Published in Nacional number 661, 2008-07-15

Autor: Dean Sinovčić

Travnik native to save team Bosnia & Herzegovina

Ciro in a hot Bosnian stew

In accepting the job of coach of the Bosnia & Herzegovina football representation Miroslav Blazevic has entered a federation with a debt of 3 million KM, whose president roots for Croatia, and whose fans oppose the national team

New Bosnia & Herzegovina coach Miroslav Ciro Blazevic, photographed on a motorcycle on Zagreb Ban Jelacic Square, says that his arrival was enough for some players that had left to come back to the national sideNew Bosnia & Herzegovina coach Miroslav Ciro Blazevic, photographed on a motorcycle on Zagreb Ban Jelacic Square, says that his arrival was enough for some players that had left to come back to the national sideWhen he accepted the job of coach of the football representation of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Miroslav Blazevic entered the Bosnia & Herzegovina Football Federation, which is at the moment in a state of utter chaos. The Bosnian press and public are seeking the ouster of the presidency of the Football Federation, made up of Croat president Iljo Dominkovic, Serb vice-president Bogdan Ceko and Muslim vice-president Sulejman Colakovic. They are also demanding the departure of the federation's general secretary Munib Usanovic, suspected of misappropriating the federation's money. The press is saying that none of them know anything about football, publishing photos of Dominkovic at the World Football Cup in Germany wearing a team Croatia jersey and ask how the president of one football federation can root for another, and at the same time the Bosnian federation is facing a financial debt of 3 million convertible marks.

It all culminated in May of this year, when the federation dismissed coach Meho Kodro after on four months on the job. Kodro, a former player with Barcelona, was not a favourite of the federation, as Dominkovic wanted Zlatko Kranjcar, and Bogdan Ceko wanted Lothar Matthaus. That is why they were waiting for the first excuse to dismiss him. The occasion was a friendly match between Bosnia & Herzegovina and Iran held in Teheran, which had been agreed upon in a hurry. Kodro and the players were only notified a week in advance and refused to go to the match because they felt it was not necessary. The federation was to have received 120 thousand euro for the match, which was cancelled, and Kodro dismissed for insubordination. That is when the hunt started for a new coach, a search that ended with Miroslav Blazevic. That he will not have an easy task ahead of him is demonstrated by the fact that a friendly match was played in Zenica in 1 June between Bosnia & Herzegovina and Azerbaijan, while another, humanitarian, match was played in Sarajevo under the title "Kodro, Bolic and Friends". Posters appeared ahead of the match in Zenica inviting people to boycott the match, and a few hundred showed up, while in Sarajevo there was a crowd of 18 thousand.

Milan Bandic lobbied to have Blazevic take on the job of Bosnia & Herzegovina team coachMilan Bandic lobbied to have Blazevic take on the job of Bosnia & Herzegovina team coachTaking on Blazevic has divided sports fans in Bosnia & Herzegovina, and he was immediately criticised by three well-known former football players, Vahid Halilhodzic, Mehmed Bazdarevic and Faruk Hadzibegic. Halilhodzic said that the appointment of Blazevic to the post of coach of team Bosnia & Herzegovina was a great disgrace for football in that country and added: "A man who continues in the press to give statements as if wars were still going on here and who would like most that Bosnia as an independent state did not exist is to lead our country's team." When we spoke to Blazevic he said that these kinds of statements were not a cause of concern for him. "I do not fear anything, because I do not know the feeling of fear. I am a completely morally clean person and that is what gives me the right to the courage I always carry within me. A little while ago I was notified that Halilhodzic sent his greetings and has said "Ciro, if you need any help, I will help you". The search for a new coach started with a big scandal, when general secretary Munib Usanovic stated that the new coach had to be a Bosniac. That was never the principle on which a coach had been selected, it was a disgraceful statement of which the federation's president Dominkovic said that Usanovic never in fact made it. Former team captain Sergej Barbarez "welcomed" the statement saying that: "Perhaps FIFA hears of the statement and sanctions it by dismissing the heads of the football federation." To his chagrin, that did not happen. The first candidate for the post of coach was 48-year-old Mehmed Bazdarevic, and subsequently Amar Osim, son of Ivica Osim.

In favour of Blazevic's appointment from the start was Hamdija Abdic Tigar, also a member of the Executive Committee, whose lobbying efforts met with success. Abdic and Usanovic set up a meeting with Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic, who subsequently called Blazevic with the proposal that he take on the job of Bosnian coach. "As Mayor, Bandic felt that it was a move beneficial not only from the aspect of sports, but that it was also politically beneficial, and played a significant role in my departure. Bandic is also recognised as an authority there, and spoke directly with Usanovic, who assured me that they were all in favour of my appointment. Iljo Dominkovic was also in favour, had he not been he could have brought the whole thing down. After that Bandic convinced me, more precisely ordered me to go to Bosnia & Herzegovina", Blazevic explained. When we mentioned the federation's financial difficulties and the debt of 3 million KM, he said: "They were in debt, they will no longer be so", because he feels that he will, on the basis of his knowledge and reputation, be in a position to set up match's for the representation team that will bring the federation money, and added: "The cash is already on the horizon, it is approaching."

VAHID HALILHODZIC, the former Bosnian player, was opposed to the arrival of Blazevic saying that Blazevic 'would like it if Bosnia & Herzegovina did not exist'VAHID HALILHODZIC, the former Bosnian player, was opposed to the arrival of Blazevic saying that Blazevic 'would like it if Bosnia & Herzegovina did not exist'When we told him that the Bosnian press would await him with questions concerning his relationship with Franjo Tudjman, who is considered in Bosnia an advocate of the breakdown of that country, Blazevic said: "Don't mix politics into this, son. It is not true that Tudjman was opposed to Bosnia." Besides, he has already received a telegram of support from his native Travnik. As far as the coach's wages are concerned, he will have the same conditions as his predecessor Meho Kodro, and that is five thousand euro and 70 percent of advertising he finds himself. "I am not launching any kind of marketing campaign, advertisements come on their own to Ciro Blazevic", was his response.

Football has in Bosnia, to everyone's surprise, become a cohesive factor ever since Blaz Sliskovic became coach in 2002. Croats, Serbs and Muslims agreed to play for the team, which just missed making it to the 2004 European championships. They needed a win against Denmark in the last round of qualifications, but the match finished with a 1:1 tie. In late 2006, at the start of the qualifications for the 2008 European championships, the representation was playing poorly, and Sliskovic was dismissed. That is when chaos ensued.

Namely, 13 Bosnia & Herzegovina team members released a letter in which they announced that they would no longer play for the representation as long as presidency members Colakovic, Dominkovic, then the representative of the Serbian entity, and Ahmet Pasalic, director of Bosnia & Herzegovina representative teams, do not tender their resignations. They were supported by the former captain of the representation Sergej Barbarez, who had just a little while earlier announced that he would no longer play for the team. In short, they said that the players and coach Sliskovic were to blame for the poor play, but that the presidency was also to blame, so that if Sliskovic was fired, they too had to be fired. For a year these players did not play for the representation. Fuad Muzurovic became the new coach, but Dominkovic and Colakovic stayed on in the presidency.

Muzurovic was hard put to it, because he knew that team Bosnia & Herzegovina did not stand a chance in the qualifications for the European Championships, and the fans boycotted the matches in their demand for the dismissal of the presidency. The worst scandal took place in March of last year, when the qualification match against Norway was being played. Even though Bosnia & Herzegovina scored a surprise victory, a group of Bosnian fans stopped play for an hour with fireworks at the start of the match, raising banners that called upon the players to not play for the representation while Dominkovic and the others were at the helm of the federation. Muzurovic was dismissed in late 2007, and Meho Kodro was appointed coach in January and led the team to only two matches. This is how Kodro described his relationship with Iljo Dominkovic: "Ahead of the match with Japan he sent me an SMS with the question: 'What kind of team is this you are fielding?'"

When we asked Blazevic about the public perception of the presidency of the football federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina, his response was: "It is always important to seek out the reasons why the situation is as it is. It is this way because things are not organised they way they ought to be. What do the players have to do with the federation's executive committee? That is absurd. The players answer only to the coach, and the coach answers to the executive committee.

I do not care what happened up to now, from now on it will be as I have told you. The players skipped over the key person, and that is the coach. That was abnormal, now the situation will be normal. I do not think I will succeed - I know that I will succeed." He will have to face politics, as Bolic and other football players have said that chaos is being created in the football federation on purpose because it does not suit politicians that Bosnia & Herzegovina be united under the banner of the football representation as an example of how the three nationalities can function together. Blazevic will have to prove that the representation, and presumable the country, can survive.

'I will execute the kind of acrobatics I did in 1998'

'I am superstitious and believe that with Bosnia & Herzegovina I will succeed in executing the kind of acrobatics as I did when we won third place with the Croatian side at the 1998 World Cup", Blazevic said at the start of our interview.

NACIONAL: How much of a problem are the divisions that exist between the nationalities in Bosnia & Herzegovina for you?
- The nationalities in Bosnia & Herzegovina are not divided, the nationalities like each other, they must understand that they have to live in harmony and unity because that is the only way they can ensure their survival. I have never had primitive prejudices concerning national divisions, it is not important for me what your nationality or faith is, what matters is are you a decent person and are you more capable than the other guy.

NACIONAL: How do you intend to get back the representation team players who refused to play for it?
- That is not a problem, these players are already back. My arrival was enough, if you prefer, my reputation and authority that they find new faith in themselves.

NACIONAL: Do you know how the Bosnia & Herzegovina representation will look?
- I do not know, that is the last stage of my task. This clime produces young talent on a daily basis. People have already come forward to point to some talented football players and I will do my best now to see for myself.

NACIONAL: The qualifications for the World Cup start in less than two months, and Bosnia & Herzegovina is playing in a group with Spain, Turkey and Belgium, and you have yet to put together a coaching staff.
- Spain, Turkey, Belgium, screw them. The Spanish will now sleep on their laurels. As far as the coaching staff is concerned, I have offered Zlatko Dalic the post of my assistant if he does not leave Tirana for Dinamo. If not, I have a solution for the coaching staff.

NACIONAL: Why has team Bosnia & Herzegovina never succeeded in qualifying for the European or World championships?
- They always missed by a little to make the playoffs, and I hope to provide them with the little bit they lacked. I have not spoken to the players because I do not speak to them, others speak with them, I only give orders. I am the boss, and it is a sorry boos that no one listens to. If a player does not listen, that is not hs fault, but rather the fault of the boss who did not find a way to get him to listen.

NACIONAL: Will you try to arrange a friendly match with the Croatian side?
- ToThat is out of the question because I fear the Croatian representation. It is the best side in the world. I would like to win, but the Croatian side cannot be beaten. That is why we will play a friendly match on 20 July against Bulgaria. They are very strong, but not stronger than we are.

NACIONAL: You have no doubts about your success with the Bosnia & Herzegovina football representation and do not doubt that you will settle the situation in the Bosnia & Herzegovina Football Federation?
- I did not say that. I can only promise flawless work and I can promise that I will bring my players up to super-competitive shape, while everything else in football is, of course, very hard to guarantee.