Date of birth
Son to Blagoje Paunović, one of Yugoslavia’s 1968 European Championship runners-up in 1968, Veljko’s playing career took him from his beginnings in his native Serbia to the top tier in Spain, Germany, Russia and the United States.
The young forward made his professional debut at just 17 years of age with Partizan Belgrade before a move to Marbella in 1995 and a year later he joined Atlético Madrid.
Still only 20, Paunović helped Madrid reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in 1998 – knocking out Aston Villa on away goals courtesy of teammate Christian Vieri’s winner at the Vicente Calderón Stadium, only to be narrowly defeated in the two-legged semi-final by a Sven-Göran Eriksson-led Lazio side that included Alen Boksic, Pavel Nedved and Pierluigi Casiraghi.
A move to Mallorca the following season took Veljko a step closer to some European silverware when again Lazio proved his nemesis in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final – Paunović had helped his new side finish third in La Liga and knock out Chelsea in the semi-finals but lost 2-1 to the Italian giants at Villa Park in May 1999.
Following loan spells with Oviedo and then back with Mallorca again in 2001-2, he moved to Tenerife where he enjoyed a prolific season in the Segunda División, scoring 18 goals in 2002-03, before a return to Atlético Madrid and then a brief spell with Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga.
He had also represented his country, scoring for Serbia and Montenegro at Windsor Park in a 1-1 friendly draw against Northern Ireland in 2004. He was soon back playing his club football in La Liga with Getafe in 2005, recording ten goals to help them to a ninth-placed finish in the Spanish top tier.
Short playing stints with Rubin Kazan in Russia, Spanish side Almería and then back in Belgrade with Partizan – where he played a part in a cup and league double campaign - were followed by a return from retirement to feature for Philadelphia Union in the MLS in 2011.
And it was in the MLS that, after making more than 400 appearances as a player, Paunović made his mark as a manager. But not before he had won a World Cup with his home nation!
Taking charge of the Serbian Under-18s and then Under-19s, the multi-lingual manager guided Serbia to the Final of the Under-20 FIFA World Cup in 2015.
Beating the USA in the quarter-finals, then Mali in the semi-finals, Veljko’s Serbian side defeated Gabriel Jesus’ Brazil in extra-time in Auckland to lift the trophy.
That success paved the way for his return to the US, becoming Head Coach at Chicago Fire in November 2015. In Illinois, he managed midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger amongst others, and guided Fire to the end of season play-offs in 2017.