Zlatko Dalic: "We Are the National Team of Croatia, Not Just One City"

By 28 December 2018

"My wish in the new year is to pass through the group stage in Russia. It will not be the end of the world if we fail, although I know what I'm waiting for in this case. Humiliation, underestimation, a national tragedy. I'm ready for everything. From the fans, I would like for them to be with us." Just one year ago, this is how Zlatko Dalic responded to what he hoped for in 2018. reports on December 27, 2018, that behind Dalic are the most intense days of his career. He was called by Robert Markulin, one of the key Federation operatives, and asked if he would be the Croatia national team coach. Dalic was in Japan with Al Ain, and only a few in Croatia knew what he was doing there. 

The strongest generation of Croatian football was without the games, coach and points they needed for placement at the World Cup. Dalic came as a nobody, and most importantly, not by the hands of Zdravko Mamić. 

“I did not have, and I do not have contact with Mamić, my bosses are Davor Šuker and Damir Vrbanović, and that is the hierarchy I respect. I'm happy, and I have everything I need. I came to that slowly and patiently. From the first day of my career, I had one goal. Be a trainer first and do something, and after Rijeka, I can go abroad and go from a smaller to a bigger club... My career may be an example of how a career should look. To get to the status of a coach, I needed 12 years of hard work. I did not reach the Croatia national team after a year or several official matches. I can work in Barcelona tomorrow, but for me, the Croatia national team is number one. Listening to the anthem is invaluable, and nothing compares to it.“

When he first stood in front of the cameras in his new coaching role, Croatia traveled to Kiev where they had a World Cup playoff game in front of 70,000 viewers. Dalic, however, was fully prepared and claims he had been preparing for that role for the last ten years.

"I had a vision of how Croatia should play, but my speech before you, the journalists and players at the airport before the flight to Kyiv was crucial. If I was restrained, then I did not persuade you and my players to win. The question is what would happen, I said I was not afraid, I showed authority. Thus, a wave of positivity came in. Everyone wondered what was possible, what happened in two days. But it is no magic; it is the merit of players who felt that Ukraine was the last train. On my side, I got support and the initiative. I can do anything, but if the team is not quality, then I cannot do anything. Then I'm zero. So the merits belong to the players. And this is how I want to bring these guys up,” says Dalic, who stands ahead of us today as a world leader, the best coach of Europe and the second best coach in the world.

Then, all Dalic wanted was to pass the group stage and bring back the national team to the fans. Today, Dalic is asked the same question. What does he want in the next year?

"Yes, today it is incredible to hear what we talked about a year ago, you know, that was our reality then. We were the 18th best team in the world, and we wanted to be world champions, and this is the best year in the history of Croatian sport. It is difficult to repeat, but we have to do everything to succeed. We have ambitions, the synergy of the staff, players and fans. The main goal is to advance to the Euro. The end of this year was again stressful, and we lost 6:0 to Spain in the Nations League. That game came too soon, but later we showed that we have no reason to fear.”

Will Dalic build the team from the ground up or gradually regenerate the squad with younger players? Where does he see the most significant problems?

"We have a strong team that must be refreshed by young players, but some of the younger players are not standard, and that's the problem. I hope that by March and the beginning of qualifications this will change. Ahead of me is a big challenge, we are the favorite in the group, but we have to be careful and seriously understand our opponents. We are not entitled to a mistake from March to November. We are the favorite, the second best in the world, and we have to justify it. The summer behind us was wonderful, but we must keep going.”

What was the most remarkable moment for Dalić in Russia?

"I'm not a speaker or a writer, I'm a football fan, but I wanted some things to remain written forever, because in Croatia we often forget things. There were a lot of difficult moments, but the match against Denmark was the hardest. When we survived that... Although, half a year after the draw, my focus was only on Nigeria, that match was ‘to be or not to be’. Argentina was the trigger, then it all started, and we know how it ended. Indescribable. I have said many times that more important than the silver is the unity we have produced. Pride, emotions, happiness, spontaneity that can be difficult to repeat. Our children were wearing Barcelona and Real jerseys before, but today the whole world wears the jerseys of Croatia. There are a few of us, and we do wonders in the world. Waterpolo, sailing, athletics, handball and other sports brought us a lot of fun. Croatia must always be happy and work together, we have great and talented people."

Does Dalic still receive offers to leave Croatia?

"There are offers, which is logical for the second best coach in the world. But my feeling is different. For seven years I did not have the summer, Christmas, friends, the sea. I'm not running after money; I'm fine. I'm staying here and I'm proud. This is the happiest job I can have, and while I do, I want to be home, work together and play football. If that changes, I'll go."

When will the national team come to Poljud?

“I do not see any obstacles with that. I would be delighted to return the team to Poljud. People from Dubrovnik, Solin, Omiš, Primošten and all of Dalmatia want to see Croatia in Split. Croatia wants to play in Split. And I'm always happy to come to Split. I feel great here, I am a Hajduk supporter, and I'm not hiding it."

Is Dalic for building a national stadium?

"I think it's a mistake to talk about a national stadium. We need a Croatia stadium in Split, Osijek, Rijeka, Varaždin. Each Croatian stadium is a national stadium. We are the national team of Croatia and not a national team of just one city. This is what all Croats deserve in Croatia. It is true that we have to invest more in sports because sport promotes Croatia in the world. Everyone knows about Croatia because of its athletes. We need to invest the funds, but also have the motivation to use them.”

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