Coronavirus: Degenek hoping to celebrate Red Star title in front of full stadium

By Sports Desk May 27, 2020

Celebrating another league title in front of a packed Rajko Mitic Stadium is the hope for Red Star Belgrade defender Milos Degenek as football returns in Serbia following the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc globally, with Serbia's SuperLiga among the competitions to have been suspended since March due to the outbreak – the Olympic Games and Euro 2020 were pushed back 12 months.

Red Star were 11 points clear of bitter rivals and neighbours Partizan Belgrade atop the table when the SuperLiga was halted but the defending champions will have the chance to clinch their third consecutive title when the league resumes, albeit in a condensed format, for the final four rounds on Friday.

Serbian powerhouse and 1991 European Cup champions Red Star will play behind closed doors when they travel to lowly Rad Beograd but Degenek is optimistic a full house will be in attendance for the club's final home fixture of the campaign against Proleter Novi Sad on June 20.

"We need one more point to seal the league," Australia international Degenek told Stats Perform News. "That's going to be on Friday night, hopefully we do the business there. Then we have three more games left and I think the last game of the season is at home.

"I hope by that time that they do let the fans in the stadium because there's talk here that maybe they can get fans into the stadium, maybe not. We're not 100 per cent sure there won't be any fans and we're not 100 per cent sure there will be. 

"But I think we will find a way somehow to celebrate with the fans, whether it's inside the stadium or outside. Obviously it's different when you win a title with no one in the stadium to when you win a title with 40,000 in the stadium. There's a difference and I hope the stadium is full by the time the title comes around. If not, then we will find a different way to celebrate."

"It's a been a long way away from football," added Degenek following the enforced break from football, with the centre-back braced for a hectic schedule after the Socceroos' World Cup qualifiers were also postponed, which is set to put a strain on his typical off-season plans. "Obviously we trained and maintained our fitness but just the fact you lack that pure competition, the games, winning, checking the ladder, checking how other teams went, so that's what has been missing for a while. It kinds of get depressing when you can't play every week. It gets even more depressing when you realise it wasn't a break, it was just due to health issues and reasons. Happy that it's back after a while and hopefully it never stops again.

"I'm just really excited and looking forward to getting back on track, getting back into the real world and I hope within a month or so there will be full stadiums again in the world of football. I hope this pandemic stays away for a while so no one has issues and no one is scared, the fact we can live our normal lives again and people who love football can live their normal lives again on a Saturday and Sunday, and take their kids and family to a game."

While the likes of Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom have been hit hard by coronavirus, Serbia has managed to contain the outbreak in comparison, with more than 11,200 confirmed cases and 239 registered deaths.

"To be really, really honest with you, I think 95 per cent of the people here believe and know there's no virus, nothing going on," Degenek said. "Ninety-five per cent of people here think it's just a media hoax, due to all other reasons apart from an actual virus. A lot of people wear masks and gloves, but the people I'm around with and especially when we train, none of us believe there's an actual virus and something is actually happening. 

"Even now when you walk along the streets, you sit at restaurants, you go out at night to a restaurant and there's live music, people on top of each other. I think because my fiancé, she works in a hospital, and she knows there's a lot more people that die due to a normal virus than this coronavirus. I guess coronavirus has been quite well pushed in the media, got its popularity up and everyone got scared but I don't really talk much about it, I don't really care to be honest as long as my football starts back."

Germany's Bundesliga and the K League in South Korea have already returned this month amid social-distancing measures – no celebrating goals or shaking hands.

Those guidelines have baffled Degenek, who said: "I don’t understand the fact that you can't shake hands in a game and can't celebrate a goal but in the corner I'm hugging a player. My sweat is going on his sweat, there's head collisions, some people will bleed, things like that happen. 

"You tackle someone, someone spits on someone… I'm saying stupid things but I don't understand why you can't celebrate a goal when in a corner you can hug someone, slide tackle someone, you can hug someone during the game, move someone around, there's physical contact, it's not as if we're playing basketball or handball and there's not much contact."

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, a club great returned to Belgrade – Dejan Stankovic.

The 41-year-old, who played for Red Star between 1995 and 1998 before enjoying spells at Lazio and Inter, succeeded Vladan Milojevic as head coach in December.

It is Stankovic's first senior job following a brief period as a coach at Inter's academy last year and the 103-time Serbia international has been tipped for a successful career in the dugout.

"I was very excited that a player that he was has now become a coach and gets to coach me because he was won everything there is to win in club football," Degenek said of Stankovic, who won the treble with Inter under Jose Mourinho as part of a 15-piece trophy haul at San Siro to go with Serie A and other silverware at Lazio. 

"He has had some of the best managers in the world and I see in the past few months that we've had him, I've learned a lot. I've come across a lot of footballing ideas and things he wants. I'm very happy to have him as a coach but a friend as well. The way he has started here, I think he will have a good coaching career. I'm almost certain he will because he has so much determination, will, the drive to learn and to push. I think he will have a very good coaching career and it's very exciting to have him here with us."

Milojevic restored Red Star's position at Serbia's summit, but more importantly, he led the capital side back to the Champions League in 2018 – having not featured in Europe's premier club competition since 1992 – and again this season before vacating his position and eventually moving to Saudi side Al-Ahli in February.

"Very sad to see him leave but towards the end of his time, I think you could've seen there wasn't much more he could do," Degenek, 26, said. "You just see when someone is exhausted, when they have done everything and put their life into it. He obviously got the reward, he got a new job in Saudi Arabia which is financially rewarding and he deserves that.

"Also, he done a lot of things for this club which no other manager has done. Obviously very grateful to have him as my coach, also he is a very good person. Happy for him to move on in his career and also happy that I got to work with him and happy he was the one that pushed Red Star into a way that the club should be going, which is forward and in a brighter future."

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