Football: Around the World - Yugoslavia: Obilic evade Arkan's dark shadow

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been a tough summer for Obilic, the Belgrade club who shocked the European football establishment by winning the Yugoslav title in 1998.

Obilic's rise from obscurity to win the championship in their first season in the Yugoslav top flight owed everything to the financial backing of their president, Zeljko Raznatovic. He is better known as Arkan, a feared Serbian paramilitary leader who has been charged by the United Nations with war crimes. The money he pumped into the club came, it was frequently alleged, from drugs and arms smuggling and other illegal activities.

Arkan, who was previously linked with Red Star Belgrade, was often found on the Obilic trainer's bench during matches, hurling abuse at referees and opposing players, who also sometimes had to put up with guns being pointed their way by black-clad fans believed to belong to Arkan's army of thugs.

Now, though, Obilic's financial future is far from secure, as Arkan has officially cut all his ties with the club. Zarko Nikolic, a Belgrade businessman, has assumed the presidency in succession to Svetlana Raznatovic, Arkan's wife, who had replaced her husband at the beginning of the year.

Arkan's exit followed a decision by European football's ruling body to ban Obilic from this season's Uefa Cup because of his role within the club. Their on-field fortunes took a turn for the worse on Saturday, when they lost their first league match since they came into the First Division two years ago. Following the 4-2 defeat to OFK Belgrade, Nikolic sacked the coach Dragoslav Sekularac and replaced him with his assistant. Mihajlo Bosnjak.

Obilic are in a better state, however, than their Yugoslav League rivals Pristina. The club from the war-ravaged Kosovan capital were due to entertain Red Star on Saturday, but the match was postponed because Pristina have neither a squad of players nor a stadium they can use.

Pristina have been unable to play either of their two league matches to date. They were discussing a temporary move to Belgrade with the Yugoslav Football Federation yesterday.