Born in the South East Serbian ‘romantic’ town of Prokuplje, a name inspired by Procopius of Scythopolis, who was venerated as an early martyr and saint, Micho is a proud grandson of First World War hero Milutin
Just last week, he acclaimed himself as the Football Doctor. “Dear Ugandans,” he tweeted, “Be confident that Football Doctor Micho will find medicine for Sunday’s match.” Check!
Yet, under those mischievous white eyes, often hidden behind goggles during training, is a Serbian wolf - always hunting for finer football details to plot his opponents’ downfall.
The wolf in Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic’s work as a football coach, where he takes utmost seriousness in research and analysis, can be traced in his late father, Vukoje Sredojevic. “Vukoje is meaning wolf in Serbian,” Micho tells Daily Monitor.
The son of a former officer in a post and telecommunication company, which was operating in present day Slovenia (previously part of Yugoslavia), and mother Radmila - a pharmacist then -, has seen his resilience conquer adversity to achieve his biggest ever feat.
Afcon biggest achievement
From coaching FK Spartak Subotica, Yugoslavia U20, FK Hajduk Kula, SC Villa, Saint-George, Orlando Pirates, Young Africans, Al-Hilal Omdurman, through to Rwanda and Ugandan national teams, the man, who turned 47 on September 1, has come raking in the accolades.
“I am very proud of 14 league and cup trophies in 10 years in five different clubs and countries,” says Micho, adding “Two semi-finals of Caf champions League and one semi-finals of Caf Confederation Cup.
“But qualifying Uganda to African Cup of Nations after 39 years is the greatest achievement until now.”
Micho joins an elite class of only five coaches to have taken Uganda to the Nations Cup finals following Sunday’s win over Comoros. The Cranes have previously been to the finals in 1962, ’68 ’74 ’76 and ’78.
And it has been a long, dogged journey for Micho. Football has had to separate him from his family back home and his younger brother, Milan, who lives in Ljubljana. He, however, prefers not to discuss his immediate family.
World War legend
Born in the South East Serbian ‘romantic’ town of Prokuplje, a name inspired by Procopius of Scythopolis, who was venerated as an early martyr and saint, Micho is a proud grandson of First World War hero Milutin.
“I got his name,” he brags, “He was brigadier and an integral part of the iron brigade, the legendary, most awarded brigade of 1st World War, famous for winning unbelievable battles where officers never told soldiers ‘go forward’. It was always ‘follow me’.”
Micho is famous for both. As a player, he urged strikers to go forward as he built from the middle, and for 24 years of coaching, 15 of them in Africa and six in Uganda, he has asked his players to “follow me (my instructions)” and “go forward (go implement).”
And now he has results. “All of us invested all we can in this (Comoros) match,” he says, “Since Botswana game (1-2 Uganda) I have gone in such details that I ask myself, ‘am I normal?’”
Micho started playing football aged six at the academy of FC Svoboda Ljubljana in Slovenia.
All countries of former Yugoslavia including Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia are famed for a unique sports education system, which encourages participation right from kindergarten. Only Egypt and Algeria tried to copy it in Africa.
“In utility of sports they put us through filter of 16 national sports where rigorous selection is made on who is going where,” explains Micho, “So despite playing all sports, including ice hockey, I was chosen for football.
“To manage such a huge project great coaches at all sports and all levels have been educated and deployed to work with children.
“So I grew up in extreme sports environment of socialist country where sports was used as protection of youth against bad influence of drugs and alcohol.”
Micho adds: “There was also huge emphasis on education. To train in sports of excellence programmes, you had to have good reports from school.
“When you are growing in such an environment, with highest ethics of respect, you learn. And coaches in my countries were respected like saints. That’s why I still respect all my previous coaches in special way.”
Injury delivers coaching
As a player, Micho operated as a defensive midfielder, turning out for Svoboda Ljubljana, Sinđelić Belgrade, Grafičar Belgrade, FK Zorka Subotica and FK Pionir Subotica, where he was capped 94 times and scored 15 goals.
But his career was to be cut short by a recurring knee injury which “I got in one match later while trying to come back but never fully recovered. That is why I opted to cross to coaching to stay in the game,” he says.
A student of history and geography, Micho channelled the disappointment of an abrupt end to his playing career into studying physical education at university in Yugoslavia, where he focused on sports science.
“However, all those studies were later put aside as European football confederation changed education and started with Uefa licences,” expounds Micho, “So I needed to repeat all in order to get Uefa C/B/A and pro-licences.”
In love with Uganda, Africa
The coaching journey has since seen Micho manage clubs back home, including the Yugoslavia U20 side.
But it was the journey to Africa that is responsible for his coaching accolades over the years, a journey to a continent he would spend most of his coaching years.
It is a journey that took him to coach in his first country in Africa some 15 years ago, where he led SC Villa to four successive league titles; a country he would later return to – after a voyage around Africa – and lead it to their first Nations Cup finals since 1978.
“As one of the longest serving foreign coaches,” says Micho, “I was football wise born in Africa at my Villa Park, supported by top class management, then to continent in 2004-2013 for African football studies, then coming back with one intention to take Uganda to African Cup of Nations.
“Qualifying is divine justice that I pay back to my Uganda and great football Ugandans that made me who I am today.”
Marriage with SC Villa
Just how did SC Villa and a 32-year-old Micho, then, meet? “SC Villa management got me from one European competition through the legendary journalist, John Kevin Aliro, who used Billie Okadamerie, that Radio France International journalist. Rest is history.”
The special relationship with the Villa Park faithful saw Villa fans christen him a Luganda name, Sserunjogi, which Micho found hilarious.
“I am amused very often with pronunciation of Ugandans of foreign names,” he says, “I laugh listening to names in Luganda on radio occasionally.
“Villa fans had problems with pronunciation so they were instead of Sredojevic looking for something closer. So they called me Sserunjogi.”
Micho first came to Uganda at a time the Yugoslav ethnic conflicts between 1991 and 2001 were ceasing.
The Serb believes that during that period, Serbia was “undeservedly painted in international media as troublemakers yet all problems that were arising there were purely religious conflicts, where politics played with people sentiments.
“I was totally apolitical and as an Orthodox Christian, whose best friends like brothers were and still are catholic Christians and Muslims, all that was unfortunate and just bring back bad memories.”
So bad Micho prefers we move on with football. He was hired by Uganda in 2013 at a time there was little to differentiate between his poor showing with Rwanda, who had relieved him of his duties, and his equally sacked predecessor at Cranes, Scotsman Bobby Williamson.
If his transition from club management to national teams was forgettable with Rwanda, it is one to live with forever with Uganda, where he is now regarded one of the best ever coaches.
Micho has not had it all his way, where some have accused him of being a player agent (he is not listed on Fifa’s player agents), something he dismisses with contempt.
He believes there is a group that does not appreciate his efforts at all, while – although his salary arrears, at times, are eventually paid – he would want everything done efficiently. (He is currently owed by Fufa arrears of about five months)
“I have been in 50 African countries and was worked in six,” he says. “In two of them coach is absolutely respected from all angles. In two of them football people respect institution of coaching.
“And in two of them coach is nothing and nobody, just machine for result production and media punching bag.
“Unfortunately Uganda is somewhere there, and only mad desire to succeed and make results with players being biggest motivation factor together with limited number of people involved in project are driving forward.”
The Serbian has huge respect for legendary role model coaches including Miljan Miljanic (former Yugoslavia, Real Madrid) and Tomislav Ivic, regarded as the father of zonal pressing in modern football.
Micho, known to follow most of his country-mate sports personalities religiously, is also inspired by the “father of our basketball late coach Aleksandar Nikolic,” a Fiba Hall of famer.
His only alive coaching role model from his home country is Zeljko Obradovic, coach of Fenerbahçe in the Turkish Basketball League.
Internationally, Micho is a great admirer of Marcelo Bielsa and late Johan Cruyff, who he considers “fathers of modern coaching.”
Staying with Cranes?
Ending Uganda’s four decades of agony has inevitably elevated Micho’s market value, with countries like Nigeria and South Africa said to be nosing about.
So does he stick around to “drive the project forward? “If it was for market value,” he argues, “I already have brand name in African football that is much more respected than in Uganda and much more paid with various national teams recognising values and ready to pay quality work.
“Here it was just pure sports motivation to achieve something that eluded Uganda for 39 years.”
Hardly a comforting submission from the Football Doctor! But this is not time to worry about that. Simply time to revel.
Date of birth:
1 Sept. 1969 (age 47)
Place of birth:
Youth career as a player
FK Zorka Subotica
FK Pionir Subotica
2001: Yugoslavia U20
2001: Hajduk Kula
2001–‘04: Villa SC
2004–‘06: St. George
2006: Orlando Pirates
2007: Young Africans
2007–‘10: St. George
SC Villa (2001-‘04)
Two league titles
(Kakungulu & Cecafa)
Al Hilal (2010-2011)
Caf Champions League (Semis in 2011)
Caf Confederation Cup (Semis in 2010)
Qualifying, 2017 Afcon
Former Uganda Cranes coaches
1965–‘66: Alan Rogers (UK)
1967–‘69: Robert Kiberu (Ug) 1
1969–‘72: Burkhard Pape (Ger)
1973–‘74: David Otti (Ug) 2
1974–‘75: Otto Westerhoff(Ger)
1976–‘81: Peter Okee (Ug) 3
1982: Bidandi Ssali (Ug) 4
1983: Peter Okee (Ug)
1988–‘89:Robert Kiberu (Ug)
1989–‘95: Polly Ouma (Ug) 7
1996–‘99:Asuman Lubowa (Ug)9
1999: Paul Hasule (Ug) 10
1999–2001: H. Okagbue (Ngr)
2001–‘03: Paul Hasule (Ug)
2003: Pasculli (Argentine)
2003–‘04: Leo Adraa(Ug) 11
2004: Mike Mutebi (Ug) 12
2004–‘06: M. Abbas (Egypt)
2006–‘08: Csaba (Hungary)
2008–‘13: W. Bobby (Scotland)
2013 to date: Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojević (Serbian)
12 Ugandan coaches
1 South American