ACSOM’s Scout in Serbia: Reporting on the key players from Euro U17

The UEFA European Under 17s Championship is an annual event that showcases the best up-and-coming youth talent across the game in Europe.  The 2023 iteration of the competition is currently ongoing in Hungary, with games taking place in Budapest, Felcsút, and Debrecen.

Looking to identify the next breakthrough talents, I have joined the army of scouts in attendance at the games taking place at MTK Budapest’s Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion.  A starring role in France’s success in last year’s competition helped striker Mathys Tel to seal a €28.5 million transfer from Rennes to Bayern Munich.

While Celtic might not be shopping in that bracket of the market just yet, a tournament such as this does provide an opportunity to highlight some promising prospects worth keeping an eye on as future signing targets.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be reporting back on some of the players to watch in years to come, and highlighting some young targets that Celtic could do well to keep on their radar.


The first team under the spotlight is Serbia who defeated Italy 2-0 on Sunday evening with a fantastic performance that belied the age of some of their players. The Serbs produced a mature display, finding a perfect balance between neat passing football and mixing it up and rough-housing the Italians.

Here are some of the standout players from a highly impressive Serbian side.

Matija Popovic (2006) Partizan – Attacking Midfield / Forward

Standing over 190cm tall, Popovic has been described as a ‘Unicorn’ due to his unique skill set for his height.

Popovic is strong on the ball and has a great ability to hold off defenders while bringing teammates into the game; something he did often against the Italians when the Serbs were in need of an out-ball.

However, it is his pace and ability on the ball that really catch the eye.  Popovic set up both goals against Italy, as the Italian defence had no answer for his direct running and quick footwork that allowed him to glide past opponents with ease.

It was almost like watching peak Samaras in full, graceful flow.

Allied with his ability to take on defenders, he showed excellent vision and composure to pick out team-mates for simple finishes when others may have taken the selfish option and shot themselves.

With 12 goals in 15 appearances for Partizan’s youth side, Popovic clearly knows the route to goal and is one to keep an eye on.

Stefan Mitrovic (2006) Čukarički – Centre Midfield

Do not let Stefan Mitrovic’s profile picture on transfermarkt fool you, he is anything but the innocent boy in the picture.

Mitrovic set the tone for the entire game against Italy by making no less than four strong but fair sliding challenges within the first 5 minutes.  Laying down a marker for the rest of the side to follow, Mitrovic then controlled the game from the middle of the park.

Like Popovic, there is so much more to his game than the initial impression he leaves of midfield enforcer.  Mitrovic has an excellent first touch, is confident to receive under pressure, and has nimble footwork to get out of tight situations.  His range of passing was also excellent, mixing up raking cross-field passes with short interchanges.

With his club side Čukarički, Mitrovic tends to play in a more advanced role where has contributed 7 goals this season, whereas for the national team he takes up a deeper #6 or #8 role in the side.  Early impressions suggest that Mitrovic is player who could have a big future if he maintains his current rate of development.


Mihajlo Cvetković (2007) Čukarički – Centre Forward

Cvetković played as the lone striker in Serbia’s 4-3-2-1 system and, despite not being the tallest and being up against two imposing centre backs, managed to get his name on the score-sheet.

Cvetković’s work rate and movement off the ball were key to creating space for the likes of Popovic to exploit.  On the short side, in comparison to his lankier team mates, Cvetković has a build similar to prime Xherdan Shaqiri and uses his strength well to hold the ball up and link play.

Like all good centre forwards, Cvetković has a ruthless side to his game as he showed by cooly side-stepping an Italian defender before his shot past the keeper for Serbia’s second goal.  At club level he has scored 25 goals in 18 games for the Under 17s and is a player that Čukarički will be looking to fast-track into the first-team, if they can keep hold of him.

Viktor Džodić (2006) Montpellier – Goalkeeper

Džodić is the only member of the Serbian squad who plays his club football outside of his home country; his dad is a scout for the French club Montpellier where Viktor and his elder brother Stefan are on the books.

Džodić had a relatively quiet game against the Italians but showed good levels of concentration and positioning to deal with everything that came his way.  On the rare occasions he was troubled with a shot, the young stopper got his angles right and made the save.

He was, perhaps, a little too confident at times with the ball at his feet, trying some risky passes when an easier option was available.  However, overall, he looks to have the key attributes of a modern sweeper-keeper.

If the rough edges of his game can be smoothed out, then Serbia and Montpellier could be in safe hands for the next decade at least.

I will be reporting back from the tournament as it progresses through the final group games and into the knockout rounds.

Kevin McCluskie


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