Dalić Opens Soul About Life After World Cup Success

Daniela Rogulj

How is life for Zlatko Dalić after leading Croatia to their historic World Cup success? The coach opens his soul to 24 Sata on July 20, 2018. 

A casually dressed Zlatko Dalić sits at a cafe below the football stadium in Varaždin. His phone rings. 

“Oh, Rakitić is calling me. Let me just answer, then we can begin.”

They spoke for a few minutes. Ivan is in Barcelona with his family.

“Ivan, I wish everybody well, say hi to the girls. Bye,” said Dalić and ended the conversation.

“I talk to the players. I’m trying to find out if they are alive, ha, ha … I’ve heard from Vrsaljko, Perišić, I want to congratulate them all on this… Luka Modrić, who won the Champions League and became a World Cup finalist, told me he had never experienced this before.”

While sitting at the cafe, Dalić signed dozens of shirts, Croatian flags, children’s caps, scarves… Everyone wanted to take his picture, get his signature, shake his hand.

Is it that great being Zlatko Dalić? 

The real question affecting the entire nation is whether he will remain as Croatia’s coach.

“The decision is in me, I had it before the World Cup. But when I came to Croatia, when I saw the joy of the people, then they were the most important to me – the ordinary man. And now I have to rethink that decision. Not because of me, but because of the emotions of these people. I have the right to fail these people. My only goal was the World Cup, I went through some things I had never been through. I was silent, suffering in myself, I was suffering from things I would never have. I’m independent, but Croatia is my dream. I went through some things, but I did not forget them. The staff and I disagreed for four months! That’s the first thing. The second thing, in America, after the Peru game, they wanted a change – they called me by phone and wanted a change. Fortunately, there were smart people who stopped it. There are so many things… Someone says something, then they are immediately writing press releases and attacking me, and nobody defends me. They don’t need to defend me, I will defend myself. But I cannot allow myself to change again, I’m too precious to have someone play with me. Šuker has been remarkable to me, he always asked ‘how is this one, how is that one.’ He simply said, ‘It’s yours and it’s working’. But I’m not talking about him, but about the people beside him. HNS must protect the coach. That hit me. I did not react because I had the ultimate goal in mind. Even after America, I said that. But I’ll have time to think. I will decide exclusively, with no one else. I called the players, they are my family,” Dalić said. 

But what if the players don’t want you to leave?

“I do not want that to potentiate anything. I’ve gone through some things, I told you, but I did not forget them. I have not forgotten them and I won’t. You know, it’s best to leave when you’re at the top… And I bow down to Zidane, who left after winning three Champions League titles in a row. I’ll still think about it. I’m not in balance, I’ve decided, but after this celebration, I have to decide again. I cannot work if I know that they want a new coach after the first defeat and will be calling around, then I have no idea. It did not happen by accident… And after Greece, they wanted to change me as the coach, and there were ten people around who heard it, and no one reacted. I know more than some people think, I know they called the players after the Peru defeat. But it’s not important now… If it could be better, it should. If someone is threatening me, telling me to work a certain way, wants to remove me as a coach, what do I need? Come on, I ask you, what do I need? The most ideal thing to do is to go now and come back once.”

Is there a club offer on the table?

“What kind of offer? Especially when Croatia is concerned, I have never been interested in money. I earned it. My family and I are not megalomaniacs, we live modestly. But I would like to go to some club in Europe and do something. But an offer is not at all essential in my choice. Unless Real or Barcelona called, but for the money, I would not go. I want respect. I give it to everyone. I have a contract for two more years, but I will decide if I’ll go. Give me a few more days to sit down and decide. I don’t want that to be the main thing now, I just want to tell you what bothered me. I’ve written my name in blood, now two or three are deciding my destiny. Well, they will not. I have created everything myself and I will go if I need to.”

Zlatko united Croatia and returned the national team to the people, but one thing, apart from his relations with particular people, continues to bother him.

“I was not happy after the final, and I am still sorry for the team. Croatia had to be the world champion, they had to! I was not happy on the plane, but when I saw the party, it was a little easier for me. But we still have to complain, we had to be world champions… We were better, the ref called a penalty which you don’t call in the final. The ref turned to the camera five times, and if you are not sure, you don’t call it. And that bit us, and we did not have the power to return. I will never get over that final, it will be in my head forever, but Croatia is the world champion.”

Have you watched anything from the final?

“I haven’t and I won’t! You know I haven’t even seen any goals? I have not seen anything from the final, not even the goals. I can’t watch it. We had to be the champions. I did not even see the foul on Griezmann…”

And you know the conversation wouldn’t pass without talk of Mark Perkovic Thompson and the controversy surrounding his appearance on Croatia’s bus during their Zagreb homecoming. 

“Ninety percent of people sing ‘Lijepa li si’ and now the five percent of people it bothers gets to make a decision? You will not! The players said they wanted that song and they would get that song. And now that five percent of people are against us? When we go to the stadium, the bus plays ‘Lijepa li si’. And what’s wrong with that? The homeland, love, emotion, the state, unity… I come to the dressing room before going out to the field, and they’re singing ‘Lijepa li si’. And they’re singing it inside the stadium. When we finish the game and win, we sing it again. What’s the problem here? These five percent who want to change it, who cares. And to decide with whom and how I will celebrate? Well, you will not. I do not decide what these people listen to at their parties. If you don’t agree, then don’t come to the Square. But respect someone else. We did not send negative messages. It was about emotions, love. And now someone wants to take it away. Well, you will not. Not from me nor the players.”

Can Croatia capitalize on this moment in some way? Perhaps the economy might blossom?

“If we do not use it, then I do not know when we will – then we are completely incompetent. I do not see the purpose of everything if we do not capitalize on it… But, unfortunately, we are dealing with the question of who sang. He who deserved to sing did, and he who the players wanted, sang… Luka said, ‘I want this and that’, there is no negative. I’m neither left nor right, only for Croatia. Instead of using this, we’re dealing with who sang, and who cares who sang? Stay home. Do I ask anyone at a party who is singing? In Bihać there is a great inscription for Croatia. Is not that a pride? And they are wondering who sang? How are you not ashamed as a million people celebrate? If there were 30 of us in Varaždin or 150 in Zagreb, fuck it, okay, but there were 600,000 people and they’re asking who sang?”

Can the team’s communion bring back Nikola Kalinić?

“I will not talk about that. That’s my defeat and failure. We decided he gets a medal, whether he takes it or not is another thing.”

But if Nikola apologizes, are you ready to call him to the team again?

“I’m a Catholic, I forgive. I can’t forget some things, but of course, I will forgive him.”

So, he’s on the move?

“I’m never the first to move, and never the first to shoot.”

The next challenge is the European Championships in 2020.

“Yes. And I am convinced that this generation can be a European champion. I’m sure of that. If everything goes well, the whole generation should stay together. Luka Modrić? He can still take the Euro, surely. Such material, constitution, he certainly can. If he will, I do not know. He’s the best in the world, he won four Champions League titles, what more? What’s next? But when you see people on the streets crying and jumping for you… That’s unthinkable. That’s his motivation.”

This same generation was at the Euros in France two years ago, when Croatia fell out in the round of 16. Do you know why?

“I’ve heard about why we were not the champions in France, but I will not tell you. Because when I talk to the players, I ask them a lot of things, but only to know which way I’ll go, the wrong or right. And there is regret that they were not the champions.”

What did you bring to the team to make them World Cup finalists?

“I can’t teach them to play football. If I taught them, I’d lose everything. After Nigeria I realized we could be the champions, there was that click. By then I was pushing them, but since then they pushed me.”

How did you sleep the night before the final?

“It was the brightest night. I slept the best. Before Denmark, my meeting with the players lasted for a minute, which was the toughest match. Denmark was the biggest test. Because if we lost, what have we done? Nothing. Which would mean three wins in the group? Nothing. And gave up a goal in the first minute. Before the match, I called them and said, ‘Guys, this is your match, you do not need me’. I showed them videos of our goals, celebrations, and videos of the Croatian Army… And that was it. I was happy when I learned he was not going to play Larsen and removed him from the team. I did not see him in the team, and I said – great. The other came in and killed us from the sidelines. We were not prepared for that long throw-in.”

Can you make the ideal World Cup starting 11? And how many Croatian players would you choose?

“All 11.”

And the left back?

“Yeah. What left back is better than ours? Marcelo? He attacks and forgets how to defend. After all, they were eliminated before the final.”

After the final, Pogba came up to you. What did he tell you?

“Pogba came up to me and took my hand, told me we were a great team. He met me later in the corridor and brought me a jersey. I’m surprised, but I’m proud. Because when your rival confesses that to you, that is it. France was the champion, but they were not better than us. It was quite emotional. Otherwise, I cried after Russia, I could not hold it. There was a lot of stress, and I always have control, but then I lost it.”

How did you choose players for penalties?

“I’ve always had four certain players. The fifth was Pivarić, Rebić said he would not shoot. Vida was that player against Russia. I never say who shoots the penalty, they always decide among themselves. Luka against Denmark? I said to him, ‘Luka, you’re going to score a penalty in the shootout.’ And even if I did not tell him, he would shoot and score. I really believe in them. I have confidence in them. And I was really sorry for some players. It wasn’t easy for Ćorluka and Badelj on the bench. Miki was my man in the first 11 but circumstances changed it and I’m so sorry. I told him I’m sorry. And when I called him to play against England, he sprinted and came in for three minutes. I was most sorry about Badelj, but Brozović played great. Ćorluka realized that Vida and Lovren played well.”

Were you scared someone would fall off the bus during the Zagreb homecoming?

“I was at the bottom of the bus for most of the ride, then I saw that they were moving a little too close to the edge on top, the rain started, it was slippery, and I went up to control it a bit. It was dangerous, especially when we entered Savska. Wires, transmission lines, electricity… My hand was always on Vida’s pants, and Luka watched him, Suba saved him from falling. We all looked after each other, that’s the same reflection of everything. Someone shouted, ‘Watch out for the overpass, so we all lied down’. That’s it. It is communion.”

Are you thinking about writing a biography, or some memoirs from Russia?

“No, I’m not Ćiro. What will I do? Obviously, I’m not aware of it. I can’t wait for all of this to end so I can rest. Today I was at Konzum and I couldn’t get out.”

What is the secret of your success?

“I’m not a magician, I’m just doing a job. I’m human, I’m honest.”


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