European dreams firing Degenek in Red Star return

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Milos Degenek can almost taste the elixir of a second successive UEFA Champions League group stage campaign, as his return to Red Star Belgrade promises to bear instant fruit.

Only Switzerland’s Young Boys stand in the way of another grapple with glory for the Socceroos defender, who was part of the Red Star side which upset eventual champions Liverpool 2-0 at the group stage last season.

Back with the Serbian giants for a second spell on a season-long loan from Saudi outfit Al Hilal, Degenek has already made his mark: playing the full 120 minutes and scoring in the penalty shootout as Red Star nudged past FC Copenhagen to reach the final qualifying round.

Not withstanding what he describes as a positive experience in the Middle East, Europe is once more a destination full of potential delights for Degenek.

“We’re of course guaranteed European football but we want the bit extra and that’s the Champions League,” he said.

“We’re all pushing in the same direction to get there again but Young Boys are a very strong team and it will be tough for us, especially since we’ve got some injuries and suspensions affecting some of our main players.

“We played 70 minutes with 10 men against Copenhagen and lost players to injury in that one but we pulled through and we’re looking to the same again (starting with Thursday’s first leg in Bern).

“Last season was great - we had the Champions League and won the (domestic) league, although of course I left halfway through to go to Saudi Arabia.

“But the chance is there again to play the big boys and there’s big prestige in that.”

Degenek isn’t certain whether he’ll return to the Kingdom or not but has no regrets over a move which raised a few eye brows at the time.

“Everything I do in my life I take positively and my experience there was no different,” he added.

“It was something new, something different. I’m happy to have done that and I think my six months there helped me develop as a person and also as a footballer.

“I’m here on loan and we’ll see how things pan out in terms of where I head off to, where I stay or where I go back to.”

A key Socceroo under Graham Arnold, Degenek is likely to figure prominently in the qualification campaign for Qatar 2022 which kicks off in Kuwait on September 11.

With Bailey Wright suffering a long term injury and Trent Sainsbury bereft of minutes at PSV Eindhoven, Degenek is looking to build a portfolio of performances at club level to prepare for the battles that lie ahead.

“It’s exciting and it’s vital for us to get off to a winning start and I’m looking forward to a positive campaign ahead,” he added.

“There will be competition for spots with Mark Milligan and Trent Sainsbury there and of course Mat Jurman too.
“That’s how it is. They’re all very good players and competition is healthy.

“I think we’ll get through the group (which also includes Nepal, Jordan and Chinese Tapai) without any problems.

“Our mentality is key and the focus is to get this over and done with as clean as possible.

“We’re looking forward to being dominant in the group.”

Degenek views Arnold as much as a mentor and confidante as a coach.

“I think he’s a very good person and a very good coach,” he said.

“He’s open minded and helps you every step of the way. He’s helped me make some of the choices in my life a lot easier when I speak to him about things that are football related but also outside of football.

“He’s been very good for me and I enjoy working with him.”