Nestor El-Maestro has managed to squeeze quite a bit into his 38 years. Born in Belgrade, Al-Taawoun’s new coach moved to England when he was just 8 years old to escape the civil war that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s.
From the south coast of England to Slovakia to CSKA Sofia to Sturm Graz, the coach is now with Al-Taawoun and settling slowly into Saudi Arabian life on and off the pitch.
“From the offers I had that were serious, Al-Taawoun was the best one so I jumped on board. It helped that I had never had an aversion to working in the Arab world and I had always followed the football here,” El-Maestro said.
“I have come from Vienna,” the 38-year-old said. “It’s one of the most picturesque cities in Europe but I have been positively surprised here. But I don’t know why I have been surprised, I shouldn’t have been. Everyone has been helpful, supportive and friendly. We have much more in common than I thought and this is more important than where the closest Starbucks is.”
“I have just moved into my apartment and that went well,” El-Maestro added. “I don’t know much about the city as I have spent most of my time so far at the hotel or training ground but everything so far in Saudi Arabia has gone as well as it could. I am enjoying being in the country and looking forward to spending more time here.”
After working with youngsters in England, El-Maestro, born as Nestor Jevtic, worked as assistant at a succession of Bundesliga clubs — Schalke 04, Hannover and Hamburg — and took his first head coach position with the Slovakian club Spartak Trnava. After winning the league title in 2018 he had spells in charge of CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria and Sturm Graz in Austria.
“For me, it was about making a name for myself in Europe and then moving over here,” he said. “It’s always been an ambition of mine to come to this part of the world. I always planned to spend a significant part of my career in this region. You can’t plan exactly, of course. So after my last job at Strum Graz, I was out of work for almost a season. The pandemic did not make things easier as I found that clubs were a lot more cautious when it came to changing managers.”
In Saudi Arabia Al-Taawoun became available after Patrice Carteron moved to Egypt to take over Zamalek.
It has been an exciting ride so far especially as it is the first time El-Maestro has worked in a Muslim country.
“Obviously I had an idea about the cultural aspects but this is the first time I have lived here and experienced it. It takes a little getting used to with the prayer times which come before everything and you have to keep that in mind when planning schedules. We will be playing very little or not at all during Ramadan but I knew that beforehand. I have big respect for the religion and the culture.”
Looking back on his globe-trotting career so far, he said: “I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world. It’s difficult for me to say what nation I belong to or where I feel at home. I’ve had a lot of criticism from Serbia about this sentiment but it is the way I feel. I don’t like to identify myself with a country. I say I am European and I am a British citizen. I love Serbia very much, still have friends and relatives over there. I adore the country, my wife is Serbian and I speak it at home with the children. I support the national team whenever they play — except when it is against England, and then I am torn.”
What also made people back home sit up was the change of name from Jevtic to El-Maestro, “The Master.”
“It has followed me throughout my whole career,” he said. “It is something I did 20 years ago. My children have the name so there’s no going back. The best way to describe or explain it is to say that I would like people to keep in mind that I did it when I was 18 and I am 38 now, and I am older and wiser. It’s one of the few teenage erratic decisions that I made and I am happy that the world only knows about one.”
The change of name was not done on a whim.
“One of the reasons I changed my name was because it was during the time of the civil war and the Milosevic era,” El-Maestro said. “We Serbians have names that are typical Yugoslav and end with ‘ic’ — Matic, Vidic etc., and I felt that it was a kind of label. I didn’t like the fact that everyone knew where I was from as soon as they heard my name.”
He hopes that one day people will know who he is from his exploits as a football coach but whatever happens, Nestor El-Maestro is determined to enjoy his experience in Saudi Arabia.