Dusan Tadic interview: Southampton midfielder enjoying 'free' football with Saints having gone from Vojvodina to the New Forest

Saints' £11m midfielder has been a revelation since arriving on the south coast and he tells Jack Pitt-Brooke why he is enjoying life in the Premier League

Dusan Tadic is talking about “nice pressure” and “crazy pressure”, about the difference between Serbia and England and about finally finding the right environment for self-expression. He is explaining in engaging English why he has been so good for Southampton, the surprise star of the surprise side of the season.

Ronald Koeman paid £11million for Tadic this summer and that trust has been rewarded already. Only Chelsea have more Premier League points than Saints. Only Cesc Fabregas has created more chances than Tadic. He is quick, clever and skilful, a modern creator, and he puts his success down to his new home, the perfect platform for his style of play.

Southampton is a modern club, with a revamped £30m training ground. The New Forest is a long way from Vojvodina, the team Tadic supported and where he grew up. There, the pressure was so intense the players would be sheltered in a hotel after a defeat. That is no way to play football and Tadic is delighted that he can focus all of his energies on the game itself.

“You want to feel free,” Tadic says, liberated from off-field worry at Southampton. “I think every player can show his best when he is free. If you are a little bit afraid of something, you cannot show your best.”

 

Tadic is open and generous with his time, and very obviously relaxed and happy at Southampton. He speaks fluent English, Dutch and Serbian, and taught himself Spanish by watching telenovelas as a child. He has a natural intelligence which is conveyed in his football, and his awareness of his role “When you don’t have the ball, you need to be a killer and you need to be tough. If you do have the ball you need to feel free and to create things, and to play with your head.”

That is precisely what Tadic has been doing so far, with remarkable success. He has created 28 chances in the Premier League – joint second – and made six assists – join third. Four of those assists came in the 8-0 rout of Sunderland, which he picks as his performance of the season. When Tadic says that he prefers assists to goals, it does not sound like false modesty. His manager, in fact, wants him to be more “egotistical” in front of goal.

It has been an almost instant adjustment from the slower-paced Dutch league. Tadic is already up to speed here, and is making English football look easy. Serbian football was rather different.

“In Serbia the pressure is amazing, nowhere is like that,” Tadic says, remembering his home-town club which he left at 21.  “When we lose a game, it is like somebody dies, really horrible, and they put us in hotels after the match. It is bad for the players. This is not pressure, this is crazy.”

“The supporters come, they kick players, it’s not nice. And then they don’t pay you your money on time, then you need to fight for your money. Then you are not just focused about football. Here, in this country, you are just focused on football, and you have nice pressure.”

This is the difference between his time in Serbia and his time in Holland and England. This is why creativity demands the right environment, and why he has been just so good at Twente and Southampton. Anxiety inhibits performance and so Tadic is not surprised that so many of his generation have flourished since leaving Serbia. “When I was in Vojvodina, it is not possible to describe. If you play one bad ball, one little mistake, they are ‘oh, what is that?’ Then some players they are afraid to take responsibility. They don’t feel well, you know, you don’t have freedom to show yourself. The coaches like you to fight and that’s it. Because of that, lots of players they always play better when they go somewhere else.”

Although Tadic denies that these problems extend to the Serbian national team, he is honest in his description of the chaos  that ended their Euro 2016 qualifier against Albania last month. Tadic was playing when a drone flew onto the pitch, carrying an Albanian flag, sparking a brawl, a pitch invasion, Serbia being awarded the game but penalised the three points.

“I didn’t know what was happening, I just saw some flag,” Tadic remembers. “People also said it could be a bomb. I was not scared, I was surprised at how it was possible it could happen. They are not good memories.”

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Tadic has gone a long way to replacing the hole left by Adam Lallana's departure

Tadic is still hopeful of qualification for Euro 2016 and would love to emulate the heroes of his childhood – Predrag Mijatovic, Dragan Stojkovic and Dejan Savicevic – who played for Yugoslavia in France ’98, when Tadic was nine years old. He grew up in Novi Sad, a “beautiful city” in the north of Serbia, and joined the academy of local club FK Vojvodina, one of the best in the country.

It did not take long for Tadic to become a local hero and he was swiftly in demand from Belgrade giants Red Star and Partizan. They tried to sign him over and over again but Vojvodina’s maverick president Ratko Butorovic – a survivor of two assassination attempts, a friend of 50 Cent and an imitator of his dress sense – always refused.

Soon enough Tadic was involved with the international side, representing Serbia at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, at the age of 19, in the same side as Aleksandar Kolarov. At Beijing he met Novak Djokovic, with whom he is still good friends, and it is a slight annoyance that he cannot watch him at the ATP Masters next week, because of international commitments. Wimbledon 2015, though, is on the cards. “For sure I am going to go and I hope he is going to win.”

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Tadic starred in Southampton's 8-0 rout of Sunderland

Tadic says it would be been “difficult” to leave Vojvodina for another Serbian side but he did not have to, joining Groningen in 2010 and, after two good seasons, Twente in 2012. There, he came under the tutelage of Steve McClaren – “a brilliant coach” - whom Tadic hopes to see in the Premier League next season.

Koeman was coach of Feyenoord at the time and tried to sign Tadic but could not afford him. “I know he gave me some compliments when I was at Twente, but at that time it was difficult,” says Tadic. “But now we work together and it is a great pleasure.”

It is a pleasure for Koeman as well. “If you like football you come to the stadium to see that kind of player,” he says, although with an ominous warning as well, that Tadic can improve by more than 20 per cent if he shoots more and scores more goals.

Tadic knows that he might have to change his nature. “My head is always up, and if I see some player in a better position, I give the ball to him automatically,” he says, not exactly diagnosing much of a flaw. “Sometimes I need to be more egotistical and put my head down.”

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Southampton midfielder Dusan Tadic takes on Stoke's Erik Pieters

My other life

“I live near the stadium, at Ocean Village with my wife and son. It is his first birthday next week. I like to spend time with my family, to take rest, to go and eat something or to go for a walk. My parents Petar and Maria are here now for two weeks, to see the game against Leicester on Saturday.

They will probably come back over for Christmas. In Holland there is a 10-day Christmas break and in Serbia it is one month. We need to adapt to that, but that is what we have to do. The supporters are going to give us a full stadium and you need to give them back something and play well.”

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