“Croatian Football Coaches Belong to Upper Echelon in Europe”

Daniela Rogulj

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Despite Slaven Bilić’s sacking from Al Ittihad this week, Croatian football coaches do not rank poorly in the wonderful world of the sport. 

Former Croatia national team coach Slaven Bilić is no longer the coach of Al Ittihad. The Saudi club has sacked Bilić after only five months, which happened after the defeat of another Croatian coach in Saudi Arabia, Zoran Mamić, reports Gol.hr on February 25, 2019. 

Bilić came to the club at the end of September, with his primary goal to win the league. But after five months with Bilić on the bench, Al Ittihad is in the relegation zone, standing eight points away from a position that ensures their safety. Although Bilić’s contract was meant to take him through 2021, his job lasted only five months. Bilić leaves the club with his assistants Aljoša Asanović, Dean Računica, Marijo Tot, Frano Leko, Danilo Butorović, Tonči Gabrić and Ivo Katušić.

“And much bigger coaches and well-known names have been sacked after a couple of months, even world champions. So this will not play a role, and it does not have to mean that he has been fired because he is a bad coach,” said Ivica Medo, a columnist for GOL.hr.

However, Saudi Arabia will still have Croatian representatives among their coaches. Zoran Mamić is very successful on the bench of the leading club of the Al Hilal League. Recall, he arrived in Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. Before him, the club was headed by Mirko Jozić and the current Croatia coach, Zlatko Dalić.

In Iran, however, is a true coaching deity Branko Ivanković, who is very successful in running Persepolis, while Zlatko Kranjčar sits on the bench of the U-23 Iranian national team. In Saudi Arabia is Krunoslav Jurčić. Nikola Jurčević has recently been appointed the coach of Azerbaijan, while Robert Prosinečki has been successful on the bench of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“This contingent opened up in the Arab world and Iran, but they were before. We know that Ćiro Blažević, Tomislav Ivić and Poklepović worked there, and they all opened the way for this younger generation,” said Medo.

In the stronger European leagues, Croatia currently has only two representatives. Ivan Leko leads Club Brugge, while the only Croatian coach at a top football club is Niko Kovač, who is at the helm of Bayern Munich.

“We have a strong coaching guild in all of these countries. You have to have a strong lobby, terribly strong managers to help you break through, and your career as a player,” explained Medo.

Last season’s statistics of Croatian experts in Europe were even better. Croatia also had representatives in Serie A, in the Turkish league, and Russia. And part of the story lies in the work of the Football Academy, headed by Vatroslav Mihačić.

“46 trainers with the UEFA Pro license work as head coaches or as part of the headquarters, or assistants to these trainers in different countries of Europe or Asia. Apart from those traditionally strong coaching countries such as Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands or Italy. Certainly Croatian coaches, that is, the Croatian coaching regiment belongs to the upper echelon of coaches in Europe,” said Mihačić

And there is no reason Croatian coaches won’t stay in the upper echelon of European football because, in Croatia, an entirely new generation of future football coaches are in training today. 

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