Dalić Comments on Retired Players, New Strategy, and Disappointment in Croatian Clubs

Daniela Rogulj

The goal is the Euro; We need new energy, strength; It’s irrelevant if we lose to Portugal and Spain; Kalinić? It’s his move. 

A month and a half after the phenomenal World Cup silver, the Croatia national team will meet for the first time since their global achievement. The team will play a friendly against Portugal on September 6 before opening the new UEFA Nations League against Spain on September 11, reports Goal.hr on September 1, 2018. 

There will be no more Mandžukić, Subašić and Ćorluka who have retired from the national team, Strinić’s career is temporarily on hold, and Rebić, Kramarić and Lovren are injured. Duje Ćaleta-Car is playing for the U21s, while Rakitić is relieved from Portugal and will only face Spain. Then again, Croatia does have the best footballer in Europe – Luka Modrić.

“He is a great man, always ready to help others. He has not changed from that award, nor Real, nor from conquering the Champions League, nor from the luck of the World Cup, He has gone a long way from Zrinski, Inter… the right path players should take. Not like most who go overseas at age 18, and most of that ends badly. Luka went the hard way, and when he matured as a player, he went abroad. Retiring from the national team? In our conversations, this question has never been raised. He still has the strength and the team needs him, as a captain, a player, and a man. It would be too soon to retire, and the next European Championship is ideal for him,“ Zlatko Dalić said, and also commented on the criticism from Ronaldo’s manager about Luka winning the most prestigious UEFA award. 

“It’s not worthy of a comment. It shows what I’m constantly saying: Ronaldo is an egoist, and I would never want him in my team! Just look at yourself! These are the players who think ‘As long as I score, it doesn’t matter if we lose’.” 

Dalić revealed how hard it was for Mandžukić to retire. 

“We were a family. Everyone who is no longer in this family will be missed. The three of them, especially because they carried the atmosphere, the game… And Mandžo especially because he had some crucial goals. But, I did not even try to persuade Mandžukić to stay. I know how he is. Imagine, he called me one night and started talking, asking me things that didn’t matter, we talked like friends. Then he called me the following morning, and I thought ‘Why is he calling again, we spoke last night?’ Well, then he told me he was retiring. Imagine, that great warrior, that fighter did not have the strength to say he was retiring, it took him the second morning to say that. After that conversation, he sent me a really wonderful message that added to what he didn’t say in the conversation. When he said he was retiring, I told him, “Thank you for everything you did for the team, I respect your decision.’ Mandžukić will be difficult to replace, but we have to look further.” 

“My goal is the European Championship. My goal is not the game against Portugal, the Nations League. I am not saying that this is not important, I am not saying that these games should not be won, but the European Championship is the real goal for us. This is the competition for the European championship. This is the competition we have to prepare for, we have to spend this time for that, these seven months to March. In this period, the team should get new energy, strength, a new motive.”

“We have to admit that the team is spent! In every segment. We are the World Cup finalists, in Russia we gave it all, now everything – as is normal – goes downhill. So we would make a big mistake if we were looking for a result now. Or if I wanted the result. We have to watch the situation and prepare for the qualifications. In that period, we have to find three or four new players to get new energy, so that we look in the Euros like we did in the World Cup. I do not want to put any pressure on the players and on myself, on the team. For me, it is irrelevant whether we lose to Portugal, Spain, and England. Expectations are often unrealistic and have cost us in the past. That’s why it’s important to have a clear goal and follow it.” 

He would like to see Rog again and give him another chance, but… 

“If the same treatment continues in his club, I’m sorry, but he will no longer be in the national team competition. I believe in that player, he is young, these are his chances, we will try a little longer but if he does not play for his club, then he cannot expect to be on the national team any longer. I could see Vida or Vrsaljko through my fingers when they did not play every game for their club, but I can’t with the young players.” 

“Strinić? He had had another test in Belgium. For me, it is not dramatic at all, though I am not into medicine. But considering the situations in the world, nobody is brave enough to risk it. I believe that everything will be fine with him and he will return to the field quickly. I gave him my full support, I told him to take a good rest and heal.”

“Nikola Kalinić? Every good player who brings more quality to Croatia and has playing time in his club is welcome! The same goes for Nikola Kalinić. But in this situation, it’s his move.”

He repeated why he stayed on the bench as the Croatia coach.

“It was certainly the ideal moment to leave. I decided to leave after the American tour. For whatever reasons, it does not matter. However, when we returned from Russia and when I saw the reactions of people, when I saw that I would betray these people, I stayed. I am a part of these people, a common man like everyone else. There were no offers, no contracts, no money. But my sense of belonging. Croatia is above all of me. The other reason was for my remaining players! We were in Russia for so long and after it, we were united. I see that they can do much more. So, I stayed for our people, fans and players! I think these players can make a good story at the Euros.”

Dalić admitted he was a bit disappointed by Croatia’s clubs in Europe.

“I was expecting more from the clubs, that all would go through, especially since Rijeka and Hajduk did not have tough opponents. The Norwegians did not have any rating in Europe, and Steaua is nothing. I wanted to see that Croatian club football follows the national team at least to some extent. Dinamo? It will be difficult, but given the climate around the club and coach Bjelica who has made it positive, there is a real chance to go through the group. After Russia, Croatia received medals in many sports, and on the waves of that Dinamo can see a European spring. But it bothers me that there aren’t more Croatian players in these clubs. How will they play with nine foreigners?! There are too many of them, and this is setting our football back. As soon as a young player plays one senior game, he leaves, and foreigners of questionable quality come to Croatia when they have nowhere else to go.” 


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