Serbia feels the Clemente effect
Javier Clementes reputation for being a hardliner with no tolerance for big egos made many in Serbia wonder how a group of players accustomed to having it their way would respond to the 57-year old Basque.
Almost a year on from his appointment, it turns out that Clementes iron first is exactly what was needed after a dismal World Cup.
Clemente swept away a group of ageing and unproductive veterans and then made it clear to their replacements he expected nothing less than full commitment and discipline.
As a result, Serbia remain very much in the hunt to reach the Euro 2008 finals after a 2-0 win in Finland that followed a rough patch Clemente had weathered with some ease.
Unlike his predecessors, who often wilted to media outcries after embarrassing defeats, Clemente stoically faced the music following a 2-1 setback in Kazakhstan and rubbished suggestions it was a disaster of biblical proportions.
I dont understand why people here see every defeat as a tragedy and every victory as a conquest, he said after the Finland win.
Clementes no-nonsense approach seems to have taken effect at all levels as the under-21 side, headed by half a dozen talents he had brought into the first team, got off to a perfect start at the European Championship in The Netherlands with an industrious 1-0 win over favourites Italy.
Serbias passage to the Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland will probably hang in the balance until the final qualifying day but fans can at least be certain this group of players are willing to go the extra mile for their coach in a bid to get there.
Zoran Milosavljevic reports on soccer for Reuters from Belgrade