family lives in Paris (Stojkovic and his wife Snezana have two daughters and a son) because we wanted to give our children the best possible education. As far as I am concerned, I spend a lot of time here (in Belgrade) and I really don’t see why that should be a big problem. Also I believe that from my stay in France, the country of the current World Cup holders and European champions, the Yugoslav FA can benefit interms of international contacts and perhaps also learning from French football.

What is your answer to those Yugoslav fans who sayit is better that we did not qualify for the World Cup?
That we don’t deserve to participate at the World Cup? It is always nice to be a World Cup participant. But it’s not a tragedy that we won’t be there. Soccer is only a game. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. This time we were the losers, but luck really turned its back on us. We are a better side than Slovenia but we were unlucky, and also there was a strange penalty given in favour of Slovenia when they beat Russia 2-1. Perhaps it was exactly that odd referee’s decision that knocked us out. But things like this happen in sport.

How do you see the future of the national team?
Again, I regard the current situation as a new start. Our first objective is to participate at the European Championship finals in Portugal in 2004 and we will do everything to reach that goal. We do possess quality, good players, and with the right preparations, work and atmosphere one should be optimistic and hope that we will qualify for Euro 2004.

At the moment Yugoslavia doesn’t have a national coach. One gets the impression that it is as good as certain that Dejan Savicevic will be appointed. Are there any other candidates?
Perhaps the public thinks that it is as good as certain,but it has yet to be decided. First of all I wish to form a strong technical committee, with people of class, who know their job, whom you can trust. Only then can we get to the best solution as far as thenew national team coach is concerned. It is true that Dejan Savicevic is a candidate, but we have also several other coaches who through their success have earned great respect at home and abroad. Like Radomir Antic or Dusan Bajevic and others. But, right now I would not speculate on that. What is sure is that mistakes from the past will not be repeated. The next national coach has to sign a professional contract with the FA, he has to have a fixed annual salary; basically these are normal things, there is no big philosophy. We will not allow ourselves ever again to have a national coach who leaves after several months because he signed a deal in Saudi Arabia, or elsewhere.

This interview appeared in the December 2001 issue of World Soccer