Thursday 24 November 2022, 06:30

Veselinovic: We celebrate every success as if it were a national holiday

  • A new U-17 women’s league has been launched in Serbia with help from FIFA

  • The competition marks a watershed moment for women’s football in the country

  • Bojana Veselinovic: “FIFA’s support is more than significant“

Back in 2017, Serbia international Jovana Damnjanovic could scarcely contain her enthusiasm about the wealth of young talent in her homeland during an interview with "We’ve got really talented girls and players, it’s unbelievable," the Bayern Munich striker said at the time. "But there’s still something missing when it comes to infrastructure, professionalism and coaching." Much has changed since then. In September 2022 the Football Association of Serbia launched the new Cadet League of Serbia, a competition for girls aged up to 17 years old, with support from FIFA. This new league marks a significant milestone in the development of the women’s game in the Balkan country.

"Women’s clubs enthusiastically accepted the idea of setting up a youth league," said Bojana Veselinovic, the women’s national team manager and head of women’s football development in Serbia, in an interview with "We selected 12 clubs divided into two divisions to reduce travel time," she explained. "We officially distributed the equipment provided by FIFA, and at the end of the season [spring 2023], the Football Association of Serbia will host the final [between the division winners] at its sports centre." The Serbian FA will then reflect on how the league has been implemented, assess whether the number of clubs is sufficient and discuss whether it can be increased in the future. FIFA played a key role in introducing the country’s new U-17 women’s league, and Veselinovic was quick to highlight the world governing body’s significance when it comes to developing the women’s game. "FIFA’s support is more than significant," she explained. "The question is whether it would be possible to realise any of these projects without the help of football’s biggest institution. If FIFA continues to promote women’s football, then I’m sure the future will be bright. Girls in Serbia have already experienced this because they can now play football in smaller cities and villages, too. This is also impacting the senior game, because we now have a much larger base of players. And we’re just getting started..."

Serbia v Germany: Group H - FIFA Women's WorldCup 2023 Qualifier

Veselinovic continued by reflecting on the positive changes that have happened in Serbia over the last five years, from the launch of the "Football is for Girls" campaign and investing in the development of female coaches to providing clubs with various forms of financial support. FIFA also played its part in these initiatives by enabling U-19 women’s national team coach Lidija Stojkanovic to take part in the second edition of the FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme. "Our main goal is to increase the number of female players," said Veselinovic. "We have made great progress since we started working more intensively to develop women’s football. Given the success the Football Association of Serbia had in setting up the Development League for girls [up to 15 years old] with support from FIFA in 2014, we decided that the process of developing girls for senior football had to be part of our new strategy for the women’s game."

The national team’s recent successes demonstrate how right Veselinovic is to make these statements. Few Serbian fans will forget their team’s 3-2 victory over Germany in qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™, with Damnjanovic netting two goals. "We were close to qualifying for the Women’s World Cup, which has never happened in our history," Veselinovic continued. "I’m sure that the women’s game in Serbia would explode in popularity if we reached a European Championship or World Cup. We’re a small country but we are full of talented athletes, and we celebrate every success as if it were a national holiday."