SANTA CRUZ - Central Coast club football got a major prestige boost this week with Breakers F.C. signing former Yugoslavian World Cup defender and UEFA certified coach Niša Saveljić to become their new Director of Coaching.
Saveljić brings with him an accomplished international playing career spanning 19 years and 443 club matches in top-flight leagues across Europe, including an appearance in the 1998 World Cup with the Yugoslavia National Football Team.
"I didn't come to the United States on vacation, I came here to win," Saveljić said. “That means finding and developing the next wave of national team level players. Not everyone will play professionally, but many can use the game to get an education and see the world. But to succeed it takes a great deal of training sessions, a willingness to study, a true commitment to the game that can only come from love.”
Born in Podgorica, Montenegro in 1970, Saveljić broke into professional club football at the age of 18 when he took the field for top-tier FK Buducnost Titograd in the former nation of Yugoslavia.
Between 1988 and 2007, Saveljić anchored defenses in the Champions League, Europa League, Yugoslav First League, Ligue 1, Serbian SuperLiga, Coupe de France, and Coupe de la Ligue.
Prior to inking a deal with Breakers F.C., Saveljić spent two years with FC Girondins de Bordeaux learning the ins-and-outs of elite academy development to earn a UEFA coaching certification. Saveljić also helped the Girondins establish their first American extension club, the FCGB Center of Excellence, in Maryland.
Then in 2018, Saveljić partnered with Rob Roskopp, co-founder of Santa Cruz Bicycles, and New York City designer Lepa Galeb-Roskopp, the creative force behind Misahara Fine Jewelry, in a quest to find a club they could help grow to the highest level of competition in the sport. The group bonded over their shared passion for fitness, leading a healthy lifestyle, and the need to develop the student as well as the athlete in youth sports.
That coaching and organizational experience matched with Saveljić’s elite resume on the pitch and the support of his partners made Breakers F.C. shareholders eager to get a deal done with the 50-year-old French Montenegrin star.
“(Saveljić)’s remarkable skill, experience, and passion for the game being present in Santa Cruz is truly a gift to our players, our club, and the entire Central Coast soccer community," Breakers Vice President Larry Biggam said.
As for Saveljić’s motives for choosing to come to Breakers F.C., the answer is simple.
“Those potential future national team and professional club players are here,” Saveljić said. "It is the (role of academies) first to educate, to develop the kids' mentality. If you think football success starts with money, it's a big mistake. Having sponsors you build a strong relationship with, sponsors who fully support the club is critical but players are the ones who determine the outcome of a match.”
Breakers F.C.'s Paolo Carbone will transition to the role of Executive Director with Saveljić assuming the newly formed position of Director of Coaching.
The realignment brings Breakers F.C. closer to the European football academy model, and its board of directors believes that Saveljić’s unique voice paired with Carbone’s influence will bring a new level of success.
"To sign a Director of Coaching like (Saveljić) is a big step for our club," Carbone said. "We are talking about a player who has performed on some of the largest platforms in the sport. A coach who knows what it takes to wear your national team’s shirt, someone who leads by example and has proven themselves at every level to be elite. But more than that, (Saveljić) is a spectacular coach who knows how to communicate with players of all ages, he knows what buttons to push and they respect him."
The ‘World's Game,’ or soccer as it is known in the U.S., has been on the vanguard of professional sports attempts to return to play following shutdowns due to the global pandemic, granting parched sports fans a chance to see live action on the pitches of Europe.
That trend continues domestically July 8th, when Major League Soccer gets its ‘MLS Is Back’ tournament underway at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Simultaneously, club football in the United States has undergone a massive overhaul with the establishment of the Elite Youth Development Platform by MLS and the elite academies, including Breakers F.C., to work hand in glove to build a pipeline to the highest levels of the game.
As a well established and influential voice within the American soccer community, Carbone has been tasked with facilitating the establishment of MLS's new platform on the west coast in addition to his duties to Breakers F.C. and Cabrillo College where he runs the men’s soccer program.
"I am not surprised that football in the U.S., that the MLS itself, is changing," Saveljić said. "First, you must work with the younger kids, teach them the strategy and commitment so when they are older they can focus on being free while playing the game. It's not simple to build a pipeline for young players, but preparation for World Cup 2026 has to start now.“