Just a few months shy of the January 2010 European Handball Championship in Austria, Sead Hasanefendić - the former coach of Germany's long-time champion Gummersbach - took the reigns of the Serbian national team. President of the Serbian Handball Association Velimir Marjanović explains that their goal was to combine "the Balkan spirit with German professionalism," and ensure that the Serbian team wins a medal at the 2012 European Championship in Belgrade.
And this is how Serbian handball received its second foreign official, after Denmark's Anja Andersen in 2006. This 'foreigner,' however, was born in Petrovaradin, near Novi Sad, on 1 August 1948. Given Hasanefendić’s success, he has been hailed by Croatian media as a Croatian coach, the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina consider him their countryman, while, after accepting his new appointment in Serbia, he said he was "glad to come home."
Hasanefendić began his career as a player for Novi Sad's Železnićar, Zagreb's Slavija and Medveščak, and the French team from Cannes. He later began coaching, and in 1982 took over the Swiss national team. When he worked with Tunisia's national team, they made fourth place at the 2005 World Championship and won the African Cup in 2006. He has also led the team of Bosnia and Herzegovina through numerous qualifications for large competitions, and many years ago won silver in World Championships with the former Yugoslavian junior handball team.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm. Many excellent Serbian players play in large European teams. The most important [upcoming] events are the European Championship in Belgrade and the London Olympic Games in 2012, but we should have good results immediately," said Hasanefendić.
The coach - who has won gold with Sarajevo's Željeznićar, won the Yugoslav Cup with Metaloplastika, garnered a "double crown" in France with Creteil, Venneseur, Vitrol, and Celje, and won the EHF Cup with Germany's Gummersbach last season - emphasises that in every game his goal is to win.
"I'm not trying to be modest, but we've got a difficult group at the European Championship. We've got Iceland, the European champion Denmark, and our host, Austria," Hasanefendic said.
The year 2006 was the turning point when Belgrade began getting its first foreign coaches. Prior to that, there was only the 2000 European Handball Championship where Serbia's female national team was led by Natalia Cigankova, a handball player from the former U.S.S.R., who spent years playing for Podgorica's Budućnost.
Thus, the arrival of Anja Andersen made quite a buzz in the Serbian media, especially since she took over the female national team just prior to the qualifications for the 2006 European Championship. Known as an excellent player with "not so wonderful manners" and as the coach who made a European champion out of the obscure Danish team Slagelse, Anderson managed to rally Serbia's best players and secure an entry in the championship, but would not lead the team during the competition itself.
Handball is not the only sport in which Serbia has resorted to foreign coaches – even if it may the most successful. Spanish football coach Javier Clemente, who was brought in to resurrect the most important Serbian pastime after the fiasco at the 2006 World Championship in Germany, could not even match the achievements of Andersen. Soon after Serbia failed to qualify for the 2008 European Football Championship in Austria and Switzerland, Clemente was replaced.
Since then, Serbian football has managed to find its saviour in Radomir Antić, a coach who has spent most of his career with Spanish teams, while handball has opted to seek help in the neighbourhood.
The same day Hasanefendić was named head coach of Serbia's male national team, Montenegrin Duško Milić was appointed head of the female handball team. Thus, they have joined the ranks of Podgorica native Igor Kolaković, who has been leading the national volleyball team since 2006, and Split-born Nikola Pilić, who has been Serbia's Davis Cup counsellor since 2007.
Of all the states that once comprised the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has so far been most inclined to hire national team coaches from its one-time co-republics. Serbian native Zoran Živković took the country's male handball team to the 2006 World Championship. The team has also been headed by Veselin Vujović from Cetinje (Montenegro), while Belgrade native Dragan Nišević (Serbia) has lead the country's female handball team.
Slovenian Srečko Katanec worked with their football team for a time, while Serbian coach Jovica Arsić took the country's basketball team to the 2009 European Championship in Poland.