Best 11: Serbian youth teams 2022

A personal selection of the most interesting players who featured in either the Serbian U16, U17 or U19 squads.

Another busy end to the season for Serbian youth teams. Two of them qualified for the European Championship, while one generation is preparing to enter next year’s qualifying cycle. The results were a mixed bag, but the U17 semi-final run is definitely an achievement to be proud of. Having watched all the available games more than once, I’ve come up with a balanced starting 11 of players who stood out most and, according to me, have a bright future. I’ve rated all of them from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest rating possible. 

Viktor Džodić (‘06) | Montpellier | Goalkeeper | Serbia U16: 4/0 | Rating: 3.5/5

U19 goalkeeper Luka Lijeskić deserves a shoutout, but there’s no denying Džodić is more complete at this point. A very agile goalkeeper with good reflexes and handling ability, but more importantly, he’s great with the ball at his feet. Can pick out passes and act as an extra defender in the build-up. The only worry for now is his height, officially 178 cm, but he’s not done growing yet, luckily.

Mateja Ostojić (‘07) | Crvena zvezda | Right-back | Serbia U16: 5/0 | Rating: 3.5/5

A modern fullback in every sense of the word. Determined, with a proper engine on him and plenty of pace as well. Excellent in one-vs-one situations, both offensively and defensively. Also makes well-timed runs from deep. His first touch could still use some work, but in general he looks like an exciting prospect. Don’t want to jinx anything, though, with our fullback draught. 

Bojan Kovačević (‘04) | Čukarički | Centre-back | Serbia U19: 5/1 | Rating: 3.5/5

His first touch needs work, his passing is erratic, he’s not a refined centre-back by any means, but he is one who instils fear in strikers. Physically imposing, not afraid to put his head where it hurts, and good in one-vs-one situations. His anticipation is one of his main strengths, and he truly is a diamond in the rough. Sadly, didn’t get any chances at the U19 Euro, where we were in desperate need of an (aerially) dominant centre-back.

Jan-Carlo Simić (‘05) | VfB Stuttgart | Centre-back | Serbia U17: 5/1 | Rating: 4/5

They usually don’t make centre-backs like him in Serbia, so we found him in Germany instead. A two-footed progressive passer with range, capable of driving forward with the ball, and already built like he’s ready for senior football. One of the key players in Serbia U17s semi-final run. His positioning and decision-making, particularly related to aggression, can still improve, but it’s difficult not to get excited about his potential.

Stefan Bukinac (‘05) | Vojvodina | Left-back | Serbia U17: 9/0 | Rating: 3/5

Aggressive in a very positive way, and an excellent ball-winning fullback in general. Determined in his tackles and has plenty of stamina. His ability on the ball needs to be further developed, although he can be a threat with his crossing ability. It’s difficult to say what his ceiling is, as he continued to improve as the U17 Euro progressed, but considering the entire run, he gets a more modest rating.

Vladimir Miletić (‘03) | Vojvodina | Defensive midfielder | Serbia U19: 13/2 | Rating 3/5

One of the few who didn’t disappoint at the U19 Euro, although his last game wasn’t pretty either. To be fair to him, he was played out of position at left-back, being a midfielder. Miletić is pretty much a perfect ball-winner in this age category. Very clean tackler, presses intelligently and wins nearly all of his defensive duels, partly due to his dominant build. He just lacks creativity on the ball and will need to develop a lot in this area, or be moved back a line, as pure ball-winners are slowly getting phased out at the top levels.

Jovan Šljivić (‘05) | Crvena zvezda | Central midfielder | Serbia U17: 11/4 | Rating: 3.5/5

A player with a very diverse skill set. A flashy dribbler, who can score with both feet, but at the same time is a tenacious defender capable of providing cover or aggressively winning the ball back. He has that competitive streak that you need on the highest level. There are some downsides, however. He needs to learn to release the ball quicker, look up more while dribbling and work on his vision. Not easy, but if manages to improve those areas, he could well become an excellent box-to-box midfielder.

Jovan Mijatović (‘05) | Crvena zvezda | Right-winger | Serbia U17: 8/1 | Rating: 3.5/5

Another one from our U17 side who was very aggressive, a bit too much, but well suited to the playing style of the Serbian side at the Euro. His offensive abilities are evident, but it’s his defensive contribution that really stood out. Excellent positioning and countless smart interceptions. On the ball, he’s a natural dribbler with plenty of acceleration and a bit of creativity. For now, the key ingredients missing are a consistent final pass and better decision-making in the final third. 

Nemanja Motika (‘03) | Crvena zvezda | Left-winger | Serbia U19: 12/3 | Rating 3.5/5

By now, most of us know his qualities. A dribbler, with a strong frame, who’s hard to disposes. And it doesn’t stop there, as he’s two-footed and a serious goal threat. But, there’s a reason why Bayern let him go fairly easily. He mostly dribbles with his head down, is wasteful in possession, and needs to develop better decision-making in general. Without those adjustments, he’ll always remain a threatening, but inconsistent and frustrating player.

Jovan Živković (‘06) | Rapid Wien | Shadow striker | Serbia U16: 6/1 | Rating: 5/5

Anytime you have a player who combines dribbling ability, with vision, passing, movement and finishing, you have a gem. Particularly when he has the pace and agility to match. The cherry on top is his suitability to press high and be a nuisance to the opposition defence. The only problem right now is that he’s switched allegiances. After having represented Serbia in May, he played two friendly games for Austria in June. Once the U17 qualifying campaign kicks off, we’ll know more, but it would be painful to lose him.

Jovan Milošević (‘05) | Vojvodina | Striker | Serbia U17: 12/10 | Rating: 4,5/5

Serbia’s best player and top scorer at the U17 Euro. Intelligent, composed and hard-working. He’s the type of striker to give his all for the side, while providing excellent link-up play and being a constant goal threat. Always looking for that inch of space to provide relief for his teammates. His mentality matches his talent, and that’s fairly unique. Physically, he’s another one who is ready for senior football, despite only being 16. And as you may have read on my page, he made his senior debut last week.

This side has a good mix of aggression, technical ability and movement. I’m convinced plenty of these kids can make it to the senior national team one day and that some of them will even become very important players for us. Mark their names down and follow their progress, because a fair number of them will be getting senior minutes this upcoming season.

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