It will be heard again: „Where is this Niš?“
By: Vladan Dinić
The news is (not) exclusive, however: Ivica Tončev, a long-time successful businessman in the West, former president of FC "Radnički" and undestined owner of the football club Radnički from Niš, came back to Niš and the Niš club, and then, in order to avoid a conflict of interest, froze his position but not his intention to make "Radnički" "Real from Niš" again, to dominate Europe, to make everyone ask again: where is this Niš?
Svedok: It seems that you haven't had enough since you took the hot football seat in Radnički again?
Ivica Tončev: When it comes to "Radnički" I have to admit that I am emotionally attached to that club because I come from the south of Serbia so that most of my decisions are based on the belief that I could really help the club. The seat is "hot" but I love challenges. It's easy to manage a club when you are in the black, but one needs to fight during difficult times. That's why I've decided to come back to Radnički.
S: If it's not a secret - why and what are your main motives? Of course, beside the emotional ones?
I.T: One of the main motives is my belief that Niš should become the most powerful football center of Serbia after Belgrade. And I will work on it intensively in the future, primarily through the development of the youth football school, which will be a talent hotbed. We have a tradition, but also talented children, so by joining these two elements we will try to make Radnički a European club. I also wanted to do something for the region I come from and for the people who deserve to watch European matches again in Niš. That is why I am ready to fight for this goal.
I.T: It's not about making money! Here, in football, in Niš, in Serbia, one can never make money!
S: So what is is about then? The Serbian defiance?
I.T: It's not the defiance! I just want to help Niš. Serbia is centralized, everything is in Belgrade... If every suburb in Belgrade can have its own club, why would a city of 300,000 inhabitants in the southern part of the country not have one!?
S: You have promised to take „Radnički“ to Europe? How realistic is that considering that in Serbian football "everything is known in advance": "Zvezda", "Partizan", "Vojvodina"...
I.T: Honestly, I don't know everything in advance in our football. Because, if I knew, there would be no need to participate in the competition. I can talk about my expectations from the „Radnički“ football players which are - straight to Europe. And I stand by that. After all, everyone who knows me knows that I don't make promises lightly. I said that I expect „Radnički“ to play in Europe in the next two years. I will try to make that happen already in the next season, but first we have to create healthy foundations for the club.
S: You seem to avoid answering the question on the "eternal rivals"?
I.T: „Crvena Zvezda“ and „Partizan“ are big names in our football but that does not mean that we will surrender before any match "because everything is known in advance". I find such an attitude unacceptable. Also, I'm sure we can take on „Vojvodina“, „Napredak“, „Mladost“, „Čukarički“...
S: „Jagodina“, the football club of your and my friend Dragan Marković Palma, made it to Europe ... it won the Serbian Cup, and it is now fighting for survival in the Serbian Second League?
I.T: Yes, "Jagodina" made it to Europe and achieved great success playing, for example, against "Rubin" from Kazan and winning the Serbian Cup. The fact that it is now struggling in the Second League is a matter of something else, many factors affect it. After all, why don't you ask Palma, he is your long-time friend too. Also, for example, not so long ago "Messina" was in Serie A and it is now in the third Italian league, or Leeds ...
S: And yet, you came back?!
I.T: At the moment, I'm investing in the Niš club what is most valuable, primarily myself and my free time, which, realistically, I have very little. But if you ask me whether it will pay off, I cannot answer that question.
S: Why do you say that?
I.T: I love football and I don't look at it through "profitability" and wallet. If you ask my family, I believe I know their answer too, they are the ones who suffer most because of my lack of free time and because I'm "never home". Anyway, because I love football I cannot put on a scale and measure the benefit-cost ratio since these things are immeasurable.
I.T: The issue of privatization is important, and it would be easier if things were resolved systematically. I believe that these relations will be defined soon and I expect that it will further facilitate sports management and investment in sports.
S: Since Law on sports and, of course, on privatization has not been adopted in our country yet, does it generally pay off to invest in football during times of such undefined relations? What is the essence of the problem when it comes to investing in football?
I.T: The fact that no one wants to give anything and everyone wants to take a lot! And everything is reduced to a personal relationship.
S: And what about self-management?
I.T: Oh, there is plenty of that! Everyone wants to be a club boss! When I came to „Radnički“ for the first time, 50 or 100 veterans gathered and they behaved as if everything around them was theirs! They acted as if the club was theirs, and based on that they requested some rights ... self-management rights.
S: How is it possible, and with what money, to buy players while the club bank account is blocked?
I.T: I prefer not to talk about others. But in „Radnički“ we are aware that we don't need any intermediaries, because that would make the situation more difficult.
S: The situation with the cash register in "Real from Nišava" is not that great, one would rather say you are in an unenviable position?
I.T: That's right, and that is why we have entered into negotiations with creditors, asked for their understanding and had the account unblocked. Disciplinary body of the Football Association of Serbia has also made the decision in the meantime that we can register new players. In any case, we try to operate economically because it is the only way both the creditors and the players who come to our club can trust us. Players are brought the regular way, i.e. with the unblocked bank account.
S: When you mentioned bringing players, I remembered an episode from your previous time in „Radnički“. You brought, through a manager, some Argentinian players (who had caused a big commotion back then, editor's note). We watched the practice together, it was raining, and all they did was fall down and roll on the field...
I.T: I remember that, that's when I told the joke - did we buy football players or water polo players?! However, you remember also that these were good players, but other players in the team had simply boycotted them at that time... They had successful careers after they left ...
S: Does the City of Niš, primarily, and do you and your administration have the desire to tilt at windmills like Don Quixote?
I.T: The management of „Radnički“, together with the city government has the desire to win, and not to tilt at windmills in vain. After all, the fact that right away we started to grapple with all the challenges we are facing, shows that. Our priority, and I believe we are on the right track to achieve that, is to create a high quality team that will last.
S: Along with the position of the president of FC Radnički, at the same time you are a politician, MP, advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs responsible for national security... Doesn't that interfere with one of the principles - sport to athletes?!
I.T: It is true that I am a politician, however I am not an MP nor advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but the State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since December. Since I became the president of Radnički a few days earlier, in the meantime I have complied with all legal requirements and "froze" the presidency at the club.
S: You bailed out - right away?
I.T: No! It doesn't mean that I will turn my back on „Radnički“, but I did freeze the presidency. In any case, I will be with the club at all times in order to give it full support in accordance with the Law on Sports. I don't see anything disputable in the fact that politicians love sports and fight for the clubs they support.
S: Do you think it's normal, and in Serbia that is the case, that state secretaries, officials in government institutions have a higher income than the president, prime minister, vice president, ministers and even MPs?
I.T: Essentially, it is not normal, but such is the law at the moment, which, in truth, can be changed. Some officials carry a huge burden on their shoulders and in this regard, the government should pay them properly in order to prevent everyone from leaving to become consultants or from leaving Serbia.
S: One of the main promises that this SNS-SPS government gave was - we will reduce the number of agencies! At that time, when you came to power, there were, I believe, 67, and today there are over 120. Is that the saving they talked about?!
I.T: I cannot say that I am thoroughly versed in the matter. I will only say that the savings can be reflected not only in reducing the number of agencies, but also in reducing the unreasonable costs and rationalization of operations in general. I believe that the government has severely reduced all unnecessary costs in the previous period and has attached importance to saving in particular.
S: Newspapers are full of alleged disagreements in SPS; what will you present to the people since it seems that SPS is only a sidekick of the progressive party?
I.T: There have been such articles in the press, however that hasn't been, nor was, nor will be the method of operation of SPS. It seems to me that newspapers often place such "news" on the front page when their sales drop, because that is what sells the newspapers. It is simply the way it is and it will never change. SPS is an equal partner of the SNS. The fact is also that in the last parliamentary elections, SNS got huge support from the people, and we as a coalition partner certainly respect that. That doesn't mean that we are someone's sidekick, but I would rather say that we respect the balance of power and that we jointly share the responsibility for running the country that still faces numerous challenges before entering the EU, which is what we all together strive for.
S: Why do you think it is something that all of us strive for. Many believe that after the elections in France the EU will collapse like a house of cards?
I.T: I was referring to the ruling coalition, sorry ...