July 23, 2018 — The afterglow of Croatia’s second-place finish at the World Cup has worn off.
Its familiar juxtaposition of beauty and confounding illogic is back. Now, with silver medals!
Hi! Welcome to Croatia!
We got second place in the World Cup! Remember? You probably Google-d us some time during the last month.
You may not know this, but we were in a bit of a bind going into that tournament. Our football federation and league were in the throes of a graft scandal which threatened to torpedo our entire World Cup spirit. Things outside the football world weren’t too nice either.
The country was enduring a lasting demographic crisis. Empty job openings festered until companies started shipping workers in from outside the country. Even our precious tourism industry wasn’t immune.
Oh, everything was going to hell. Well, everything’s different now!
Because our checker-bannered boys made it all the way to the last match — even though they wore their dark-blue away kits for most of the World Cup.
We dominated a final we ultimately lost, going down 4-2 to a ruthless France squad which capitalized on our mistakes.
Oh, we remember! You probably do too!
Well, until they looked a little closer and saw a goateed ragamuffin who put aside his prop machine gun to mingle amongst the players.
Was that? Oh yes, it was — the beloved and be-hated nationalist rock guru Marko “Thompson” Preković. He also grunted out his most famous tune at the team’s Zagreb bacchanal.
His presence — championed by the players themselves — immediately tainted the celebrations and staunched the flood of good will washing over Croatia. Just like Thompson’s alleged rock bonafides should have been staunched after he swiped an ABBA melody.
But everything’s different now. Seriously!
Remember our best player, Luka Modrić? He was also the tournament’s Golden Ball winner! To some, he may be the best player on the planet now.
He still faces a perjury trial on account of allegedly switching his testimony to benefit Croatian football’s grand don Zdravko Mamić, who was convicted for effectively using Croatia’s best homegrown football talent like a human trafficker.
Mamić enriched himself illegally while embezzling funds through the nation’s only legitimate football powerhouse, Dinamo Zagreb. Before the tournament, he was facing extradition proceedings from his hideaway in Bosnia, which he bolted to a day before his verdict was read. Well, the tournament’s over now and Bosnia’s prosecutors said Mamić won’t be coming back anytime soon.
But hey, after the tournament, Modrić’s trial was moved to Zagreb — where Dinamo’s effect on the economy, the personal ties between city’s populace and club, as well as Mamić’s still-slithering tentacles may augment the definition of “justice.”
Hey, remember Modrić’s goal against Argentina?! That’s a sign that everything’s different now!
You remember us though, right? With all those hard-to-pronounce names ending in -ić? Our players all got a nice spool of cash. You might have heard they were donating their winnings, much like England!
Well, no. They won’t.
No, but really, everything’s different now!
Before the tournament, an unexpectedly-flush government was promising expenditure and tax reforms. Our Vatreni played well enough to create a mad rush for a new, official national football stadium. Then people remembered sick children sometimes go without medicine here and the government got cold feet.
Those plans got put on hold.
So ok, we might not get a new stadium. But still, everything’s different now!
The government did find the scratch to shell out 220 million kuna of precious tax revenue on a fleet of 1,000 new cars — more than half of which will be for personal use. Perhaps they bought a few extra, because automobiles go aquatic this time of year.
See, new cars! Everything’s changed!
The media loved our kit-sporting über-fan of a president though! Remember her?
Sopping wet in the rain, hugging all those players with a matronly spirit and disarming charm that made the world melt at her feet? Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the World’s Soccer Mom!
Some of you confused her for Ice T’s wife and in effect turned her into a Soccer MILF. Man, did we find that funny!
Some closer inspection by the foreign press has worn off the patina. Grabar-Kitarovic’s knack for populism which skirts the lines of nationalism has come to light — from her requests for Bosnian election reform to love of Thompson. Some outside media outlets began wondering what made the president so emotive.
No, but ignore all that cause everything’s changed now!
As a tourism-dependent nation of four million, we’re happy you’ve all taken an interest in our lovely coastline and beautiful islands. Even David Beckham was perhaps among the many to Google us and presumably impulse-holiday here. So be like the British Donald Trump and stop on by!
Besides, they’re going up cause everything’s better now!
Our economy is improving! As the EU’s youngest member, we have reaped the benefits of having to share in embargoes which benefit the bloc as a whole but allegedly hurt our farmers. Even our Economy Minister Darko Horvat said investments could help create 10,000-15,000 jobs over the next several years. Most of them probably won’t be in construction.
Given the rate of emigration — about 47,000 last year — Horvat’s prediction should be enough jobs for all the Croatians left in the next five years!
Speaking of people leaving, our manager Zlatko Dalić has been non-committal about sticking with this stellar squad. He says he’s made up his mind about his next move, and some speculate he doesn’t feel welcome at the football federation. Perhaps he can use his managerial tactics on Croatia’s shipyards.
Everything’s changed now!
Before the World Cup, Mario Mandzukić’s hometown Slavonski Brod had a Flint-like water crisis, after a chemical spill of some sort rendered the tap-water dangerous. The tournament’s done now, and Super Mario’s hero’s welcome was also greeted by news that nobody was responsible for poisoning the town water supply.
Remember Mandzukić’s goal against England though?!
Hey, even our water polo team is playing well!
Everything is different now!
Everything’s the same.
Let’s go race some donkeys. That should be fun.