23/05/2024

Valerio Zuddas unveiled as Partizan Belgrade assistant coach. (Picture: FK Partizan Belgrade, Design by Theo Dimou)

For any young and aspiring manager with a desire to work their way up, building two critical elements is required to turn a dream into reality.

One is building up experience which helps increase exposure in different environments and learn the foundations in multiple areas of the game.

The other involves stepping out of your comfort zone and making the commitment to challenge yourself to a new lifestyle and experience.

At 34 years of age, Valerio Zuddas has already ticked both of those boxes.

Zuddas commenced his coaching career as the squad leader at Lupa Roma in Italy’s third division, which led to joining Reggina as an athletic coach.

2018 was when he broadened his horizons, becoming assistant manager at clubs in Georgia and Romania before accepting offers in the Hungarian and Cypriot leagues.

The hard work soon turned into a well-earned reward, making the jump to Hajduk Split (Croatia) and FC Sheriff (Moldova) as an assistant coach with a stint at Hibernian in the Scottish Premier League, having an important role in the staff of then-manager, Shaun Maloney.

Earlier in July, he joined the assistant manager position at Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade.

Speaking exclusively with The Inner Sanctum, Zuddas explained the rise of his impressive journey so far.

“When I was a player, I was going down the path between professional and semi-professional leagues and I knew I was not going to live out my dream of playing in the top European leagues,” Zuddas said.

“I started getting involved with the coaching and fitness side of the game, because I still loved to be amongst the pitch and the dressing room environment.

“I accepted to try a new adventure in Georgia, which was a completely different world that I had the pleasure of discovering as they always produced young talent, as it was in Romania.

“My experience in Hungary was great, because we tasted what it was like to play European football and we won the Hungarian Cup in the final at the Puskas Arena.

“After my role with Hibernian and adapting to a new culture in Scotland, I took a few months off before joining Sheriff in Moldova which is a well-organised club with a growing pedigree in Europe, and where we won the league and the Moldova Cup, competing in Europe again and achieving a round of 16 berth in the UEFA Conference League, defeated by OGC Nice.

“We beat Partizan Belgrade in the knockout stages and at the end of the season, I received a call from them which was a massive opportunity that I didn’t want to turn down.”

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Known as one of the biggest rivalries in world football, the Belgrade Derby between Partizan and Red Star brings out a new level of passion and atmosphere.

No other club has won the Serbian league title besides the two Belgrade heavyweights since 1999, with Partizan winning 12 out of the past 25.

As Red Star have created their own dynasty by winning the last six domestic titles, their neighbours currently sit equal first with seven wins in a row and a draw to remain undefeated.

Having only been associated with the club for a few months, Zuddas has quickly learnt how unique the environment is within Partizan.

“Partizan are absolute giants of Serbia and there is a massive rivalry with Red Star, which didn’t take me long to realise,” he said.

“There is big pressure because the club demands success, but that’s what makes Partizan so incredible to work with.

“In terms of winning the league title, it is definitely an expectation from our supporters but we take it one game at a time and see where that takes us.”

Containing an average squad age of 25, Partizan are modelling their plans on a mixture of youth and experience.

With seven teenagers on the roster, Zuddas and the coaching staff are focusing on developing youth whilst maintaining the right balance.

“We have a great chemistry of youth and experience, which is also partly down to the club going through a transitional period,” Zuddas said.

“We always aim to ensure that we utilise the more experienced players not only to help guide the youngsters, but also to impact the results on the pitch in such a brutal environment at the top level.

“The policy of Partizan is to develop and sell players in the top five European leagues, because of economic reasons but that does not stop us from nurturing and developing young talent.”

Nick Montgomery is the latest Australian manager to make the jump to Europe, accepting a three-year deal with Hibernian in Scotland’s first division.

Casting back to his experience amongst the backroom staff for the four-time Scottish champions in the 2021/22 campaign, Zuddas commented on the appointment of the former Central Coast Mariners manager.

“Hibernian is a club with a huge fanbase and shares a fierce rivalry with Hearts FC (Edinburgh derby), which is one of the oldest derbies in UK football,” he said.

“It’s a great environment with a strong culture, even during the time I was there when the club was going through a transitional period and losing some top players.

“I think now the club needs stability in terms of results to keep the fanbase on their side and find some consistency within their game.

“I think Nick will learn very quickly about Scottish football and the style of play in the sense that if you try to immediately bring a certain style from other leagues, it won’t fix the situation in the short term, so I think it is important to adapt and understand the reality of the league first.

“For example, when I first arrived we came with our own plan but quickly discovered that the Scottish league had the highest percentage of long-ball play in Europe, so the man-to-man defensive style that we wanted to implement would not be as effective in that setting.

“So we strongly worked on a full zonal structure with a stern focus on high ball coverage, which allowed us to be the second best defence in the league only behind Celtic during the period in charge.”

Encountering nine different countries with the ability to speak five languages, it’s fair to say that Zuddas has thrown himself into the deep end to maximise his growth.

Looking ahead to the future, what are some goals that the Roman native is hoping to achieve in his coaching career?

“Everyone dreams about the Premier League in England and I would love to work in those conditions which I can learn so much from,” he said.

“I am also a Roma supporter so potentially being involved in such a big club that I am incredibly fond of are the high standards that I want to aspire to achieve.”

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