Hey everyone, its been a while since my last in-depth post about what’s been going on in the world of football management. If you haven’t noticed something about me is that I’m always looking for a new experience. And I recently got the bug for a new challenge after winning the Champions League for the third time.
First, I want to announce that I am taking a break from my Spurs save, I want to devote my time to an international save inspired by the Copa America and the 2016 European Championship. To be honest, I’m going into this save with an open mind and zero expectations, however my new employer (Croatian Football Federation) have their own set expectations they want met while I’m in the job. Later on in the post I will discuss their expectations and what we achieved and hoping to achieve in the future
Second, I always wanted to return to international management after my short stint managing the Chilean National Team, which I left for the Bayern Munich job. Anyway, for one reason or another I didn’t have the patience to scout players who might get called up to the national team. Lets just say my attention span was not great so it made it hard to do the job effectively.
Lastly, following my success in the German and English leagues I had a change in heart and mind about international management. However, it had to be under certain condition, specifically, with a team that I support in real life. As you can see from the title I decided to apply to the Hrvatski Nogometni Savez (Croatian Football Federation) for the manager position at the senior level. Despite their skepticism over my lack of managerial experience at the international level they took a gamble and hire me on the condition that we qualified for the group stages of the 2016 Euros. But before I get into that I’d like to spend some time discussing the CFF and the some key player on the national team.
Hrvatski Nogometni Savez (Croatian Football Federation)
The CFF was founded on June 13, 1912 and is located in the country’s capital, Zagreb. The country’s affiliation with FIFA began on July 16, 1941; and with UEFA on June 16, 1993. Croatia has a reputation for producing talented athletes and some of the top footballers past ad present were products of the youth systems of GNK Dinamo Zagreb, Hadjuk Split, HNK Rijek, and NK Osijek. These are some of the notable clubs however there are others not mentioned in this post.
Croatia is also home to some famous footballers, notably Davor Suker, Luka Modric Ivan Rakitic, Darijo Srna,, Ivan Perisic, and Mario Mandzukic.
SALVADOR, BRAZIL – JUNE 05: (EDITOR’S NOTE: Image was processed using digital filters.) Luka Modric of Croatia poses during the official FIFA World Cup 2014 portrait session on June 5, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil. (Photo by Alex Livesey – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Šuker famously led the national team to a third place finish at the 1998 World Cup held in France. A product of NK Osijek’s youth system Davor went on to become one of the most celebrated and decorated footballers in his country. From 1992 to 2002 he had 69 caps and 45 international goals. At the club level he applied his trade in four countries where he had 448 combined appearances and 203 goals Dinamo Zagreb, Sevilla FC, Real Madrid, Arsenal FC, West Ham United, and TSV 1860 Munich. Currently, he is the president of the CFF a position he’s held since 2012.
Luka Modrić, Deep lying Play maker
Luka is Modrić is a one of the best central midfielders in the world, he is well known for is tactical intelligence, vision, composure, work rate and powerful shot. He currently plays for Real Madrid where he has won the UEFA Champions League twice. He earned his first cap for national team more than 10 years ago and has represented his country in 5 major tournaments: 2006 and 2014 World Cups; and 2008, 2012, and 2016 Euros.
Ivan Rakitić, Attack Midfielder
Rakitić is a Swiss born Croat that is a product of FC Basel’s youth system. He also played for Schalke 04, Sevilla FC, and currently FC Barcelona. Similar to his teammate Modrić, Ivan is well known for his incredible work rate, vision, of and movement. He was captain of Sevilla that won two consecutive Europa League titles. In addition to that, his first year at Barca he completed a treble; La Liga, Champion League, and the Copa Del Rey.
Darijo Srna, Wing-back (R)
Darijo is captain of the national team and has represented Croatia at every age level. He is a product of the GOSK Gabela and Hadjuk Split youth. Srna started out as a midfielder but overtime he began to play as a hybrid wingback which gave him freedom to drift inside. SRna played for two clubs as a professional Hadjuk Split and Ukrainian side, Shaktar Donestsk for the past 13 years. Srna, has played in the 2006 and 2014 World Cups; and 2008, 20012, and 2016 Euros. Srna is also known as a free-kick specialist often scoring sensational goals from great distances.
Perišić is another bright star produced by this county’s youth system. A product of Hadjuk Split’s youth system he is a winger with incredible pace that can be deployed as an attacking midfielder or forward. Currently, he applies his trade in Italy for FC Internazionale, and before that he was with the Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg. He’s already has 49 caps and 14 goals to his name and we’re expecting hear more from him.
Mario is by far one of the best Defensive Forwards the world and it is a privilege to work with him. He’s developed a reputation for being temperamental and unmanageable, hence why he’s been at a number of different clubs the past few years. However, at the national level he’s been professional and proud. He stands at a towering 6ft 3inches which makes him an easy target for wingers and attacking fullback and wingbacks. Below is a clip of him scoring against bitter rivals Serbia in a WCQ match in 2013:
I mentioned before that the CFF’s condition of me taking the job is that the national team qualify for the group stage for the Euros in France. Normally, under different circumstances I would’ve given some push back because I wouldn’t been setting myself up for failure. However, I thought the expectation was realistic considering I was a real supporter with a decent knowledge of both youth and senior players, so I had every right to feel confident.
Results and Fixtures
My first match in charge would be a European Qualifier match against Italy. A massive fixture against a team that we’ve met three times before and each ended in a draw. Their most recent match before this latest fixture had to be played behind doors because the first match in Italy had to aborted due to Croatian supporters unrest.
I’m happy to report that the match was incident free but it was a fierce competition that lived up to its billing. We used my customary formation, 4-1-4-1 and were able to walk away with a point after falling behind on a Balotelli goal in the 17th minute. Rather than panic we stayed true the course and fought back to get on level terms on a set-piece (Vida 31′). I realized something about my management style; I’m pragmatic and have a bit of Jose in me too, but only the good parts of him. Below are screen shots of my formations and players that fit the system.
As you can see from the screenshots above only certain players made the starting 11 only because they tended to fit better in the system. For instance, Madzukic was deployed as a defensive forward and his primary job was to harass the centre-back and defensive midfielders; and he did a magnificent job–his defensive efforts , that is win the ball back ad hold it it for the counter led to 4 goals. We also lost some key first team members to injury: Verdan Corluka, Milan Badelj, and Ivan Strinic (was reinjured red while on duty). Josip Radosevic did not have a cap prior to the tornament, but injuries to Badelj led to him getting called up, the same goes for keeper, Maric Delac; Subasic was hurt in the Italy match and Maric stepped in and never looked back. Tin Jedvaj had a magnificent tournament, to be honest, I preferred him over Lovren due to his tactical awareness and versatility. Overall, I was very happy with the squad and their performance in the 2016 Euros.
Quarter Final and Semi-Final Result
Final Thoughts and Assessment
My time managing the Croatian National team has been absolutely delightful, so much that I’ve decided to stay on and manage them for the 2020 World Cup Qualifiers. I’ve found that the players possession a good amount of technical ability to go far in the tournament if they qualify the tournament to be held in Russia. I am excited about the up and coming younger generation of players who I will be calling up to the Senior squad over the next few years. Below are screenshots of young players that have caught my eye since taking over the side:Conclusion
Thanks for taking the time to read the post and I will try to not to let so much time pass in between each post. But I want to leave you with a highlight of our first WCQ match against the Ukraine. Enjoy and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments.