Often we forget that football players aren’t only superstars and performers that entertain us, but also that they are workers. Mirko Poledica didn’t forget that.

After a successful football career in Serbia, Czechia and Poland Poledica retired at the age of 30. He was embittered because of the state of footballer’s rights. But he didn’t just leave football behind. From being a left-back and protecting goal of his team, he became a man with a goal to protect all football players in Serbia. He founded first ever footballer players union in the country and started working hard to make Serbia a better place for footballers.

Mister Poledica, what is exactly Union of football players Nezavisnost, and what does it do?

Union of football players Nezavisnost is an association of football players. Our task is to improve workers right of all football players. We were founded on March 12. 2009, and we are part of one bigger union, says Poledica to start his story.

How important the unionizing of football players is? What does it do for the players?

Football players’ unions exist in the whole world. The first one was founded in England in 1907, and other countries followed. FIFpro was founded in 1965. That’s an international union of football players, and we are a member of it from 2011. We offer our services to football players for free. We represent them on the court for free, pay for arbitration costs, training camps and all that is necessary for the development of their career.

The membership fee is voluntary. It costs 8.000 RSD (€68) for Superleague and 5.000 RSD (€42.50) for First League (Serbian second tier) players. Players without contract and players who don’t get paid are don’t pay membership, but they have the same rights as all the other members.

What kind of influence does FIFPro have on the game? We saw that in cooperation with FIFA they founded a fund that will pay football player’s unpaid wages.

FIFPro is the social partner of FIFA and UEFA, an important voice in the development of the football industry. Football can’t be played without players. FIFA and UEFA have a great appreciation for player’s representatives, which is not the case in Serbia. In Serbia, authorities think of us as enemies, which is very wrong. We just want contracts to be paid in full, we want players to be respected and not discriminated against. That is the only way football can progress in Serbia.

Important thing is that football players in Serbia are workers in the eyes of the law. They can’t play in Superleague and First League if they don’t have contracts as workers, contracts with a stamp of authority. Before founding our union that was just a dream.

To reflect on the situation with coronavirus. How it will affect players?

This situation will leave consequences on all participants in football, first of all on players and clubs. We must be aware that isn’t anybody’s fault and we must be together in this. The decision that we make must be reasonable with the goal of minimizing damage.

Is there any notion of not paying players wages? How to fix that problem?

Of course, there is a possibility that some of the wages won’t be paid. We must find a solution that is good both for the players and for the clubs. Clubs are in a difficult situation and we must be aware of that. To be able to talk about models for overcoming this problem first we need to take a look into the finances of the clubs in Serbia. We don’t know that anything about football financies in Serbia at the moment.

As a player, you didn’t have a manager. Why and what’s your opinion about the football player’s representation at this time?

When I was a pro, managers only began to work, and they weren’t a crucial part of the market. The football market worked in a completely different way. Most managers didn’t have a good reputation, and I didn’t want to have any contact with them. I played in 10 clubs in my career, and only once my friend who was a manager helped me. I negotiated all the other contracts myself.

Today everything is different. It’s normal to have a manager who will take care of your career. Managers have a lot more influence on football today than 20 years ago.

What do you think about the redistribution of wealth in today’s football? Do players get enough, and could their salaries rise in the future?

Football is an industry, and laws of market laws are inexorable. Clubs pay players as they are allowed by market laws. Statistics say that 50% of players in the world have a salary below 4.000$, and 80% from that 50% are paid less than 2.000$ a month. Just 2% of players earn enormous amounts of money.

Should transfers cease to exist? Why footballers can’t just leave their job for a better one if they want, like the rest of us?

Football is an industry, and besides civic laws, it has lex specialis – football legislation which must be compliant to the law. Football without transfers isn’t possible, but transfer policy must change from time to time in order for it to be up to date. Transfers depend on the market, and they grow constantly because of demand. Football ceased to be just a sport long ago, and everyone must be aware of this.

What is the thing most needed for young players in Serbia? Is it health insurance, money for better equipment, better nutrition or training? Maybe something else?

Young players must have an alternative, I talk about that on a daily basis. Less than 2% of football players get rich from it, all of the other players have many obstacles when they finish their careers. Most of them end up on social programs. That are the topics media and government must raise their voice about and must have important roles in. Football and education are the winning combinations, and I try to lead by example.

When you compare player’s rights now, and when you started your union, what changes do you see? Both in Serbia and globally.

When we were founded in 2009, footballers in Serbia didn’t have any rights. They were left to the goodwill of the clubs, and many of them were left unpaid. After we put a union together we made a step forward. Today players are fully protected in the eyes of the law. All Superleague and First League players have contracts, and if clubs don’t respect those contracts they face big problems and additional expenses. Today clubs can avoid payments only if it shuts down.

What is your message to the people who would want to help young football players? How to do that?

It’s tough to give advice to anybody. To be a mentor to anybody is a responsible and ungrateful job. If I would do that, I would emphasize a couple of things.  Education, work, organization, and discipline. That’s the only right way, says Mirko Poledica at the end of our interview.

And Mirko Poledica is an example to follow. We all must try to help young people succeed, and fulfill their football dreams. Because of our love of the game, and because all of us want some new Fenomeno‘s on the court.

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