League1 Men's Head Coach Marko Milanovic Reflects on the First 10 Games of the Season
Marko Milanovic urges its one step at a time for his Nitros after a hot start has catapulted the team into title contention.
“I think a lot of people expected us to be in the bottom third of the league coming into the season,” said Milanovic, head coach of League1 Ontario Premier men's team. “I would say that wouldn't be unreasonable. But we have our own expectations within the team and we know how hard we work so we'll see how far we can go.”
With seven wins from their first ten games, the team finds themselves competing for the top spot in the league with 22 points. Milanovic points to preparation and respect for their opponents as keys to this early success.
“We really take every game very seriously regardless of the opponent, we prepare the same way for everyone with the utmost respect and that’s been working for us as far results but it's still very early,” he said.
As the youngest team in the league, building a bond between players is one of Milanovic’s core principles, believing the way to maximize results is in part due to the relationship between teammates, something that as head coach he feels a responsibility to cultivate with the healthiest environment possible.
“As a coach, you can influence that a little bit in training, but these things just require time or maybe a trip together, a tournament — a specific moment,” he said. “But that's one of my favorite things to see, when they grab food together, get on a subway together, watch games, go to parties.”
“Whatever it might be just spending time off the field. I'm really happy when I see that.”
His own time as a player laid out the groundwork for his ability to relate to his players, specifically a time in his youth when he too, was chasing his pro dream.
“I was around 19 when I spent some time on trial with first and second division teams in Serbia, even though I didn't end up making it, I found out what the pro game is all about,” he said. “Now when my players go — and thankfully there have been quite a few that have gone to Europe for different trials. I know I can help them out.”
A far cry from the comfort and lavish lifestyle often associated with the tag “footballer”, the players Milanovic shared a pitch with weren’t going to show up at the Ballon D’or or grace the cover of the next Fifa. These were men putting food on the table for their families.
A stark lesson that the coach tries to pass on to his young players today.
“I try to kind of give that to my players and make it as cutthroat as possible, as early as possible,” he said. “While building good relationships with the players — because when players trust you, you can definitely be tough, because they know you have their best interests at heart.”
With a recent slump that saw the team lose their first two games of the season (before recovering with two 1-goal victories), this would have been a time to panic for most teams, but the Nitros aren’t most teams.
“There are 21 games, you can’t overreact after a win or after a loss. No matter how good or bad it is. It's just one game. We keep going,” Milanovic said.
Nathan Abraha June 15, 2022