Note: Article N°8 of the historical research about Club Deportivo Palestino for the project ‘4 Colores’
Club Deportivo Palestino, from its professional history, has only obtained the Chilean league championship twice: In 1955 and 1978.
For a contemporary thing, a whole generation has engraved in their minds the revolutionary coach Caupolicán Peña and ‘Don Elias’ Figueroa in defense. But it is difficult to find fans who have lived through the 1950s era. When Palestino won the 1955 championship in an overwhelming way, winning by more than 10 points difference (when 2 points were added per game won). Several players stood out from that team, one of them was the great Roberto ‘Muñeco’ Coll, a legend of the team that played until the age of 43 before retiring, and who is the best foreign player who has played for the Chilean league. Apparently, nobody says anything about the coach. This is the reason, why we took on the mission to research more about this enigmatic figure.
Reviewing current sources, we found a press article from 2005 (1) by the journalist Aldo Schiappacasse (2) certain anecdotes of Europeans in Chilean football were reported, such as this:
“According to “Estadio” magazine, the team Palestino in 1955 could have been the best in history until then. From the hand of Roberto Coll, overwhelmed his rivals, justified the fame of a millionaire who created himself at the point of hiring and gave the first great joy to the squad led by Mr Amador Yarur. Deep analysis and a great note to the “Human Factor” written by Antonino Vera highlighted the impeccable operation of its lines. But from coach Milan Stefanovic there wasn’t a single line… In a long interview with Coll, the work is mentioned, but not a single mention of the mister. Rare”.
What Schiappacasse said was “half right”. Although there was no interview or photograph in the Estadio Magazine at least between 1955 and 1957, the period when he was coach for Palestino, – which left room for speculation but later we will see that in other media this was not so.
In 2017, in an article about Constantino Mohor, an ex-player born from the Palestino’s youth division, the renowned sports journalist Luis Urrutia O’Nell alias ‘Chomsky’, reported that “The coach was the Yugoslav Miodrag Stefanovic” (3)
The coach’s first name was not at all clear. Even the renowned journalist Edgardo Marín refers to him as “Milan” in his famous compendium of “La Historia de los Campeones” (4)
It is known that the last name Stefanovic has Serbian origin, and quite common, since there are great personalities with the same last name, like the name Milan. This thing complicated the investigation a little bit, since there could be more than one former player with the same name.
Having that confusing and scant information about the mysterious coach, we set out to consult more sources, such as members of the legendary 1955 team.
Regardless of his first name, we consulted two former players, several times, from that 1955 Palestino team: Constantino Mohor (RIP) and José Donoso. The two of them agreed that he was a very discreet and reserved person… they only saw him in training and games.
That desire to go unnoticed gave a lot of food for thought… even that he could have fled the ex-Yugoslavia at the time of Marshal Tito.
José Donoso gave us a little more context, with his impression of the coach: “Suddenly one day, they introduced us to the new coach … and the directors board insisted: “please do not ask him about his past… he is a traumatized man by war”.
He also had great memories of coach: “He was a man who hardly spoke Spanish yet he communicated very well”, and who also “was a man who knew about football”. Proof of this is that, in a game against Unión Española, it was characterized by practicing a suffocating pressing, where many times it did not allow the rival to play. As the coach realized this, he called Roberto Coll, one of the stars of the team, then told him to take the ball and go to a band on the field of play. At that time, when several Unión Española players arrived to mark him, he had the mission of enabling a teammate who was in a better position. And with that tactic, Palestino thrashed Unión Española. The story coincides with the 4th round about 1955 league tournament, when there was a 6-2 win when these teams faced each other.
¿Milan or Miodrag?
It was impossible to find more information in his country of origin, and as the name of Milan was more familiar to us in journalistic sources, we began to look for his descendants.
After several months, we located his son (Milan Stefanovich Vargas), who kindly received us at his house in a rural area of Placilla (O’Higgins Region), about 160 kms from Santiago, next to his mother (widow of Milan).
They told us that Milan Stefanovich Aleksic was born on January 18, 1915 in Požarevac, 80km from Belgrade, the capital of present-day Serbia. In the 1930s, he joined the Yugoslav Navy, in a submarine unit, and later fought against Nazi Germany in World War II. He was taken prisoner by the German forces, and confined in a concentration camp. At the end of 1941, he managed to escape through an operation where a German submarine was captured, and Milan was left in Gibraltar. He was believed to be dead on the battlefield by his family, but he managed to reenlist and continue fighting in different allied units in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Finally, the end of the 2nd War in 1945 found him coincidentally in Palestine, as the photo 01 shows.
With the end of the Second World War, he returned to his country with his family, but the new political situation with Marshall Tito did not suit him and he decided to emigrate to the American Continent. Then he managed to take a ship to Brazil. After a short time, he couldn’t familiarize with that country and continued to the south of Argentina, and when he got the opportunity to travel to Chile by ship, he did not think twice about reaching the country through Valparaíso, and then Santiago, only with his clothes and his spoon, in 1950.
His family says that, for those years, Chile received a high number of immigrants from World War II. The government authorized the National Stadium of Santiago to host them, and in the process organize something similar to a job fair, where it was usual that there were companies looking for workers, knowing that these immigrants had a more developed education than the Chileans and were highly qualified.Milan was either a chemical engineer or technician.
In 1951, shortly after arriving in Chile, he met another Yugoslav-Croatian named Milan Likovic, who was already working at the Textile Yarur and took him to work for the company, he was hired for the Dry-Cleaning Department. In the Stamping Laboratory specifically. There he met Don Amador Yarur, president of the Textile Yarur, and also president of Club Deportivo Palestino at that time.
At this point the story gets a little confusing, as the widow tells us that Milan had a certain relationship with the Club Deportivo Palestino, who perhaps was a translator, and when they met it was already 1960, they got married a year later. By that time he no longer had any kind of relationship with the team.
When they met, Milan was already working at the Textile Yarur in the Prints Department, and had a close relationship with Amador Yarur; this is the reason we speculated that, after having worked as coach in the team, Sir. Amador could have offered him work with him in his company. Meanwhile he remained as a coach in one of the teams of the internal football teams of the company. This kind of situation was not so strange in the first years of the professional history of the team. Something similar also happened with Miguel Nasur, who after retiring from his time as an archer, came to work at Credit Bank and Investments, a bank of the Yarur family. They were so close, that the widow says that Milan could go talk to Mr. Amador even when he was busy. And also, Mr. Amador went to the baptism of his two children: Milan and Mauricio.
Unfortunately, Milan’s life was short: He died on September 1, 1968 (at age 53), just on his wife’s birthday, when his children were only 2 and 1 years old, so their children could not share much with their father.
That Sunday, after going to church the Basilic of the Merced and having lunch, they returned to rest in their apartment located on Pedro Montt street (Villa Yarur). In the afternoon of the same day, when the family of his wife Irene arrived to celebrate her birthday, he did not wake up, he had died as a result of a sudden stroke. Currently his remains rest in the General Cemetery.
Amador Yarur was a generous man, and when he found out about Milan’s death, he offered the widow a job. She confirms it: “Don Amador was very generous … I had never worked in my life, and he offered me a job as a telephone operator at the Textile Yarur”.
Also, because Milan had an extremely reserved personality, the widow was surprised that he had acquired a large number of properties that she inherited, for the benefit of her family.
Also, because Milan had an extremely reserved personality, the widow was surprised that he had acquired a large number of properties that she inherited, for the benefit of her family.
Also, we were wondering why his family did not have information about their father related to Club Deportivo Palestino, knowing his successful time in the team; but, on the other hand, it was known that he was a very reserved man, in addition to the fact that, in those days, the wife was usually not very aware of her husband’s work.
But there was an important detail. They kept a very particular picture, although a little diffused: Palestino’s players appeared in it, where you can distinguish the great Roberto ‘Muñeco’ Coll, and Miguel Nasur, among others (see photo 02)
When the wife asked Milan, who appears in the photo, he replied briefly: “He is a friend of mine”, without giving further details.
Until then we already had a hypothesis. In another meeting with José Donoso to get more background on the mysterious coach, and to corroborate the information that the Stefanovich family had given us, he offered us an opportunity to review his extensive archive of newspaper clippings and photographs that had to do with his sports career.
It was a big surprise to find an interesting coach interview, by the name of Miodrag, titled ‘The Secret of Palestino’ (Photo 03) (6), where he said the differences between the football that is practiced in Europe and South America, he makes the following comments quite certain:
“In Chile, the tendency to keep the ball is very marked. Also, the player runs after the ball, when it should be the other way around: the ball must run to the player. Chilean football players lack a sense of location and proper demarcation. In European teams, the position of the player is known by the number, but not by the location. They walk non-stop for 90 minutes (they walk, they don’t run) and they play for the team and not for themselves, as is the case with most South American football players”.
Seeing this photo, the most surprising thing was to discover that in reality, Milan and Miodrag were two different people. Finally, it was not a confusion of names. Although this detail was very strange: Does that mean that there were two Serbs with the same last name on the team? Strange, to say the least.
With the new information, we embarked on the mission of contacting relatives of Miodrag Stefanovic Nikolic.
We found two children from Miodrag: Alejandro and Danilo, who received us at Alejandro’s house, in the Peñalolen district of Santiago.
Here we noticed at the beginning that they were sure that their father had indeed been the coach of Palestino Champion 1955. In addition, they also had a file of newspaper clippings and photographs of their father. Also, despite the fact that his father had been very discreet and silent, they had time to share with him, and talk about his life, including his time as coach of the team
As if that were not enough, they kept a pin commemorating the 1955 championship, on the front with the team shield with only one star, and on the back with the inscription ‘Rdo. Campto. (Championship Souvenir) M. Stefanovic. 1955’. (Photos 04 y 05)
Also, another detail is the one that appears in another cut of Miodrag’s family, which corresponds to the column Sports Moment, entitled ‘Stefanovic, the Silent One’ (7), which begins as follows: “Very few know that the coach of Palestino is called Stefanovic. His first name is still less well known. We called the club to find out and there were doubts and hesitations”. If there was confusion at the time, that allowed the tangle with his first name to persist even with the prestigious journalists.
Now we go on to Miodrag’s story. He was born on October 21, 1923, in one of the villages near Kragujevac, central Serbia. In his youth he played in the lower divisions in the goalkeeper position, but later became interested in being a striker; so much that he came to play in the First Division of Yugoslav football, defending Bask since he was 14 as a center-back or right outside forward. In 1941, when he was 17, the German occupation stopped the sports competitions, and with that his career also. As a result of this fact, he emigrated to France in 1943, where he played for 2 years at Strasbourg. (8)
In 1945 he emigrated to Italy to play for San Ferdinando. He retired prematurely at the age of 27 as a player, and served as coach, training a couple of teams such as San Ferdinando, Padova and Capua. (8)
He came to Chile by ship in November 1954, after making a stopover in several South American countries. After 15 days, a Palestinian descendant who worked in a technical charge at the Yarur Textile introduced him to Amador Yarur, then president of Club Deportivo Palestino. The newspapers said the Palestino made an horrible campaign that year compared to 1953 (2nd in the tournament), he was handed the team as an ‘experiment’ with over 4 rounds left of the end of the tournament, already saved from all possible danger of relegation to the Second Division. All this was done with some doubts, although no one presented him as a marvel or a savior of the team, but at the same time there was also no great pretense.
Some people said, in the first 2 months he gave the instructions with an interpreter, in which according to the coach “it was difficult to impose the teaching methods, because I found a group of first-class players, who logically took care of their personal prestige. This was the first failure as a team: they didnt work as a group”. (9)
Complementing his diagnosis, he also added: “When I started managing Palestino, I realized that the players had their own techniques and their vicious – football speaking. Many of them entertained themselves too much by dribbling; they were wasting energy on useless frivolous plays of great showiness which were coming out and generally died without major collective benefits. These useless dribbling, most of the time, only drained and tired the player in a job of little positivism. Unfortunately, it only worked to show and logically – damage the performance of the frame” (10).
And then he continued with his methodology: “The main thing was to put together a team that gave according to the modern canons of football, taking advantage of the conditions of that group of stars. Then we worked preferably on the physical aspect” (9)
That’s where the results began to show:
From the 5th round, when Palestino lost 2-4 to The University of Chile, the team began an impressive streak, including 4-0 goal scores to Audax Italiano as a visiting team the following round, and from there was not defeated until day 25 (penultimate) against Colo-Colo (0-2), when the team was already the champion.
Bulk results were also recorded, such as 6-2 to Unión Española visiting for the 4th round; 4-2 to O’Higgins by 16th round, 9-3 to Ferrobadminton visiting on 23th round; and finally, comebacks such as on the 20th round, when Rangers were beating 3-0, Palestino finally prevailed 5-3.
The 1955 Chilean league comprised a regular phase and league phase (playoffs). They were qualifying for the championship league in the first 8, while the last six played to save themselves from relegation to 2nd division. At the end of the tournament, Palestino had a difference of 10 points over Unión Española (2nd place), which allowed the 2nd round of the tournament league, defeating the same Unión Española. It became the champion of the tournament without discussion.
In 1955 championship celebration cocktail, Julio Martínez (11) comments in his column: “The longest applause went to Amador Yarur, true foreign community team pioneer, Roberto Coll and the coach. Well deserved, because few know Stefanovic. I don’t exaggerate if I say some people saw it last night for the first time. That’s why the standing ovation he was charged had a lot of recognition and reward at the same time” (12).
The next two seasons wouldn’t be as successful. In fact, the 1956 campaign was mediocre, finishing in 9th place, with 25 points. The 1957 season wasn’t that bad: it finished 3rd, with 28 points.
Just as Milan was closer to Amador Yarur, Miodrag had a much more marked affinity with Miguel Nasur. As we said earlier, Miodrag started in lower divisions as an archer, and that made it easier for him to teach the fundamentals of the job to Nasur, who would contest the position with José Donoso during the coach’s stay.
Work Plan as Coach in Club Deportivo Palestino
There are several aspects in which Miodrag Stefanovic, as a good analytical and highly disciplined man, worked and improved the game of Palestino Champion of 1955:
Physical ability: “We worked and are still working today, most of it in the physical aspect. They are all players who know their craft, who can hardly be taught, but we have a lot to do to improve their conditions. At the beginning, Palestino was a 45-minute team and in the second half it was exhausted. No matter how good technique a football player has, if they don’t have a good physical condition, everything is lost when fatigue arrives, vital failure that has been corrected with a methodical preparation, but very intense”. (9)
Play as a Team: “Players follow step by step all the directions I give them. All the training indications are fulfilled, as the occasions, official meetings; so, there is no “goal machine” in the scenery, all the strikers are in a position to do because everyone plays for the team, everything combines and anyone that is in the best location can make a score. The same happens with the defense. The forward and the defense are now playing in perfect harmony; they try to sync their game for a better performance. Practically, he says, there are no gaps in our lines”. (9)
“In Palestino we are all friends. We don’t have problems, and when they arise, we solve them amicably, we talk about the reasons. We reach a discipline that has undoubtedly contributed powerfully to the fact that the table marches with a normal and positive pace. Previously, the team did not have this discipline and logically could not perform favorably. The players played an individual game, so things didn’t work; now, it’s played as a team. All that individual capacity is harnessed together and the picture is more powerful, more effective, more solid”. (13)
Long Shoots: “… (players) have orders to shoot, finish to the bow, of any position, twenty or thirty meters, if they have the precise opportunity and see certain possibilities” (10)
Strategy: “… it starts with the premise that all rivals are dangerous, good or regular, regardless of their position on the table. The preparation does not increase or decrease because of the team, we give the best with all the teams that we played, we don’t underestimate them, equal case, equal quality and enthusiasm. Every match is, as we say, a final”. (9)
Tactical systems: “When it comes to systems, we have them because no team can play without them. We don’t hold on to a particular system, but adapt tactics or variants, put together for the rivals. For this purpose, the WM, the MM, the WW (15) and so many other systems in vogue in modern football are available. Basically, the Palestino’s game is in defense, because I believe that a good defense produces a better attack. With five men-goal and a half supporting, we have six men who change positions and know exactly what they should do in each position they occupy, we can offer a variety of attack, which has been very favorable for the results obtained”. (9)
Miodrag’s Life After Club Deportivo Palestino
The reason for him quitting Palestino in late 1957 is unclear, but it could be because there was a sharp drop in the budget on the team for the following seasons, and Miodrag, true to his correct style, did not agree to lower the level of the team.
Once he left Palestino, although he came with a coaching degree from Italy, at the beginning of 1958 he was also given a coaching degree in Chile by the Chilean Football Federation, thanks to a course followed by all the coaches who worked in Chile, within the framework of a program of regularization of coaches who did not have their validate title in Chile. (15)
In 1958 he signed as coach in San Luis de Quillota, a team that had an excellent season in the first division the previous year, but was relegated by the secretary, because he was discounted 13 points for bad registration of an Argentine player. Maybe he thought about changing to another sporting project, but according to his family “at the first month he was already sorry to work there”. He probably saw situations that were already resolved in Club Deportivo Palestino and at that time needed to be covered.
After his journey in San Luis de Quillota, he decided to travel to Ecuador for 3 months, invited by members of the then Yugoslav community residing in that country, also seeing possible labor opportunities, which were ultimately not realized. (17)
After his football-related career, Miodrag continued to work successfully in various jobs and his last 20 years as the owner of a media representation company, with which he went on to represent more than 30 regional newspapers throughout Chile, either through advertisements, auctions and all kinds of campaigns in newspapers.
Also, as in the workplace, he highlighted his great love for his family, as a husband and father. His son Alexander clarified to us that; he was a man of few words and discreet in his actions, probably traumatized by his experiences of World War II, he was not a fearful man at all. On the contrary: He was a person of great character, and the great example of that he was able to manage that group of stars that made up the 1955 Palestino team, and that before the arrival of the coach, they played well, but not in conjunction or with the discipline that was required.
Miodrag died of lung cancer on November 1, 1991. We understand from his family that the only important leader who attended the funeral was Miguel Nasur. After his funeral, the family was invited to a game against Fernández Vial at La Cisterna Stadium, where Palestino won 4-0, where he was given a warm tribute, those were the reasons that he was not a popular figure even by the press. We imagined he went very unnoticed by the attendees.
Relationship between Milan and Miodrag
Returning to Photo 02, which Milan allegedly drew, and is currently in his family’s possession, several conclusions can be drawn.
First of all, and contextualizing it, it is known that Palestino in its early years of professionalism, was going to train the Yarur Textile Court, an auspicious place as the Yarur family owned the textile and Amador Yarur was the president of Palestino.
Like we said, it should not have been strange that Milan went to see the trainings of Palestino, knowing that there was a Serbian compatriot and colleague coach. In addition to the fact that it is indicated in the chronicles that Miodrag spent a couple of months training with the help of a translator, perhaps Milan could have been that person, since he had arrived at least 3 or 4 years before to Chile. Indeed, he may have said something about this to his wife at that time.
Also, looking closely at the same picture, you can see the background is a little diffuse that Miodrag appears with his coaching sport clothes and that was the moment he told his wife that he was ‘a friend’, he was not really referring to the great Roberto ‘Muñeco’ Coll, but to his colleague Miodrag.
In addition, Milan’s photo is very important: It is quite possible this is one of the few training photos of Club Deportivo Palestino on the Textile Yarur court.
It should be noted that, although they were colleagues and contemporaries, they were not that close, as Milan’s family were unable to identify Miodrag, and Miodrag’s family also couldn’t recognize Milan.
We were almost done with the investigation, when Mauricio, the youngest son of Milan confirmed to us what we speculated: Talking with an uncle, brother of the widow, whom were very close to Milan: “In 1955, when Miodrag Stefanovic arrived to lead Palestino, the Yugoslav coach did not speak Spanish and therefore the communication was hard with the technical staff, director and manager, and that’s when Mr Amador turned to Milan Stefanovic who had been living in Chile for 5 years so he could be his translator”. The mystery of the mysterious sir Stefanovic had finally been uncovered.
We can tell, that this confusion was because in those years the journalists worked with a low rigor. Also, they didn’t refer to the coach by his first name, and when they did, they wrote it incorrectly; and also, by the discretion of Miodrag himself, who loved to do his work silently and without eagerness to appear for any reason.
Tribute to Miodrag
Finally, we would like to thank the families of Milan and Miodrag, for their generousity in providing us with important information about their lives.
With all the backgrounds exposed here, we believe that at least Miodrag Stefanovic as coach Champion deserves an important seat within the history of the club, although he was not a man who liked fame, or exposure.
This article is a tribute to his tenacity, discipline and systematic order, which the great Miodrag Stefanovic made of the squad composed of great stars and individuals, who would become a group of players that played as a team, well remembered as the ‘Millionaires’, and that was considered for many years as the best team in the history of Chilean tournaments.
It is appreciated to share or publish this article always referring the corresponding source.
(1) Aldo Rómulo Alejandro Schiappacasse Cambiaso is a Chilean television presenter, journalist and Chilean sports and film commentator, currently working on CDF (Canal del Fútbol, Chilean Football Channel), Chilevision and Radio ADN. At the time he worked as a columnist for El Mercurio Newspaper.
(2) ‘Historia del Fútbol Chileno: ¿El mejor ejemplo europeo?’ (‘History of Chilean Football: Is it Best European Example?’) Aldo Schiappacasse, Diario El Mercurio, 03 November 2005. (Spanish).
(3) Luis Urrutia O’Nell, ‘Chomsky’, is a Chilean journalist with a long history in various written media, and author of several books on Chilean football. Also, author of the article ‘Los recuerdos del Negro Mohor’, about Constantino Mohor, in La Tercera Newspaper.
Link (Spanish): https://www.latercera.com/noticia/los-recuerdos-del-negro-mohor/
(4) Arturo Edgardo Marín Méndez is a Chilean sports journalist. He stood out as an editor and author of books related to the sporting theme. Author of ‘La Historia de los Campeones (1933-1991)’ (‘The History about champion teams (1933-1991)’), released in 1991.
(5) Source: Milan Stefanovich Vargas Family Archives
(6) Vea Magazine (no date or number). Around August 09, 1955, after the 13th round of the championship. Cut in the possession of José Donoso.
(7) ‘Stefanovic, el silencioso’ (‘Stefanovic, the silent one’) (Spanish). Press clipping with unknown media and date, probably published in 1955. In the possession of Miodrag Stefanovic’s family.
(8) ‘Diversos Factores Apoyan los Triunfos de Palestino’ (“Various Factors Support the Triumphs of Palestino”) (Spanish). Article extracted without media, but was published around October 1955. Excerpt from an article from Las Últimas Noticias Newspaper.
(9) ‘Ahora hay conjunto y estado atlético: Asegura Stefanovic’ (“Now there is a group and athletic shape: Stefanovic assures”) (Spanish). Las Últimas Noticias Newspaper, October 23th, 1955.
(10) ‘Dice Stefanovic: Seremos Campeones’ (“Stefanovic Says: We Will Be Champions”) (Spanish). Press clipping with unknown media and date, but was published after 16th tournament round, around September 4, 1955. In the possession of Miodrag Stefanovic’s family.
(11) Julio Martínez Prádanos was a Chilean journalist specializing in football who had an extensive career in the written, radio and television press. Considered by many to be the greatest sports journalist Chile has ever had. He usually signed his columns under the pseudonym ‘Jota Eme’ in The Latest News, and as ‘Jumar’ in Stadium Magazine.
(12) ‘Bajo la Marquesina’ (“Under the Marquee”) (Spanish) by Jota Eme.
Las Últimas Noticias Newspaper, January 13th, 1956, page 8.
(13) ‘Palestino puntero… ‘ (‘Palestino on the top…’) (Spanish). Press clipping with unknown media and date, possibly 1955. Miodrag Stefanovic’s family archives.
(14) Old strategies and line-ups (spanish): https://www.forosperu.net/temas/historia-de-los-sistemas-de-futbol.1229443/
(15) ‘180 entrenadores reconocidos por Asociación Central. Son los que poseen títulos por la Federación de Fútbol’ (‘180 coaches recognized by the Central Association. They are the ones who hold titles awarded by the Football Federation’) (Spanish).
Press clipping with unknown media, but is known to have been about February 05, 1958, when Miodrag received his coach title validated by the Chilean Football Federation. In possession of Miodrag Stefanovic’s family.
(16) Article with no date or media, but it was after May 12, 1957, the round of that match of the 1st round against Universidad Católica. In the possession of Miodrag Stefanovic’s family.
(17) ‘Se encuentra en Quito calificado entrenador yugoeslavo de fútbol’ (‘Skilled yugoeslavian football coach located in Quito’) (Spanish).
Article with no media or date, it was supposedly 1958 that he quit the charge of coach of San Luis de Quillota team.