Founded following the Second World War, Serbian giants FK Partizan of Belgrade have been asserting dominance in Eastern Europe for decades. At the time of the club’s founding, Serbia was still a member of communist Yugoslavia. Despite not getting the recognition that Western European leagues received, Yugoslavia had one of the most competitive leagues of the time, with high quality of play throughout.
Despite the club’s youth, it didn’t take Partizan long to reach the Yugoslavian pinnacle. In their debut season of the reestablished Yugoslavian league (following a five-year WWII break), Partizan won the league and cup trophies, an extremely rare first-season double.
The victory kicked off decades of success for Partizan, who won 11 championships and made the 1966 European Cup Final — losing 2-1 to Real Madrid — before the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992.
| || |
Those 11 successes were more than any team outside of Belgrade, but they weren’t the most in the league. That title belongs to their fiercest challengers Red Star Belgrade, located just a few miles away on the other side city, who won 19 Yugoslavian titles.
The heated rivalry between the teams is known as the “Eternal Derby,” and it is one of the nastiest in all of football with epic in stadium atmosphere provided by the ultras.
Recently, however, Partizan is on the winning side of history, capturing 14 titles — including a run of six in a row from 2008-13 — to Red Star’s seven in the Serbian Superliga.
Behind all the success for Partizan is one of the best academies in all of Europe. Since its founding in the 1950s, Partizan’s academy has been developing the best talents in the region. Recent graduates include Schalke defender Matija Nastasic and Roma midfielder Adem Ljajic from within Serbia, as well as Montenegro and Manchester City forward Stevan Jovetic, one in a list of players from other Balkan states to head to train at Partizan.
With their academy churning out some of the top talents in Europe, it’s clear that Partizan’s model of investing in a large youth system has panned out. Their graduates allow them to stay on top domestically without spending money, and then they can offload them for a small fortune. Partizan have the second most academy graduates currently playing professionally in Europe, behind only Ajax’s legendary youth system (which we wrote about just a couple weeks ago).
While many of their top players have left, a plethora of talent has stuck around and is still helping their club fight for glory. This year, Partizan find themselves in a heated battle with Red Star for the league title, as so often happens. After failing to win last year, ending their run of six consecutive championships, Partizan will have extra incentive to once again reach the top of the league. With half of the Superliga games played, Partizan hold a six-point lead over their rivals.
While the lack of parity makes the league predictable, for the two superpowers, each season is a new head-to-head battle for local supremacy. It might not mean much to the outside observer, but a championship for either side means a year of bragging rights in Serbia’s capital.