Vidic withdraws candidacy for Serbian soccer president

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Former Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic on Monday withdrew his candidacy for president of the Serbian soccer federation, an organization which has often been accused of corruption, crime and political influence.

The only remaining candidate for the position is former player and veteran Red Star Belgrade official Dragan Dzajic, who is believed to be close to the current populist Serbian government.

“Our soccer faces big challenges,” the 41-year-old Vidic said after announcing his withdrawal. “Many things must and can be improved. My idea was and remains to assemble a team of top professionals who are able to solve these challenges.

“Unfortunately, at every step of the way toward becoming the president of the (federation), it was made clear to me that we would not be given that chance.”

Vidic, who had a highly successful career with Manchester United and served as the team's captain, has faced a massive campaign against his candidacy.

Serbian soccer is believed to be ripe with corruption and crime. The stadiums are mostly occupied by hardline nationalist supporters who have chased away fans who used to attend matches for purely sports reasons.

On Sunday, Red Star fans in Belgrade displayed a banner congratulating convicted Bosnian Serb war crimes criminal Ratko Mladic for his birthday, saying “every Serb raises their hat to you, and raises their children according to your example!”

Mladic was jailed by an international war crimes court for the death of tens of thousands of people during the bloody 1992-95 Serb crackdown against Bosniaks and other non-Serbs in Bosnia.

The 77-year-old Dzajic, the only remaining candidate in Tuesday's election, has had legal issues tied to him in the past.

Dzajic was pardoned in 2011 by the then-nationalist Serbian president from charges of fraud he allegedly perpetrated during the sale of players from Red Star to foreign teams when he was the club's president.

Ironically, Vidic was one of those players whose sale to Spartak Moscow from Red Star in 2004 was under legal scrutiny in the Dzajic case.


More AP soccer: and

The Associated Press