His case, that of Milinko Pantic (Loznica, Serbia, 54 years old), possibly unrepeatable in the history of Atlético. Few times three seasons (139 games / 36 goals) have penetrated so deeply in the rojiblanca fans as to consider it one of their banners. Of course, The double of 96 supports him. Major words in the life of the club and, in addition, his was the header goal in the Zaragoza Cup final against Cruyff's Barça. From the first time he put on his jersey, Pantic has been athletic. First as a player, then as a coach of the Foundation and now as an ambassador for LaLiga, waiting for a club to entrust him with a project in which he can develop as a coach and keep his passion for football alive.
The appointment is next to his house in the north of Madrid, in the Corner DF cafeteria, a name closely related to his career. Not in vain was he a specialist in corner pitches and a bouquet of flowers remembered him first at the Calderón and then at the Metropolitano until the arrival of the damn pandemic.
Last night the Cup final was played. I suppose that for you to speak of finals is to remember the one of 96 in La Romareda against Barcelona, in which he scored the winning goal.
I'm going to tell you a secret. I had never seen that final repeated on television and a few months ago, in full confinement, I sat down with my wife and daughters to watch it. I suffered like a dog! How he sweated. It didn't matter to me knowing the result and having played it. In the first half I didn't touch the ball. He ran like a headless chicken, but he didn't smell it. In the second, yes. I started to work and Cruyff put a marker on top of me that followed me around the field: Roger. It was the most important moment of my career. Also, in overtime.
And scored headlong.
It was one of the few head goals that I scored in my life. Six in all. My job was not to get where the elbows hit. My thing was to prepare the plays. Make the forwards mark with my passes. People told me when I arrived that I didn't run much, but I ran with my brain. I was thinking for the team. I am very funny about the statistics of the kilometers traveled by the players, 12, 12, 13 … And I wonder if in those kilometers that footballer has done something interesting. My idea of the perfect midfielder is that he scores a minimum of 10 goals. And so I demand it from my teams. You have to run with your head, we are not all the same. There are many players who want to do what they do not know and that is bad for the team. Antic was a phenomenon in many ways, but in this facet he was a top. He asked each one what they knew how to do, take advantage of the virtues of their players and cover up the bad things. For me, who did not defend, he would put Vizcaíno close to me and cover me.
You came to Atlético, to Spain, almost incognito …
Without almost. The other day a friend sent me a clipping from a Spanish newspaper from that time in which it was written that Atlético was going to ask Panionios for a price for Padic … In the text it said that in Greece they called me Milinko Pantic. My last name was not known in Spain … And then I arrived and we won the double. They are things of destiny. Fate sent me here to do this. I have always said that football owes me many things. I haven't even given him 30 percent of my chances. As a coach, not 10 percent. Football owes me a lot. He owes me a spectacular debt. And it is not an arrogance, nor an exaggeration.
You have given him more …
Much more, but I suppose it is the story of many great talents who have suffered the same. I at least had the small reward of playing for Atlético.
Soccer is missing now.
I am missing the green. I spend the day watching games. I am very heavy, but I lack work, being on the grass with the players, the ball. Mentally I consider myself a very strong person, but I have moments of despair. When I see myself screwed up, I put on my raincoat and go for a 10-12 kilometer run and remove all bad thoughts. But it is not easy. I understand that we are many coaches. And training now is like winning the national lottery. I continue with great confidence. I know what I have inside and the illusion is not going to take away anyone.
It is rare that in your country, with all the leagues born after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, nobody remembers you.
“Simeone as a player was a warrior and his team is now full of warriors”
I left my country 30 years ago. In 1991. I am a foreigner in Spain, in Serbia and everywhere. Even more there than here. There have been contacts, but from there I am only interested in Partizan, the love of my life after my wife and my daughters. There were also some calls from Greece, but they did not materialize. And that I have the advantage that I speak Greek. If it were for languages … I speak Spanish, Russian, Slavic, a little English and French. At school I studied Latin and Cyrillic. I have a great facility for languages. I learn what I have to learn.
And is Atlético's door closed?
I don't know, I really mean it. I do not know. I think it should never be closed because we have a huge mutual affection for each other. For my part, of course, it is not closed and for my part I think neither. All my life I will be grateful to Radomir Antic, may he rest in peace, and to Gil and his family for bringing me to this club and giving me the opportunity to play in Spain. And I am also grateful to the fans for the treatment received. They are cycles, moments and you never know what will happen in the future.
It is very rare that in just three years the fans were won the way they did. Other players are a decade and do not receive the love and recognition that you have.
That is because of my humility as a player and as a person. And around the time I played with one of the best coaches in the world and a wonderful group. I owe it all to them.
He suffers with Atlético, vibrates with Atlético … He is one of those who thinks that the League is escaping.
“Losing the League would be a miracle. If he does not win it, he will lose it; the others will not win it”
I suffer and enjoy every game. Here they have given me everything. I don't think the League will escape. It would be a miracle if he escaped. Atlético have done everything well, they have done more than anyone else. He has been in the first place since the first day. It depends on itself. And if he doesn't win it, Atlético loses it; it is not won by the others. If I have to bet on someone, I would do it for Atlético. The key is going to be in these two games in Seville. If he wins them, he would be very close to the title. Only the visit to Barcelona would remain. Winning this COVID League would have a lot of merit. Footballers and athletes are heroes for what they are enduring. It is not easy for them to stick the stick up your nose every two days. Then there is the tension of not infecting yourself, of not infecting the family, the partner. When entering the public in stadiums, footballers should get the recognition they deserve. Playing like this is a huge stress.
Who do you fear more, Madrid or Barcelona?
Phew … They're both very good. Barça has improved a lot. He is playing very well, but Madrid have a lot of experience at the moment, their players are very strong in the head. It's going to be tough, but I still think that Atlético has the advantage …
“El Cholo does very well not to change. If he goes first, why does he have to?”
Simeone does not change, he goes about his own thing …
And you do well not to change. All coaches must be true to our ideas. He is true to his and I to mine. Simeone does it well. Why change something that has worked for you? Everything he has won has been with his way of thinking and his way of playing. It would be foolish to change. If you are first, why change.
For example … because every year it has better players.
That's true. He knows he has one of the best squads in the world. Everyone says so. Cerezo said the other day that it was the most complete squad in the club's history with top-top-top players. This year the system has changed a little and the drawing varies. He is like that and we are not going to change him, neither you, nor me, nor anyone else. He dies with his ideas and that has a lot of merit. In addition, he is in a club that supports and respects him in everything he does. He's in the ideal club. That a club supports you to the maximum is the most that can happen to you in the life of a coach.
His football concepts are totally different from his.
We were already different as players. You see how Guardiola's and Zidane's teams play … They play as they were as players. Creative, they wanted possession and control the rhythm of the game, not suffer without the ball … I was like that too. I suffered without the ball and that is why I think that teams should have it in order not to suffer. The more you manage the game, the more the opponent suffers. I know from my own experience. Simeone was a true warrior and his team, his Atlético, is full of warriors who fight to the death. As a coach it is the same as as a footballer. You have to accept him as he is, whether you like it or not. You have the right to have your opinion, but he is like that.
As a former technical, talented player and coach who defends those ideas … Where do you think football is going?
“When you have a talent in your squad it seems that you have an enemy inside”
I don't know and it scares me a little bit. Talent in football has been lost. It seems to be the enemy. When you have a talent on your team it seems like you have an enemy on your own squad. In my time that gift was sought. Many things are changing. Before, if you played with a 1-3-5-2 or 1-5-3-2 system, it was said that you were an Amarrategui, very defensive, and now we see that the big teams play with this system and nothing happens. Everything is changing and the fault lies with the coaches. Now I see it as a fan, maybe from the bench I see it differently.
We are going towards a more physical football …
It may be, those who win have physique, but above all they play well. Bayern are very strong, but they have very good players: Lewandowski, Müller, Alaba, Thiago, who has left. Liverpool base their success on Firmino, Salah and Mané, very talented players. Also, of course, in Van Dijk. Football without quality and talent is not football. It shocks me that the '10' is disappearing, the player who organized the attacks and the coaches are to blame because we are the ones who manage the game and the teams. Now talented players suffer. Modric, for example, has talent and lungs, and there he is. But you see Isco, who is also very talented, and he is suffering a lot because football is now faster than before and it costs him a lot. And that was born with something that not everyone has.
Milinko was a specialist in direct free kicks. In his three years at Atlético he scored eight goals and as many balls went to the posts. As an expert in the field, he is outraged by the new trend of putting a player lying on the grass behind the barrier to avoid the low shot of the pitcher.
“For me, it is sad rather than comical. It seems silly to me. But how many goals have been scored under the barrier? One from Messi, another from Ronaldinho, some more … but not to get there. I'm a coach and I would never send my player to lie down behind the barrier in a bad way. On Wednesday I saw Gudelj, the Sevilla player, who plays with Serbia … and I was sorry. One day one of them will have a kidney removed from a hit. The coaches are to blame. There is more and more fear in football … We only worry about defending, defending … “.
In his time as an Atlético player, he has recorded 34 shots to the posts.
Yes and some more that will have escaped me. It may be because he adjusted the pitches a lot, but also due to bad luck.
How was your liturgy with the fouls, your launching dynamics?
I practiced a lot on a voluntary basis after training. Now you have to force the players to stay to rehearse the fouls and the one who stays records it to upload it later to Twitter. Before the coaches didn't even let you. They told you that you were going to load your muscles from so much shooting. I had my tricks, but everything is head. It is a game between the pitcher, the barrier and the goalkeeper. You have to see how to fool everyone.
How many steps did he take to take a career, where did he aim, what was his reference?
The launch was automatic, like a computer. In training I was very sure of myself. From ten he marked seven, eight, nine … That of marking the steps backwards and everything that is done is bullshit. It's a circus, like jumping behind the barrier. In my time it was very difficult to score a goal from set pieces. Much more than now. The barrier was never at 9.15. Never. Always seven meters maximum. Now it is marked with the foam, nobody moves … Now each game would score a goal from a free-kick. If the barrier is at the correct distance he had no trouble marking. I wanted the ball to pass over the third of the barrier, I would pay attention and if they put a shitty midfielder there, who was not going to put his head, he would shoot that way. When the foul is near the front line, there is not much history, you have to shoot hard and next to the goalkeeper, but then for it to be a goal the goalkeeper has to miss, it is his domain. And you have to pull down, who suffers more there. You don't have meters to throw it over the barrier and make it fall. It is impossible. Platini used to do it, but the goalkeepers of before did not have the quality of those of now.
Was he a foul specialist all his life?
Yes, from a very young age, but he didn't give it that much importance. He scored a lot of free-kick goals. I have over 120 official goals as a midfielder in all leagues. I have them recorded and saved. Before arriving at Atlético he had never played as an organizer, he did not go down. He was a playmaker or first forward. He was an explosive player, one on one. Here Antic asked me to be the organizer and I tried.