After dropping to a second tier league for the second time in his career, Vladimir Latunov swiftly led his new FK Radnicki 1923 Kragujevac side back to the top of Serbian football. They were now in amongst the big boys in the Serbian SuperLeague after strolling to the First League title in 2033/34.
The Radnicki board, somewhat ambitiously, expect a mid-table finish, while the media expect the club to finish 12th out of 16 sides in the Serbian Super League and rate their title chances at 150/1. However, they’re clearly a long way off Serbian powerhouses Partizan and Red Star, as well as Cukaricki and namesakes Radnicki.
Ahead of the new season, two major opportunities came up as Russia and Serbia offered Latunov international management roles after the 2034 World Cup. However, he decided this wasn’t the time to move on from Radnicki, despite the obvious step up in quality – especially as Russia only offered £3,000-per-week!
Strengthening for the SuperLeague
Latunov began the summer by assessing scout reports for players available across Eastern Europe and beyond. That enabled him to bring in exciting 18-year-old centre-backs Matar Coulibaly from the ASPIRE Academy in Senegal and Buruk Demirtas from his former side Galatasaray. He also added two midfielders in Christ Kouamé from Ivorian side ASEC Mimosas and Artem Starodubtsev from Russian side Akhmat. Those signings joined Brazilian midfielder Maurício Generosi, who joined on a free transfer before the last couple of games of last season.
Latunov tweaked his tactics a little for the move up to a higher tier. He added a more cautious 4-3-3 formation to last season’s 4-2-4.
Strong start to the top tier
The Serbian SuperLeague Preliminary Phase began with a home game against the brilliantly named OFK Backa Backa Palanka. It didn’t start well as Backa scoredearly on but from there Radnicki dominated. A brilliant pass from Generosi sent right-winger Rajko Dmitrovic through for an equaliser after an hour before a brace from last season’s top scorer Nikola Mitrovic. Those goals made Mitrovic the all-time record league scorer for Radnicki 1923 with 62 goals, surpassing the previous record of Darko Spavelic set between 2010 and 2014.
Their first away day was an imposing test away to Red Star Belgrade, the European Champions from 1991. But Radnicki more than held their own, despite conceding in the fourth minute they frustrated Red Star and missed several decent chances on the way to losing 1-0.
Early goals in each half from left-winger Dobrivoje Dukic and Mitrovic were enough for a second home win over Spartak. Then a Dmitrovic goal was enough to claim a slightly lucky 1-0 win at Macva. Last season’s formation made its first appearance of this as Nikola Milosevic returned from injury for a first start against fellow promoted side Vojvodina. And the striker marked his return with a brace in an impressive 4-0 win.
Latunov stuck with the 4-2-4 at TSC and it worked wonders as a Dukic double and a late Milosevic goal sealed a 3-0 win that sent Radnicki top of the league! That teed up a top vs. second clash with Vozvodac, who dominated and took control with two second half goals. That wasn’t ideall heading into a trip to Cukaricki, who scored early and dominated 4-1. And that suddenly left Latunov realising just how tough a task he face in the SuperLeague.
It didn’t get much easier as perennial champions Partizan Belgrade – who’ve won seven of the last eight titles – came to town. Partizan scored early and were potentially a little lucky to come away with a 1-0 win. But a much improved performance at bottom of the league Zemun stopped the rot with a 2-1 win thanks to goals from Dukic and Milosevic, then a brilliant comeback saw Milosevic score two late goals to nick a 3-2 win over Mladost. They then got well and truly dominated at Napredak, who scored early and racked up a huge 30 shots to 11, but the two Nikolas combined for a fairly undeserved Milosevic equaliser in the 88th minute.
That uptick in form set up a first Radnicki v Radnicki 1923 clash, which ended in a 4-1 loss despite the visitors having more xG with half as many shots. But they improved with probably the best performance of the season as a Milosevic brace, which took him to 10 goals for the campaign, inspired a 4-2 win over third-place Zlatibor – who the media had predicted to finish second-bottom. Milosevic’s great form, of five goals and a 7.62 rating over four games, saw him win the October player of the month.
A more unlikely hero was Kouamé scoring his first Radnicki goal with a delicious free-kick to nick a 1-0 win at Novi Pazar, while Mirovic nicked a 1-1 draw at Backa. That set up another clash with Red Star with Radnicki 1923 back in good form and they were unlucky to lose 1-0, as they also were at mid-table Spartak. But they bounced back in style to thump struggling Macva 4-1 with goals from midfielder Bozidar Scepovic, Dukic, Dmitrovic and Mitrovic.
Radnicki 1923 then nicked a 1-1 at fellow promoted side Vojvodina before throwing away a 2-0 lead at home to bottom side TSC then two brilliant free-kicks by Generosi sealed a 4-2 win. That took them into the final league game of 2034 at surprise league leaders Vozdovac, where an impressive defensive effort saw them steal a 1-1 draw despite having just two shots to the hosts’ 22.
That left Radnicki 1923 in an impressive fourth place in the Serbian SuperLeague heading into a two-month winter break. They’d won half of their 22 games, lost seven and drawn four, scoring a solid 37 and conceding 29. Importantly, they were six points ahead of the league split with eight games of the preliminary phase remaining. Milosevic is the third-top scorer in the league with 10 goals – which is impressive considering he only has six finishing! – while Mitrovic has the most assists with 10.
The team’s overachievements saw Latunov offered a job interview in his homeland with Lokomotiv Moscow, which he turned down to continue his efforts in Serbia. He also turned down a contract offer from the club for now, keeping his options open with his deal set to expire in the summer.
Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov looks to challenge Serbia’s finest with his exciting young Radnicki 1923 side.