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Interview with sporting director Petar Miloshevski

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Petar Miloshevski during a press-conference; photo: Makedonski SportPetar Miloshevski during a press-conference; photo: Makedonski SportPetar Miloshevski, the former national team goalkeeper who now serves as the sporting director of the Macedonian squad, is the next person with whom we recently conducted an interview.

We visited Petar Miloshevski at FFM's headquarters in Skopje, same as our earlier interview with national team coach Boshko Gjurovski.  Having only watched Miloshevski between the posts as a keeper during his career, it was a bit strange to see him in a different role now. Miloshevski played for Macedonia from 1999 to 2009, making 59 caps in the process. He retired from international duty at the age of 35 after a series of injuries at that point in his career. Afterwards, Petar did manage three more seasons with his club team Enosis before hanging up his gloves in the summer of 2012 at the age of 38. Shortly after his retirement, the Football Federation of Macedonia (FFM) approached Miloshevski and appointed him sporting director of the national team.

The following interview is courtesy of MacedonianFootball.com and has been authorized by the Football Federation of Macedonia (FFM). Copying it without permission is prohibited.

MF: You were a national team goalkeeper for a long time: 59 official games since your debut in 1999 during a friendly against Bulgaria. You also had a long club career. How do you feel in your new role as the national team sporting director? You are no longer on the field but instead work in an office.
PM: I grew up throughout the national team. From the time when I was playing as a teenager at Pelister I was regularly being summoned to the youth national teams of Yugoslavia until the break up. Later, that continued first with the Macedonian youth national teams and then the senior squad. Therefore, in that sense, I’ve been around the national team for nearly my entire adult life. However, this is a new role and has been hard. The things I learned during my playing career are beneficial, but I can also say that they are completely different roles. But my lengthy presence on the national team has helped me in this role.

MF: In the last qualifications Macedonia was in a pretty tough group with no pushover team. At the beginning the play was improved, but results were lacking which led to fans directing their anger at the national team. FFM also increased the ambitions by talking about a possible ending point in Brazil, a play-off spot or at least a third place finish. Did the federation maybe make a rush decision in being too ambitious?
PM: Nobody approached the qualifications with some unthinkable ambitions. The public has wishes, and after a couple of wins, the atmosphere among them became quite optimistic which is always the case for countries in the Balkans and the Mediterranean. The people quickly get euphoric after wins and even faster are manipulated when there is a lack of success which is something that needs to be understood by everyone who lives here. I think that two moments were very important: first was that [Chedomir] Janevski started the qualifications without even playing a friendly and later all those changes that reflected the finish of the qualification process at the very end. There are no excuses for the other things. Over the past year the national team played good enough football with the exception of the road match against Serbia where we were out of sorts when it came to our mindset. In the other matches, whether friendlies or qualifiers, Macedonia played good football and that can give hope for the future that a recognizable style of play has been established. Unfortunately, all of that suddenly fell apart after all those changes and turbulences near the end of the qualifications. I think that we must learn something from that. It was an experience for us and we have to learn a lesson from that for the future.

MF: Although football has always been the most popular sport in Macedonia, it seems like in recent years it has lost some of its popularity to handball and basketball. The stadiums are empty. In the past the national team could gather a crowd but now that is also struggling to happen. Does FFM have some plan to make things better?
PM: It’s natural that in a small country like Macedonia the investors can more easily realize their ambitions through handball and basketball which have good standing in Macedonia. That is especially true in handball where with a much smaller budget the investors can achieve a lot more bang for their buck. To become competitive in football like it is in handball, what kind of budget would an investor need in Macedonia? There lies the reason to the public when it comes to the successes of handball as opposed to football. All national teams depend on the clubs. Players aren’t made by the national teams; rather they grow and develop at the club level. Then, they find themselves in the national team as recognition for their good performances. So, the problem is that we don’t have healthy clubs in Macedonia, especially clubs that will be patient in developing young players. Instead, now, you have teams that train 13, 14, 15 year olds and then let them go.  What we need are clubs that will properly develop young players, later promote them to their first teams and then look to cover their investment in those players by selling them as complete players. And that is the reason in which we don’t have a good national team, but that didn’t happen overnight. That has come about as a result of the bad conditions through the span of many years, and I think that a number of years will still be needed for that situation to change. Imagine that in the federation, all the national team coaches don’t only depend on the team and the game plan, but on the list of players that are selected, a list that is very small. That is especially the case when it comes to options from the domestic league. We must now concentrate more and more in finding and discovering young players that develop and grow in foreign clubs, and bring them to play for Macedonia's various national teams in order to get better. I can say that is happening within all levels, from the youngest generations all the way up to the senior national team. Our base to choose from is very small and like I said earlier, it is much cheaper and success is more guaranteed for investors when they invest in cheaper sports to operate like basketball and handball. I’m not trying to demean or disrespect those sports in any way as obviously we have to follow their example. Football is the most popular sport across the world, and it’s the most popular here as well, but it’s also more expensive to operate. It makes me happy that Shkendija and Vardar have serious investors that have the intention to look at things with a long-term view. I am hoping that will attract other Macedonian clubs to do the same, especially my hometown club Pelister whose rich tradition makes it, according to me, the most interesting Macedonian club to invest in. We can only hope that their youth academies will function well along with, of course, their first teams. In that sense, the championship will get stronger and eventually there will be more domestic based players featuring for Macedonia’s national teams.

MF: In December of 2012 FFM organized a friendly match against Poland with domestic based players. Will this so called B national team continue to play games in the future?
PM: Of course it’s very good to play those kinds of games, but the dates are very limited for such matches. We can’t call up players outside of FIFA dates who will answer positively to the invitation. At that time [against Poland], the date was great. Also, when it comes to the domestic based players, it depends on the goodwill of the clubs.  The more serious clubs who have a great relationship with the federation understand what it means to meet the needs of the national team. That is done quite a bit by the Scandinavian countries as they play games during their long winter break. We played one against Poland and later we never had an opportunity to arrange another game like that. We do have an initiative for one-day gatherings with internal matches for players of the Macedonian League, not internationals but domestic based players. We hope that will be quickly accepted after the start of the second half of the season. As long as the clubs are willing to cooperate in the best interest of all sides, then I think this will come to be realized.

MF: For a long time, also coming in the form of public statements from some players, there has been talk that some players are summoned not because they are good enough, but rather because they have connections. This is something that also dates back to the previous leadership of FFM as well. What does FFM think regarding this belief?
PM: The player selections are the responsibility of the manager. The people around the manager are there to assist him, they are there to help him gather information in order to make his job less difficult. And we have done that. The manager has the final word and thus he is also the one who is held accountable. I would assume that’s how it was done before as well. As of now, the manager is paid to make those decisions and also held accountable for the end results. Therefore, I can’t comment much on that since the public will always be more sympathetic to one player and less towards another. The best answer when it comes to this is the end result. I think the result always justifies the player selections, and that is something that every coach must understand. So, yes, I’m confident that the player selections, at least since we’ve been here, have been made according to the defined criteria and that they will continue to be made like that in the future, in an objective manner. Our player pool to choose from is not very big, and that is something that people need to realistically understand. The list of players who are national team quality is not big.

MF: You had your debut in 1998 in a friendly match against Bulgaria that ended 0:0. Which games do you mostly remember from your time wearing the Macedonian dress?
PM: Well, surely one of them is that one against Bulgaria. I made my debut against the Bulgarian generation that came in fourth place at the World Cup in 1994. All of them played in that game: Hristo Stoichkov, Krassimir Balakov, Trifon Ivanov, Lyuboslav Penev, Daniel Borimirov, and it was truly a great start. Also, the match against England in Southampton when we drew 2:2 [EURO ’04 qualifications]. That’s it, unfortunately we never had any special success, we were never able to battle someone in order to come close to a play-off place.

MF: You were part of 2-3 generations on the national team. If you must compare the generation of 1998-2000 of Toni Micevski and Mitko Stojkovski with the later generations, do you see improvements?
PM: At that time back then, many of the national team players featured in the Macedonian league. So, they were coming up the ranks from that league and also playing there when they were collecting caps for the national team. They transferred outside of Macedonia later in their careers. The other thing is that they had very high criteria about the meaning of what it means to be a national team player. As time went on, that criteria about the meaning of playing for Macedonia has lessened. Our goal is to return to those early days when it meant something special to put on your country’s jersey. Regarding the quality of the football, things have changed quite a bit since then. The list of players to choose from is maybe smaller these days, but still Macedonia has, maybe not a lot in terms of numbers, enough players to field a solid team at this time as well.

MF: What about your club career? What will you most cherish? You played for Pelister, then with clubs in Turkey and Cyprus.
PM: Pelister is my hometown club and I have a special place for them in my heart. I follow their games whenever I can. At Vardar, I spent a great 4 years where we won the domestic cup twice and the league championship once. Then, I spent 7 years in Turkey where I played for 3 clubs. With Malatyaspor and Trabzonspor, we managed to qualify for the UEFA Cup. That followed 7 years in Cyprus to close my playing career. I only played for one club [Enosis Neon Paralimniou] there and I can say that I have good memories from all of my stops along the way. I didn’t change many clubs. I stayed for at least 3 years with each club I played for, except one [Akçaabat Sebatspor]. I had a good career and that is something that means a lot to me now. I guess those players that stay longer at one place leave a good impression. Also, naturally I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to move much.

MF: When you first arrived in Cyprus, did you have any problems regarding the fact that you are a Macedonian player in a country that closely aligns with Greece?
PM: No, it’s actually to the contrary. I believe that quite a few Macedonians have played in Cyprus, beginning with Borche Gjurev, then Vlatko Grozdanoski and Vancho Trajchov, later I came, and after me arrived Ivan Trichkovski, Bojan Markoski, Edin Nuredinoski, Jane Nikoloski. All of those players left a big impression in Cyprus as Macedonians. I don’t believe that anyone can be in great form with a club if he is not well accepted there. I can’t speak for all, but I believe most have not had any problems, unlike those that affect the countries from a political standpoint. In the everyday and professional life in Cyprus, I was accepted by people who had overcome any prejudices. They had risen above the barrier that comes with the political situation, and gave us their respect primarily as sportsmen and as people. That is the reason why I have learned to build a positive image in the countries where I have played in following those examples, and I can name a lot throughout my career in Turkey and Cyprus. I believe that I as a Macedonian, through my behavior, returned the favor in treating everyone with respect. Overall, we were well accepted, we received good treatment, actually I can say excellent treatment. Nowadays, there are many of our Cypriot and Turkish friends who come to our national team games and cheer for Macedonia because of that.

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