Veljko Paunovic left the Philadelphia Union on curious terms, disappearing almost randomly at a time when most people expected him to return in 2012 and once again make an impact as a starter or supersub. Instead, the former Atletico Madrid player returned to his home in the former Yugoslavia.
Then reports surfaced that he had accepted a head coaching role with Serbia's youth national team, bringing him back to what he had done during his first retirement from professional soccer with Los Colchoneros.
The former Serbia and Montenegro international answered questions that the Brotherly Game had about his time with the Union, his current situation with Serbia and what his thoughts were about his possible future.
Scott Kessler: You're coaching an Olympic team of under-18 players. Is this the first time you've coached players of that age group?
Veljko Paunovic: Yes, this is my first experience in coaching and leading this age group, despite the experience I had before I joined Philadelphia, with the same group but two years younger at Atletico Madrid.
SK: How did your time with Atletico Madrid as a coach, prior to joining the Philadelphia Union, help shape you for future coaching jobs?
VP: It was a great experience for me. I have learned all kind of skills and practical work, like organization, methodology, planning, leadership, making important decisions, solving issues, setting up the team. It was very important in the way that I could pass through the transition between the player and coach mentality.
SK: On Twitter you said that you're excited about coaching the team's first game. Can you describe why? Who are you playing? Is it a friendly?
VP: Yeah, my first game with NT was very exciting for me, and [we won] 4-0 versus Belorussia (Belarus). We played great and, especially important for me, we played as a team. After that, we won a very important tournament in Tel Aviv, with Israel and Germany, during the military activities in the country.Check out the finals here.
This first six months of work we made emphasis on building the team spirit and trust in each other, enthusiasm about our collective goals, mutual respect, and collective responsibility.
We want to be the best we can be.
SK: Do you think that Serbia's youth system is prepared to take the national team to the next level?
VP: Right now Serbian MNT is in the process of transition between the experienced players and youngsters that are still to come.
I believe that in the couple of years Serbia will again be a great NT and have very good and competitive results on the big scene.
SK: Is this job a part of a plan for a future head coaching role, either at the national level or club level?
VP: Yes it is, thats my goal, and I'm carefully preparing for the moment when I'll get the chance to coach the pros.
Right now I'm working as a head coach of young guys, 17 and 18 years old, but trust me, there is no big difference working with the pros. My guys are just one step behind, and soon they're going to [be a] step forward.
It is just the level of competition that is different.
I was a pro with the 17s for Partizan Belgrade, and with 18s when Atletico Madrid signed me on a four year contract worth millions. I was in that moment playing for the same age group in my National Team as the one that I'm coaching now.
What is also curious about that is that I'm coaching the group born in 1995, the same year I signed for Atletico.
SK: What was the reason behind you retiring for a second time and leaving America?
VP: I didn't leave America, I would say, I just have gone for some period of time. I'll tell you the truth and only the truth. Nobody pressured me or threatened me, as I heard some speculations in media.
The only reason is that unfortunately my Father had a stroke and his health was, and still is, very affected. I felt that I have to help my parents, brothers and sister to carry all this difficult situation together, and help as much as I can with my love and close presence.
On the other hand, I was so happy and full of enthusiasm during my time in Philadelphia that I can never forget all the great moments me and my family had here. I [want to] take advantage of this to say thanks to Philadelphia fans and people and the team for everything.
I often regret that my time in Philadelphia did not last longer. I thought that I'd finally found the place where I belong, to enjoy the life and soccer and start my future career.
I don't blame [the] bad luck that had happened, but I still think and wish that one day I'll be back in Philly and can continue my services with the team and community.
I feel and I know that one day we'll meet again.
SK: Do you have any thoughts about how the season went for the Union? Anything in particular you think fans should think about for next season?
VP: I followed every game, every week and everything about Philadelphia since I had gone, I'm still in contact with my mates, Roger Torres, [the] Farfans, Le Toux, Valdes, Amobi, and others on Twitter.
It's a part of my daily ritual to check Union web sites and social networks, I love to interfere with the Union fans and by that I know that 2012 was a difficult season for the team and the fans. I also know that forms the part of reality of the developing teams and I'm sure that this experience will help the team to build up in the seasons to come.
We're all continuously in process of learning and developing as a persons and entities, and I don't accept nothing as a failure.
If Union understands the lessons of the past seasons, next season will be on straight path to success.
Paunovic also had something to say that he wanted included at the end of this article:
For the end, I made a promise to many fans that I'll come for some game last season, but the circumstances didn't match.
This year I'm looking to arrange friendly game with US Soccer MNT U -19, it will be perfect if [we] can play it at PPL Park, but we're still in process of negotiations. Anyhow, I hope to accomplish that promise this year!