Baresi, Koeman, Laudrup, Neville, de Boer, Inzaghi are all big footballing names with strong fraternal associations. Some of the finest chapters of football history have been written by brothers, whether they played in the same era or not, for the same team like Gary and Phil Neville or even for fierce cross-city rivals like Giuseppe and Franco Baresi.
Expand the footballing brother count to three and there are notably fewer examples of this phenomenon. Currently there’s three active Pogbas and Hazards, but like the trio of Maradona brothers in the 1980s there’s a sense that some of the younger siblings are only known through the reflected glory of their illustrious big brothers. Not so with a trio of talented Yugoslav brothers who loom large in the region’s footballing history: the Milutinovićs.
Probably the best known of the trio in western Europe is Velibor, or Bora as he is more commonly known, who made his name as a dependable and resourceful manager leading different national teams at five successive World Cup tournaments. Lesser-known is Bora’s late eldest brother Miloš, one of the greatest Yugoslav footballers of all times and perhaps its finest winger. Between Miloš and Bora was Milorad, a confident sweeper who was called up for his nation at the 1958 World Cup and made nearly 200 appearances during the 1950s and early 1960s for Partizan Belgrade.
Born in the picturesque town of Bajina Bašta on the river Drina in south western Serbia, the Milutinović brothers endured a difficult early childhood with the loss of both parents: their father during WW2 and their mother to tuberculosis just after the conclusion of hostilities. Miloš, Milorad, Bora and their sister Milena were raised by an aunt in the poor mining town of Bor in eastern Serbia.
“We were raised by an aunt, the street and football. I don’t even remember my parents,” Bora would recall in an interview many years later. From a very young age all three brothers showed huge potential on the pitch along with good manners and and a genuine humbleness off it.
Miloš’s technical skills were particularly compelling; his rare amalgam of versatility, creativity and pace allowed him to assist and score from almost every attacking position with elegant ease. These qualities earned him the nickname of ‘Blond Buzzer’ and a first contract with the modest third-tier club FK Bor. The turning point in the life of the Milutinović family came in 1952 when FK Partizan Belgrade acquired Miloš with his star in the ascendency and gave him freedom to showcase his considerable attacking prowess. This proved to be a contentious move however and only came about after an epic battle between Partizan and their bitter rivals Red Star for his signature that involved the army, the secret service and a range of important political figures of the time.
One of the factors that swung the decision in Partizan’s favour was the offer of a playing contract to Milorad. With Miloš cast in the assumed role of head of the family at the age of just 19, so the better to keep an eye on his younger brother.
With his professional and personal life more settled, this gave Miloš the confidence to make quite the name for himself at Partizan. He shone in what was the first-ever European Cup tie away to Sporting Lisbon, scoring two goals and being voted man of the match in a 3-3 draw. The second leg further announced his rare talent with Milutinović scoring four fine goals and leading his club to the next round of the competition.
The Quarter Final draw pitched Partizan against mighty Real Madrid boasting players of the calibre of Puskas, Di Stefano and Gento, but it was the performance of Partizan’s flying winger that put those stars in the shade. Miloš scored twice in the opening ten minutes at the Bernebeu only to see the referee disallow both strikes for reasons unclear. Madrid president Santiago Bernabeu wrote about the performance some years later in his memoirs:
“It was unbelievable, we were in big trouble! The referee couldt deny as many goals as Miloš could score. He was truly amazing to watch”
The game ended in a highly flattering 4-0 scoreline to Madrid. In the second leg in Belgrade Milutinović was again in devastating form, scoring two unstoppable goals and inspiring his teammates to an ultimately unsatisfying 3-0 win. On a personal level his return of 8 goals from just 4 fixtures ensured he finished as the inaugural top scorer in that season’s competition.
Collective and individual accolades continued to accumulate for Miloš, especially once he emerged as a vital player for the Yugoslavia national team. If it hadn’t been for the law in the republic that banned players moving abroad before turning 28, he would surely have signed for Real Madrid. Instead he was obliged to continue in the black and white of Partizan for another couple of seasons. A disappointing loss to West Germany in the Quarter Finals of the 1958 World Cup would be the last of Miloš’s 33 appearances for his country at the age of just 25.
Just a few months later and now playing for OFK, Miloš was diagnosed with tuberculosis – the very disease that was responsible for the death of his mother. TB was still a lethal killer in Yugoslavia back then and it was an intervention from the west that saved the winger’s career. The then little-known West German club Bayern Munich stepped in and offered to make him their first-ever foreign player in a deal which included paying for his medical treatment.
Bayern’s farsighted benevolence was rewarded as he went on the become one of the finest foreign players in their history, despite never quite recapturing the same levels of form he had demonstrated before his illness. A spell in Paris followed in the mid 1960s with firstly Stade Français then Racing Club before a return to his homeland at the age of 35 after a decade abroad.
He rejoined OFK Belgrade and teamed up with his lifelong friend and fellow legendary veteran Dragoslav Šekularac. Newspaper articles from August 1968 show that 33,000 fans turned up at the Karaburma Stadium to witness the first game of the season featuring the pair and Miloš, of course, did the occasion justice by scoring and helping his team to victory.
His younger brother Milorad had followed him to OFK the first time before their careers took different paths when he returned to Partizan in 1960, the same year the youngest brother Bora joined the club to play in midfield. Between 1960 and 1963 Milorad and Bora played many times together in a team nicknamed ‘the Steam Roller’ because of its powerful attack. When Milorad turned 28 he exercised his right to move abroad, but Bora stayed at Partizan and was still registered with the club in the 1965-66 season when it reached the Final of the European Cup. An irregular player by this stage, a few months before the Final against Real Madrid in Brussels he joined OFK on loan which meant that all three brothers played for both these clubs at some stage of their careers.
If Miloš was comfortably the most talented of the footballing brothers, there’s no doubt that Bora went on to have the most impressive managerial career. Milorad tried his hand in this area too but only took charge of one club, Switzerland’s Neuchatel Xamax, before retiring in 1968 and living out his life peacefully until his death in 2015. Miloš fared better, especially in charge of his favourites at Partizan whom he led to a domestic title in 1983 after the club had endured a half-decade trophy drought. He returned to Partizan one last time in 1990 but stood little chance of making an impression against the all-conquering Red Star side of the era. Miloš passed away in 2003.
The only living Milutinović brother is Bora who made quite the name for himself in international football, leading Mexico, Costa Rica, the USA, Nigeria and China at successive World Cups between 1986 and 2002. He proved himself to be an excellent organiser of modest sides and took all of his teams except China out of the group stages. His involvement on the grandest of world stages ensured that the famous Milutinović name remained relevant in the world game after half a century of achievement on the pitch and in the dugout.