Partizan Sports Director Ivica Iliev spoke to journalists on the final day of Belek winter preps:
-Weather conditions were quite bad. Previously, we had preps in Cyprus for three years and climate conditions here in Turkey were supposed to be the same, 15 to 20 degrees Celsius but we were met by rain and it didn`t work out for us for sure. But, I`m pleased with last three friendlies we played – team looked fit, especially against Shakhtar and Krylia Sovetov and those were quite demanding games, says Iliev.
But, some would say final friendly against Mladost was below expectations. Bosnians were playing as most of the Serbian teams do against Partizan – defending most of the game. Partizan found it hard to break such defensive wall.
-Final preps game is always a problem. Players are tired and nervous and that`s understandable – they are away from their homes and families for two weeks. Moreover, we were playing and training without some of the key players – Pantic was sidelined all the way through while Ricardo came back towards the end…When we draw the line, what matters is that we had no additional injuries and I believe this team will play better compared to first part of the season. They are together for six months now and we have a good chemistry within the squad. I also expect our summer signings to step up.
One of the midfield creative players Marko Jankovic departed but no replacement was signed.
-Looking at Krylia Sovetov friendly, I believe we`ll get a lot from Zoran Tosic. I can see he is fresh now, more powerful and determined, ready to lead this team. Moreover, I believe many players who didn`t play much during the first part of the season will step up now. Unfortunately, Jankovic departed and we didn`t sign replacement we wanted to. I`m talking about Tokmac Nguen. But, we have Tosic back now and I`m optimistic it will work out fine.
What are your impressions of youngster Stevanovic?
-It was clear he lacks physique, especially in a game against Mladost. He is exceptional talent and just 16 years old! We presented Partizan kids with opportunity not just to say we have our kids with the squad. We wanted them to play. They all play different positions, there`s a good balance within the team and everyone will get an opportunity to prove over the next six months.
Is Partizan stronger or weaker side after another transfer window?
-We are stronger now! We had Jankovic sidelined for some time during the first part of the season, he didn`t play five or six games due to injuries. Summer signings are pushing through and we will look much better now. Newcomers had minor injuries and we have to wait and see how good they are. Against Cracovia, we were able to see Moussa`s pace and physical abilities. I hope he`ll be ready soon.
There are rumours of Ricardo departing for China.
-I don`t want to think about it. Rumours will always be there but I believe this is the team that will represent Partizan over the next six months. We had lucrative offers for Ricardo but we rejected with clear aim in sight.
Coach Zoran Mirkovic now had an opportunity to stage full preps with his team. Do you see progress in coaching department?
-That`s why I said we`ll be stronger team now. Main reason is because Mirkovic is staged his preps with the team. I believe he`ll find is easier now to make a selection and work the tactics out according to the opponents.
There will be many games in Serbian championship like this one against Mladost.
-Partizan loves to play against sides who try to outwit you. Unfortunately, most of the games in Serbia are encounters like this one against Mladost. We`ll try to be better. Shakhtar is among top 15 teams in Europe and we played a fantastic game but we were poor against Mladost. But, this is preps period and I have understanding for such performance. It`s much easier to get motivated against strong opponent but we talk a lot with our players trying to change their frame of mind.
Do you think Partizan lacks true leader on the pitch?
-Some players can lead with their playing qualities, some are leaders by their human qualities. Unfortunately, we missed on number 10 during winter transfer window but that`s how it is, that`s our reality.
Five friendlies, only four goals scored and five Partizan players sent-off.
-There was lot of tension around. I don`t now what caused it but we`ll look at it. We definitely scored low amount of goals but we played against firm sides who were step ahead from us during their respective preps. Against Cracovia we didn`t put emphasis on a result and there was no euphoria after Skakhtar win. These are all friendlies and you try to find your form. On the other hand, our attack was never in full strength due to injuries.