Vladimir Latunov was preparing for a third season at FK Radnicki 1923 Kragujevac, which represented the first occasion in his 15-year career that he’d stated with a club for longer than two years. After scouring the job market and finding zilch, the Russian manager eventually signed a new two-year deal to keep him in Serbia until 2037.
The summer began with a club record sale as star centre-back Matar Coulibaly received a £3 million bid from Man City, which the Radnicki board accepted over Latunov’s head. Midfielder Maurício Generosi, who’d been poor last season, moved to Kayserispor for an impressive £500,000 and goalkeeper Mihajlovic went to Mladost for £600,000.
He began strengthening his squad by snapping up new goalkeeper Martins and loaning in exciting midfielder Vukasin Pavlovic from Red Star. His first cash signing was attacking midfielder Drazen Poljak for £100,000 from Varazdin before signing midfielder Ilica Brkic for £400,000 from Levski Sofia. The club added depth with free signings midfielder Andrei Suflaru, striker Bojan Popovic and Brazilian/Japanese attacking midfielder Igor and loaned in attacker Slobodan Stevanovic from Cukaricki, midfielder Michal Vesely from Sparta Prague and defender Toni Kolev from CSKA Sofia.
He then did a senior affiliate deal with AS Monaco that allows Radnicki to snap up the French giants’ youngsters on loan for free. And he did just that by bringing in exciting midfielder Christophe Jullien, who’s already the best player at the club.
With the new players through the door, Latunov was confident that he’d built a much stronger squad. He devised a new tactic that focused through the middle of the pitch – largely driven by the poor performances of his wingers at the end of the previous season. While the media expect the side to finish in a mid-table eighth with odds of 200/1 to win the Serbian SuperLeague.
Off to a solid start
The new season began in mid-July at home to Spartak and the new formation looked solid in a 1-0 win thanks to record goalscorer Nikola Milosevic’s first half goal. A 0-0 at Backa was followed by a visit from Red Star, in which Milosevic scored a first-half brace that the visitors twice cancelled out and Radnicki held them to a solid 2-2 draw. Then a stunning free-kick on debut by Jullien earned a third successive draw at Cukaricki.
That streak ended and the unbeaten run continued as both Milosevic and his mate Nikola Mitrovic scored in a 2-0 home win over Mladost. Milosevic was at it again with the only goal at namesakes Radnicki before Jullien and Mitrovic goals edged out Rad 2-1 to send FK Radnicki 1923 second!
Radnicki in Europe
Last season’s fourth-place finish took Radnicki 1923 into the European Conference League qualifiers, where they faced Israeli side Maccabi Haifa. Latunov’s side started strongly in the home first leg with midfielder Dobrivoje Dukic scoring inside two minutes then a Mitrovic brace and a Milosevic goal taking them 4-0 up at half-time and it stayed that way. Pavlovic curled home his first goal for the club early in the away leg to effectively kill the tie off, before Milosevic and centre-back Igor Jovanovic wrapped up a 7-1 aggregate win.
When Inter popped up as their next opponents, Latunov was concerned. But it turned out to be Finnish side FC Inter Turku. The away leg was first and Radnicki started strongly before Poljak tucked home a penalty and Dukic added a late second. And a Milosevic goal in the home leg was enough for a 3-0 aggregate win.
That teed up a reunion with one of Latunov’s former clubs in the fourth qualifying round – as they went up against Legia Warszawa. The return to Legia clearly got the better of the manager as his team was terrible in the first leg, taking a first half battering to trail 3-0 and eventually losing 4-0. He threw in an entire backup 11, including five teenage debutants, for the home leg and they were unlucky to lose 2-0.
Competing at the top
Their unbeaten start, which included a a superb 3-2 win at last season’s title challengers Vodzovac, continued for 10 games through to a trip to leaders and perennial champions Partizan at the end of September. A terrible match saw just one highlight, which forced a save out of Martins from a free-kick, and Radnicki 1923 came away with a brilliant point at the champions that kept them four points back. Partizan then lost their first game of the season 4-3 at Vozdovac the day after a Milosevic brace inspired Radnicki 1923 to come from a goal down to thump Novi Pazar 4-2.
They then faced a run of five games against teams in the bottom half of the league, which turned into the Milosevic shows. The striker scored a hat-trick to defeat Zlatibor 3-0, bagged two more, including a 93rd-minute winner, to edge past Spartak 2-1 and the only goal at home to Backa, which moved him past 20 goals for the season. Those games also saw Latunov pass 100 games at a club for the first time!
That took Radnicki 1923 top and two points clear of Partizan, who had a game in hand, heading into a huge game at Red Star, who were five points back with a game in hand. It didn’t start well as Red Star scored with their first shot (obviously) but Milosevic got them level just before the break. However, a ridiculously unfair penalty handed Red Star a 2-1 win, which was Radnicki 1923’s first defeat of the season. However, on the same day Partizan drew at Zlatibor.
Tey then travelled to Napredak and, despite being all over them, trailed 2-1 after an hour. Latunov threw on 18-year-old academy product midfield starlet Stefan Mitrev, who promptly scored an absolute wondergoal with a volley from inside his own half to level the game up and bag his first-ever senior goal. Milosevic then ran riot to wrap up a club record four-goal haul and a 5-2 win. But check out this amazing Mitrev strike.
A 1-0 win at home to Cukaricki was followed by another inspired Milosevic performance as his hat-trick downed Mladost 3-2. But out of nowhere, they somehow lost 5-3 at home to namesakes Radnicki, who only had eight shots, on the same day as Partizan and Red Star drew 1-1. However, Milosevic scored again in that match, which took him to 29 goals for the season and broke his own club record for most goals in a season – before Christmas!
They rounded the year out by sneaking a 1-0 win at Rad thanks to a late Pavlovic penalty, on the same day that Partizan again only drew at Cukaricki. That took Radnicki 1923 into a 62-day winter break on top of the Serbian SuperLeague with 48 points, one point clear of Red Star and four clear of Partizan, who both had a game in hand.
Milosevic unsurprisingly tops the league goal charts with 22 goals in 22 games – not bad for a guy with 6 finishing! He also has the top average rating of 7.60 and by far the most player of the match awards with an incredible 10 – six more than anyone else.
Join us next time to discover if Vladimir Latunov’s Radnicki 1923 side can continue their unlikely title challenge alongside Belgrade giants Red Star and Partizan.