BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, April 6, 2010
While Eastern Europe and the Balkans are not areas that many young American soccer players frequently go to start their careers, George Pantelic has made the move to the region and is progressing well at FK Rad in Belgrade, Serbia.
Pantelic, 18, is the son of Serbian born parents and he left to play in the former Yugoslavian country in the fall of 2008 because he felt it was the best chance he had to develop as a player.
"I made my move to FK Rad when I was 16 and a half," Pantelic recalled of his decision to move overseas. "I came to Serbia just to train with FK Rad in the summer. Before [that], I went to Holland to train with Feyenoord [along] with Carlos Martinez and Jaime Gutierrez.
"After I came back to the US, FK Rad called me and asked for me to come back. My dad and I sat down and talked about it and since I have a lot of family here in Serbia, we did what was best for me. We just decided playing here in Serbia was the best way to start my youth career."
Prior to making the move overseas to Rad, Pantelic was a star player in the Los Angeles area. He spent time with several clubs which included the Los Angeles Galaxy academy and Real SoCal whom he even led to a national championship within his age group.
"I decided to make the move because I felt that I needed to get better," Pantelic told YA of the move. "I saw an opportunity I could not pass up. It is Europe and there is more exposure. I wanted to get myself in a harder environment to go forward in my career. I still believe the USA has great soccer and so many talented players. I am very thankful for all the coaches I worked with there and all the teams I played for. But in the end, I felt like it was a better choice to come to Europe."
With FIFA continuously making it more difficult for players under the age of 18 to play full time in foreign countries, Pantelic was able to make the move to the Belgrade club because of his Serbian-born parents.
He currently has the necessary paperwork but by recently turning 18, he is now eligible for a Serbian passport.
"I have papers but I still do not have a passport," Pantelic discussed. "I have just turned 18 so I am now available to get it - hopefully soon. Both of my parents were born in Serbia. My father is from Arandjelovac and my mother from Nova Pazova."
Now having been at Rad for a while, Pantelic feels that the first year and a half he has spent in Belgrade have gone very well for him both on and off the field.
"I really love it playing here so far in this past year I have been here," Pantelic described. "I really feel at home with this team. I get along with everybody and it's a good experience for me to be here, and a good challenge."
Pantelic is a naturally left footed and plays primarily on either the left or right wings but he also occasionally plays forward. He feels that the most important reason why the move to Rad has been beneficial is the high quality of coaching he has received there.
"The coaching I have received at [Rad] is very good," Pantelic said of the coaching in Serbia. "There are a number of coaches who train with us and they really help you out. On every move you do wrong, they stop the game and show you where you need to be and what you need to do. I feel they really mentally help you out with your every move both on and off the field."
Pantelic has steadily progressed within Rad's youth organization and is now training with the reserve team on a daily basis.
"I am now playing for Rad's oldest team," Pantelic said of his situation with Rad. "I practice two times a day. I practice in the morning with my team and in the afternoon I practice with the reserve team which is a really great way for me to work with older professional players. It is really helping me with my game because the coaches are good. Rad's first team would be nice but you never know what's in store for the future."
So while Pantelic is progressing well in Serbia, he also recently received another bit of good news when US U20 head coach Thomas Rongen called and invited him to play with the US U20 national team this May for a tournament in Holland.
"I just got contacted by the US U-20 team. There will be a camp in Holland this May," Pantelic said of the call from Rongen. "I am very excited to go and play for my country. It will be good to see some of my old friends from the youth national teams and to represent my country."
With the US U20 team, Pantelic will be looking to establish himself among a group of talented attacking midfielders that include Luis Gil, Fafa Picault, Sebastian Lletget, Moises Orozco, and Michael Hoyos. But making the US roster for the 2011 U20 World Cup in Colombia next summer is a priority for Pantelic.
"It definitely is one of my major goals," Pantelic concluded. "I just need to improve my game and try to find the right club and we will see from there. I am just taking one step at a time to push my career as far and best I can. It is always an honor to represent your country in the world cup, there is nothing better than that."