Soviet Surge Part 32 | FK Radnicki #6: Diego Maradona Joins Serbian Title Battle

After deciding to stay with a club for more than two years for the first time in his 15-year career, Russian manager Vladimir Latunov was reaping the benefits at FK Radnick 1923 Kragujevac. His side went into the winter break sitting top of the Serbian SuperLeague, with Belgrade giants Red Star and Partizan breathing down their neck.

Latunov spent the winter break further strengthening his squad, using the affiliate deal with AS Monaco to bring in free loans of centre-back Frederic Rousseiau and left-back Tanguy Dumortier, who immediately picked up a three-month hip injury! He also loaned in striker Ivan Stepanenko from Dynamo Kiev.

Unlikely title bid resumes

Radnicki 1923’s closest title rivals came back from the winter break early to play their games in hand. Red Star won to go top while Partizan lost at strugglers Backa, which meant all teams had eight games remaining before the Serbian SuperLeague split in half.

Star striker with six finishing Nikola Milosevic picked up where he left off by scoring 11 minutes into the first game back at home to Vojvodina, which took him to 30 goals for the campaign. Summer signing Ilica Brkic spanked home his first goal for the club before attacking midfielder Nikola Mitrovic got sent off inside 40 minutes, but Radnicki 1923 held on for a 2-1 win. Stepanenko came off the bench to score an injury-time debut winner and sneak his new team past last season’s title contenders Vozdovac. Then attacking midfielder Drazen Poljak and Milosevic sealed a 2-0 win at Javor.

That solid start to 2036 teed up a big home game against Partizan, against whom Radnicki 1923 had only ever won once in 25 meetings during this save and drawn one and lost three during Latunov’s reign. So he went for a defensive approach and just about held on for a hard-earned draw courtesy of left-back Branko Cocovic’s injury-time strike. A Milosevic brace and a debut goal by Rousseau sealed a 3-1 win at Novi Pazar on the same day Red Star lost at Backa. They then beat bottom side Radnik, nicked a draw at Macva thanks to a late Mitrovic double then finished the Preliminary Phase with a against Zlatibor.

That sent them into the final period of the season in second place tied with Red Star, who had a huge goal difference, on 68 points and five points clear of Partizan.

A tight title race

That meant the Serbian title was very much a possibility heading into the seven-game Serbian SuperLeague Final Phase. And to assist the team’s attacking efforts, Latunov signed Diego Maradona, a Brazilian attacking midfielder/striker on a free transfer.

The Final Phase began with a defence and midfield injury crisis, which wasn’t ideal given it began with a trip to Red Star – against whom Latunov had one draw and four defeats and Radnicki 1923 had only won three times in 25 games in this save. And that continued as Red Star unsurprisingly scored with their first shot and got a ridiculous penalty to win 2-1.

Diego Maradona bagged his first goal for the club then created one for Milosevic in a 2-1 win over fourth-place Vojvodina. That win meant Vojvodina couldn’t catch them, which guaranteed Radnicki 1923 their best-ever league finish. But Latunov was keen for more, which would rely on Red Star slipping up.

First, he needed to get a first win over the other Belgrade side Partizan in his 700th match as a manager. His side came out flying, creating plenty of opportunities and finally took one as Milosevic headed home his 35th goal of the season on 44 minutes. There were zero highlights in the second half and Latunov celebrated a first win over the big two!

Vojvodina offered a massive favour by holding Red Star to a 2-2 draw in their game in hand, which saw Red Star one point clear with four games remaining.

Game 1 – Zlatibor away: Radnicki 1923 went to seventh-place Zlatibor and created nothing in a dire game that flew to 0-0. On the same day, Red Star lost 1-0 at Cukaricki to see the two sides tied at the top on 75 points. And that looked like a massive opportunity missed.

Game 2 – Cukaricki at home: They were much better early on against Cukaricki, as Diego Maradona superbly set up Poljak on nine minutes then doubled the tally six minutes before the break. A quiet second half meant it finished 2-0. And at the same time Red Star were held 0-0 at home by Vozdovac, which meant the cards were suddenly in Radnicki 1923’s hands as they moved two points clear at the top!

Game 3 – Radnicki away: Red Star played their penultimate game first and lost 5-1 at Zlatibor, which gave Latunov’s side a massive opportunity in another clash of the Radnickis. They were without key defender Igor Jovanovic, which showed as the hosts somehow scored two goals from three shots to win 2-0. Latunov was livid.

Game 4 – Vozdovac at home: However, the title was still in their hands heading into the final day of the season with a two point advantage. While they hosted sixth-place Vozdovac, Red Star entertained fifth-place Radnicki. The nerves were jangling but Diego Maradona offered the perfect start, steering home from 10 yards after four minutes. Red Star also took the lead after 26 minutes, but Rousseau headed home to double the lead just before the break. And the title was all but sealed as Diego Maradona doubled his tally 10 minutes after the break then wrapped up his hat-trick on 72 minutes. What a signing he has been. and his performance inspired a 4-0 victory.

Radnicki 1923 were Champions of Serbia for the first time in their history!!

That final day drama ensured Radnicki 1923 finished top of the Serbian SuperLeague with 81 points, two clear of Red Star and six ahead of Partizan. They won 24, drew nine and lost four games. Milosevic finished as the top scorer in the league with 28 goals in 37 games, only adding six in 15 after the winter break. He also had the best average rating in the league of 7.40 and the most player of the match awards with 12. While Vukasin Pavlovic – who was on loan from Red Star – racked up the second-most assists with 10.

Season Review

Milosevic was clearly the main man this season, scoring 35 goals and getting eight assists in 43 games. Mitrovic scored 11 and assisted nine, while Poljak scored nine and assisted two. But the impact of Diego Maradona cannot be understated, as he was the side’s fourth-top scorer with five goals and two assists and got an average rating of 7.57 in just seven games. Pavlovic topped the assists with 12, while Christophe Jullian and Brkic got seven each.

Milosevic broke his own record for most goals and league goals in a season, most goals in a match and most player of the match awards. He also extended his club goalscoring record to 105 goals for his hometown club. He of course won the fans’ player of the season, Jovanovic won young player of the season and Brkic was signing of the season. Milosevic also won the league players’ and managers’ player of the season.

Time to move on

With the Serbian title wrapped up, it was time for Vladimir Latunov to look for the next step on his Soviet Surge. Having won titles in Poland, Turkey, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Serbia, he now had to look to Belarus, Bulgaria, Russia and Slovenia. However, come the end of the season there were very few jobs – just four – available. However, with the exception of Russia, there was a reason that these leagues were still remaining…

Regardless, he duly stepped down as Radnicki 1923 manager on 1 June 2036 and waited for something to happen. He eventually attended interviews with Bulgarian sides Arda and Botev Vrvatsa, Belarussian side Dnepr Mogilev and Slovenian side NK Celje.

The first offer came from Celje, who had a decent transfer and wage budget. He delayed and Botev and Dnepr both offered him roles with far less financial clout, so he rejected both. Arda came in with a decent offer, so he delayed and waited on Celje. And the offer eventually came back, which meant Latunov was headed for Slovenia.

Join us next time to discover what awaits Vladimir Latunov as he moves to his 11th club in the 10th country on his Soviet Surge!

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