Taking a page from big city rivals New York City FC the Chicago Fire went outside the league to hire Serbian U20 World Cup winning coach Veljko Paunovic who will be charged with guiding the Second City club back to relevance.
Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez, on the job himself for just over a month, has hitched his future to 38 year old Paunovic, who is riding high after beating Brazil to claim the U20 title in June.
Paunovic’s youngsters ousted the U.S. youth side on penalty kicks in the tournament’s quarterfinals, exhibiting attacking flair along with disciplined defending as they claimed Serbia’s first ever World title.
Many names have been linked with the Chicago job in recent weeks including U.S. U20 coach Tab Ramos, but Rodriguez was delighted to land Paunovic.
“In the face of stiff competition from other global soccer clubs, we are extremely fortunate to have secured our first choice, Veljko Paunovic, as our head coach,” Rodríguez said in a statement released by the club. “We conducted a thorough search process and, over its course, Pauno consistently graded highest across all of our desired characteristics. He is a champion, teacher of the game and man of great principle and integrity.”
Rodriguez was thankful for the opportunity, and sounded a confident note in his own remarks.
“I want to thank Andrew Hauptman, Nelson Rodríguez and the whole executive team of the Chicago Fire, for choosing me, among other great candidates, for the coaching position,” Paunovic said. “I am very excited and enthusiastic to start working with the team, to meet the people and fans, who I know are very passionate and loyal to the club. This is the opportunity that I was looking for, to work with the right people, in the right time and the right place.”
“I have a huge amount of energy, knowledge and experience to deliver to our team and our community,” he added. “Soccer is a lifestyle that I live and preach my whole life. I love this kind of challenge, where you have to build a champion by giving your best in every moment. I see the Chicago Fire as a hurt lion ready to unleash all its power.”
Like new NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira, all of Paunovic’s coaching experience is with youth teams, unlike Vieira, Paunovic does have some MLS work on his resume, a factor Rodriguez was sure to note.
On closer inspection it is hard to make much of a case for Paunovic as an expert in the machinations of MLS, given his total of 17 appearances for the Philadelphia Union in 2011. Chicago might do better to tout GM Rodriguez and his deep knowledge of the league as a guide for the new coach.
With the exception of his brief MLS foray with the Union, Paunovic spent his career in Europe, notably with Atletico Madrid. Paunovic also earned two caps with Serbia and Montenegro.
Rodriguez said today that Greek powers Panathinaikos were also in for Paunovic and even if long suffering Fire supporters know little about their new coach, they may just turn out to see if Paunovic can unleash the “hurt lion ready to unleash all its power.”