Veljko Paunovic was named the Chicago Fire Soccer Club’s head coach on Nov. 24, 2015. He joined the Men in Red after leading Serbia to a FIFA U-20 World Cup championship in 2015. The young, rising star in the coaching ranks took over Serbia’s U-18, U-19 and U-20 squads in August of 2012, one year after retiring from a 16-year playing career that spanned several top leagues, including one season in Major League Soccer.
Paunovic’s Serbian squad was noted for its resiliency during the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup. They defeated Mali and Mexico 2-0 to finish atop Group D. Paunovic then navigated the knockout phase with four-consecutive extra-time wins. They opened with a 2-1 result against Hungary and then polished off the United States in penalty kicks before advancing to the final 2-1 over Mali. In the final, Serbia upset powerhouse Brazil 2-1 to earn the country its first world title at any level as an independent nation.
On Dec. 21, 2015, the Serbian Football Association honored Paunovic as Serbia's 2015 Coach of the Year.
In addition to his World Cup successes, Paunovic guided Serbia to third at the 2014 UEFA U-19 European Championship. His squad finished on top of both of its qualification groups to reach the final tournament. Serbia then drew with Ukraine and Germany and beat Bulgaria to reach the knockout round. Paunovic’s team gave eventual runners-up Portugal a match, but ultimately bowed out in penalty kicks in the semifinals.
Quickly recognized as a dynamic leader and strong strategist, Paunovic was also brought on to work with the senior national team in 2015, assisting with their organization and communication across all levels.
Paunovic holds a UEFA PRO coaching license as well as a Sporting Director degree from the Royal Spanish Football Federation. He speaks six languages, including: English, Spanish, Serbian, Macedonian, Russian and German. Paunovic also spent nine months as a UEFA Champions League analyst for TVE in Spain.
As a player, Paunovic enjoyed a long, successful career with 11 teams in Serbia, Spain, Germany, Russia and the United States. He racked up 76 goals in 358 appearances over that time, and earned two caps with the Serbia and Montenegro national team.
A loan in 1998 led to another milestone moment, as Paunovic won the Spanish Super Cup with Mallorca, besting FC Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate. After seven more seasons in Spain, as well as stops in Hannover (Bundesliga) and Rubin Kazan (Russian Premier League, Paunovic ultimately returned to where it all began in 2008. He made nine appearances for Partizan to close the season, helping them to a league championship and Serbian Cup. Paunovic retired following the 2008 season, but returned in 2011 as a member of the Philadelphia Union.