BELGRADE (Reuters) – Players at debt-ridden former European Cup winners Red Star Belgrade are so deprived of their incomes they are unable to pay for food and rent, the club’s under-fire coach Aleksandar Jankovic has said.
Red Star, who won Europe’s flagship club competition in 1991, fell five points behind champions and Serbian league leaders Partizan Belgrade after a tepid 1-1 draw at 10-man city rivals Rad on Sunday, prompting a board meeting on Monday with Jankovic only just keeping his job.
The 40-year old, who is in his second spell with Red Star, did not buckle under fan pressure to resign after the setback and revealed that first team players have only received three minimum wage payments amounting to a total of around 516 pounds each since November.
Red Star’s debts are estimated at in excess of 43 million pounds, a vast sum in Serbia’s dilapidated football structure almost entirely dependent on exporting talent to wealthier European rivals.
"The situation has never been as grave as it is at the moment and the players’ very existence is at stake here," Jankovic was quoted as saying by Belgrade daily Informer on Tuesday.
"The problems are mounting, there is no solution in sight and I don’t have a magic wand.
"I know this team has the potential to be much better but hungry players can’t perform and although I criticised them after a below-par display against Rad, the audience should know their situation."
Once a force in Europe, Red Star have been reduced to playing second fiddle to Partizan even in Serbia’s top flight devoid of any real quality, having last won the league title in 2007.
With the championship invariably boiling down to a perennial two-horse title race between Serbia’s big two, Red Star have only a slim chance of stopping Partizan from clinching a record sixth successive league title.
Partizan, who have a game in hand, are likely to go eight points clear when they visit neighbours BSK Borca on Wednesday and Jankovic acknowledged he may not be able to avoid the axe for much longer.
"The coach is the first to take the hit when things go wrong on the pitch so it’s important the players stick together as a unit because there is no telling at this point what will happen at the helm," he said.
President Dragan Dzajic, who returned for a third spell in December after guiding the club to 1991 glory as the technical director, said Jankovic had been given conditional support until a two-week break later this month, when Serbia play Croatia and Scotland in World Cup qualifiers.
"We made it very clear we were unhappy with pale performances after a good buildup during the mid-season winter break but we refrained from making a hasty decision and the board will reassess the situation during the international break," he said.
"We knew of the club’s ordeals when we took over in December but that doesn’t give us the right to roll over, the players must dig deep to reward the fans for their support."
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