Published in Nacional number 532, 2006-01-23

Autor: Dean Sinovčić


Vlatko Markovic –Football doyen one step from the Legion of Honour

President of the Croatian Football Federation and the President of the UEFA Technical Commission speaks on his career as a player and coach, reveals details of his relations with the world’s best football players and football leaders, and announces his withdrawal from Croatian football

Michael Platini and Vlatko MarkovićMichael Platini and Vlatko Marković"I’m like a caterpillar tank, wherever I go, I leave my mark", is how Vlatko Markovic (68), President of the Croatian Football Federation (HNS), described his work as a player, coach and president. In one part of his career, in the second half of the 1970s, he left his mark while working as a coach in France. For his work there, last week he received the National Merit Order (L'Ordre National du Mérite) from French President Jacques Chirac. The Order was personally handed to him in Zagreb by Michel Platini, the best French football player of all time and Markovic's colleague from UEFA.

Vlatko Markovic has been President of HNS for the past seven years and over that period, the Federation has become very stable; showing that Markovic knows his way with money. The Croatian National Team regularly, with the exception of the European Championships in 2000, competes in world and European championships, and Croatia and Hungary have submitted a joint bid for the candidacy of host country of the 2012 European Football Championships. Markovic is very influential in UEFA and FIFA, the main world and European football organizations. On the other hand, those who think differently believe that all these successes are damaging national clubs and the result is a weaker national league and lower quality football. Markovic, a former player for Dinamo, the Yugoslav National Team and Dinamo coach, as well as a brief stint as coach of the Croatian National Team disregards these objections constantly claiming that this is an issue of a power struggle.

NACIONAL: How is it that Michel Platini handed you the Order from the French President Jacques Chirac? It is clear that your relations with Platini are not only professionally close due to your cooperation in UEFA.

- As a 17 year old from Nancy, Platini came to St. Etienne and immediately became the star player. I was then coach of Nice which was fighting for first place, as was St. Etienne. When you need to weaken the competitor's best player, each coach uses his weakest player for that task. In the club there was a player called Capadona who played quite poorly, but was a specialist for "bandages". In the championship games between Nice and St. Etienne, Platini rarely ever touched the ball. Once it occurred that, in front of my bench, Capadona slid in to Platini, after which Platini came to me and said: "Mr. Markovic, I would kindly ask that next time you do not put Capadona in my vicinity." I laughed at that and said: "Mr. Platini, I'll never do that to you again." That's how it was. At one of our next games, St. Etienne beat us; Platini played perfectly and he said to me: "Now see, this is how we should play all of our games", to which I said: "I'll return Capadona to you." That's how we got close.

NACIONAL: For which achievement did you receive this Order?

- French President Jacques Chirac personally asked Platini to hand me the Order as the Mayor of Nice, when I was coach of Nice, was a great friend of Chirac, then French Premier. When I came to France in 1974 to be coach, we went on a trip to Paris and played against PSG, and I saw that instead of 16 players, only 12 players went on the trip. Young, curious and careless as I was, I made quite a commotion in the newspapers; afterwards the presidents of the clubs, at an internal meeting, said that they knew that the foreign coach would cause problems and implement new ideas that would cost them. When the goalie would be injured, a player would stand in front of the goal, can you believe that? They calculated how much they could save on the transportation expenses with four players less. The main editor of France Football wanted to speak with me about these novelties, and I told him that this was nothing new and that this was done throughout the entire world. I was the first coach in France to have a recognized diploma to work in that country. But there the coach and player unions were the law and I had problems.

The leader of the union is still today Guy Roux, former coach of Auxerre, who was against foreigners in French football. He said that they would cause problems. I was lucky that then Stefan Kovacs, a Hungarian who was coach of Ajax, arrived to coach in France. He stood by my side. I was supported by coach Michael Hidalgo, my great friend. I also had support from the technical director of the French Federation, and my proposal passed. We were the initiators of the foundation for a center to train youth. In the first year in the first French league, they needed to have a B category hotel in their center, as well as 5-6 training fields and a large selection of children who were trained on speed, stamina and physical strength. In these centers we worked continuously; school professors came to the center so that children, who could not leave, could finish school and graduate. Their parents were quite satisfied. Proof of how rigorous these centers were is the fact that in all the centers, it was lights out and lockdown at 10:00 p.m. If any child who was allowed to go to town until 10 p.m. was late even a minute, he could not enter and he would be expelled from the center; no other center in France would accept him, meaning that he was lost from football. We did this because the largest problem in France is discipline; in private lives, in training, in preparation for games, and in games. When I arrived to be a coach in France, I saw that French players were in love with the ball and anytime a player got the ball, he would have to pass several players. My center half in Nice, in his own penalty area, would have to dribble by two or three players; this took five years of my life. Kovacs changed that when he became the national team coach for

NACIONAL: How important is this Order for France?

- No coach, especially foreign, has received this Order. That is a step towards the Legion of Honour which I, without a doubt, will receive in several years, if I am alive.

NACIONAL: You will no longer be the President of the Croatian Football Federation then because you have announced that you will step down at the end of the year when Croatia and Hungary win the joint bid to organized the European Championships in 2012. How firm is your decision?

- I said that in a joke, which does not mean that this could not be for real. I am 69 years old and fatigue is taking its toll, as is my life rhythm and the rhythm that the Federation has. It was not difficult for me. Not to praise myself, I am a hardworking man. It is not hard for me to sit in my car and go to Kamcatka if that was important for the Federation. Pilots do not pass as many kilometers as I do during flights. Every reporter has asked me when I'll leave because certain football mediocrities would love to sit in my place because they have not done anything in their lives. I did everything in my job, as a player, coach and president of the HNS. They would like to lead the Federation on the side so that people who write about them in newspapers; I don’t give interviews often and I cannot be found on television. At one point, I said that I would surely withdraw if we won the bid to organize the European Championship. Looking at the year, it might be smart that I live the next several years living more normally than I do now. It is interesting that people have been asking me that since day one, as they are used to having people sit in the Federation who consider the position to be a spin-off; this position means everything to me in my life. No one expected that I would be here for eight years, and fairly successfully at that.

NACIONAL: How did you create large influence in foreign countries, in UEFA. During the first round of voting on the hosting of the European Championships, the representatives of Turkey and Greece said that they had no idea you were so influential and successful in lobbying?

- I have been President of the UEFA Technical Commission, the most important Commission for the development of football, for the third year in a row. I am the boss of former football stars Platini, Faccheti, Simmonsen, Czech national team coach Venglos, and if someone else was their boss, that would be published everywhere. I believe this to be something normal because I was never greedy. On the other hand, I come from a wealthy family and am a good worker. I never did anything bad to anyone in my life. I was a FIFA instructor for 15 years and I never said that anywhere. Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, has been my friend for 40 years. He was also my ˝kitchen helper˝ because when I would pass through Zürich, Blatter would carry my bags to transfer them because I would immediately travel further. Therefore, my status did not emerge just yesterday; I have been in FIFA for 38 years and the UEFA for 12. I guess you can say that I did not construct my influence, I had it from before. Apart from Platini and 2-3 more, I am one of the rare former football players there. Everything else in the Executive Board is the same as in Croatia, through contacts.

NACIONAL: You announced that we are the favorite for receiving the European Championships, and that we are not threatened by Italy as a competitor.

- I am sure that we will win and that's that. After the announcement by UEFA President Lennart Johansson that it is time for small countries to be the host, which nothing significant ever happened in this region, that HNS and the representation is constantly among the 20 most important in the world, there is no way that we will not receive the championships. Our influence is large because we attempted to increase our presence in all parts of Europe. Apart from being President of the Technical Commission of FIFA, I am one of five members of the Financial Committee. Sheik Al-Hamman from Qatar is President, Platini and I are the only members from Europe, and there are representatives from the Bahamas and Argentina. We decide who will get the money, and we have given $240 million USD to date.

NACIONAL: Even though everyone praises you for your foreign influence, the representation and financial stability for the Federation, they criticize you as the premier Croatian league and its clubs are much weaker.

- That is one of the most important criticisms. Until there is a Sports Act and the issue of player selling is resolved, the Croatian league will have problems. These objections are only a front for what is really going on. Young players do not have the appropriate working conditions here in the country. I do not even want to talk about club finances. I told Minister Primorac that Slovak President Gasparovic, at the initiative of President of Slovak Football Federation, met with coaches in the younger groups. They told them that the issue that, as it is in Croatia, coaches of younger groups have catastrophic wages. The problem is due to poverty, we cannot pay the coaches so they leave to do other jobs. Gasparovic changed that, the coaches for younger groups are paid nearly the same as the first clubs, and neighboring Czechs were the example because they do an excellent job.

NACIONAL: No one has anything against Zvonimir Boban becoming your heir in HNS. However, how do you comment on Šuker claims that he would never enter HNS because he would need to spend more time dealing with the fight to maintain power than football? There are also objections that the former 1998 National Team should be more included in HNS.

- Šuker was right. In HNS, from that generation, Bilic, Asanovic and goalie Mrmic are included, and from previous generations we have Kranjcar, Novoselac and myself. They do not come to the Federation because of their names but because of their work. Regarding Šuker's comment, there is a question of whether HNS operates financially in the correct fashion. From there, it’s easy to work.

NACIONAL: Has HNS's financial independence protected you and the Federation from being politically influenced? Until your appointment as President of HNS, political governments selected the HNS president.

- At that time, it was tradition that people from the committee sat in the Federation. Important people from Zagreb or someone who was selected by the committee. The situation changed when Croatia became independent.

NACIONAL: You aren't telling me that Đuro Brodarac, Nadan Vidošević and Branko Mikša, who were the presidents of HNS, were not HDZ members.

- You said it but they were excellent presidents. There were workers and actors in HNS. The workers left a clean situation after they left, and the actors were always actors.

NACIONAL: You praise Mikša even though you were in conflict with him when you became President of HNS in 1998.

- No one knows about that incident. Under the influence of football mediocrity, Mikša defined the schedule of games for the qualification of the European Championships in 2000. In Skoplje Duško Grabovac led, who thought that the ball bounced because there was a frog in it, as well as since passed reporter Darko Tironi and people who had nothing to do with football except for the tact that they were in HNS. There were not led by the person who should have led them, me. I am convinced that Mikša is not to blame for this; we have been friends for 30 years. I was always a free man because I was settled financially and no one could influence me. I come from a family that worked in hospitality and trade, and as a Dinamo player I earned as much as all the other players put together. To return to the meeting in Skoplje, they were the most difficult two days. When I took my colleagues to Malta to set the game schedule for the World Championships in 2006, everything was done in an hour. My great friend Dražan Jerković spoke of a fairy tale when Miljan Miljanić agreed on the game schedule for Yugoslavia in the qualifications of the World Championships in Italy in 1990 in half a day, and when we completed the meeting on Malta in 45 minutes, in a fashion that suits us, that is a normal thing.

NACIONAL: Is financial independence the reason why you were not a coach for long, for example in Dinamo?

- I was never expelled from any club; I am the only coach that left Standard from Liège on his own terms. I left Dinamo in the same fashion. No coach in the history of Dinamo had won 54 points in the Yugoslavian championships, even though we were not first. That was the 1979-1980 season, when we won the cup. I was one of the rare coaches to beat Crvena Zvezda in Belgrade in the final cup. I am the only coach who was the European Champion in the Yugoslav National Team by 23, when Rukljač, Močibob and others played. Afterwards, I left the country, which saved me; if not, I would have struggled like my colleagues. I am the only coach who did not charge anyone anything upon leaving the club. And I returned to the club every time. Which coach can do that?

NACIONAL: When you became the Croatian National Team Coach in 1993, did you expect that you would be active for more than only one game?

- As a joke, I say that I am the most successful Croatian selector because I never lost a game. I led the representation for only one game against the Ukraine and won. In 1990, I returned to Croatia on the direct invitation from President Tuđman whom I was friends with. He will always be the first; he created a country in the Balkan pot. At that time, Jure Klarić came to Vienna for me, who gave money to organize a game between Croatia-USA, as well as Antun Vrdoljak. I broke up the contract with Rapid from Vienna which was worth millions; I never took any of it. I never got anything from Dinamo ever. When I returned to Dinamo in 1990 as the coach, the club was in 16th place in the first Yugoslav league; afterwards, we had 21 consecutive wins.

NACIONAL: Are you satisfied with your career as a player based on the fact that you were a member of the Yugoslav National Team at the 1962 World Championships in Chile.

- I was a player in the Yugoslav National Team even though in 1945 my father was in jail. I was very satisfied with my career. I have articles from newspapers then that published claims from the Italian newspaper Gazzetta about "a little known center half Markovic who has become one of the best players in the finals and who stands out with his robustness, height and precision, and who has broken German persistence with his game".

NACIONAL: Those Championships ended tragically for you in the game for third place, in the final minute, when you scored on your own goal and Chile beat Yugoslavia.

- In the quarterfinal, Yugoslavia beat Germany 1:0. Chile beat Russia in the semifinals and Brazil and Chile played the semifinals in Valparaiso, while the Czech Republic played Yugoslavia in Santiago. In an agreement between the then government of Chile and the Office of the Marshal, I cannot say Tito, the game locations were changed so that Chile and Brazil could play in Santiago. Tito, who was never present at any game, agreed with that proposal for political reasons. If we played in Santiago, we would have beaten the Czech Republic with 4-5 goals. We should have beaten them, but it is unbelievable that we missed. We had an average age of 23; we were the winners of the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960 when the national team performed with the best team, unlike to take. That is a generation who came second at the first Cup of Nations in Paris, we lost in the finals to Russia; Germany beat Hungary after 30 years in Budapest. The team was made up of: Soskic, Durkovic, Jusufi, Radakovic, Markovic, Vasovic, Melic, Galic, Jerkovic, Sekularac and Skoblar. In 1962, the Brazilians prayed to God to not play against us in the World Championships, we were placed in the same hotel. We lost against the Czech Republic, and were depressed in the game for third place against Chile: The ball hit me after a shot from Sanchez; it changed direction and entered the goal. Tito, who never got involved in sports, got involved them to bring Allendeu into the situation, and we lost against the Czech Republic. Afterwards, I had political problems. The national team was supposed the go to the White House in Belgrade for 4th place achievement, as I told Matus and Jerkovic that I would not go. “Screw it, if you are honest, you won't go either", I said, and the three of us did not go to the reception. We were never invited to play for the national team again.

NACIONAL: Are you sorry for your announcement in 1990, when Dinamo became the Croatian champion and you said that the most Croatian and most Catholic team won?

- Truthfully, I didn’t say that but something similar; that was twisted. I said that God helped Dinamo because of all problems that it had had in Yugoslavia. It became something that I never reacted to. I have nothing against anything to make things clear.