Thursday 23 August 2018, 09:11

Dalic: This summer was the best sporting time of my life

  • Zlatko Dalic nominated for The Best FIFA Men's Coach award

  • The Croatia head coach speaks in an exclusive interview with

  • "There are no words to describe it"

There is no doubt that the summer of 2018 will be remembered in Croatia for generations to come. About six weeks ago, the Vatreni became the smallest country to reach a FIFA World Cup™ Final since Uruguay in 1950. Although they ultimately lost 4-2 to France in a captivating match, nobody can take away the achievement of adidas Golden Ball winner Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and their team-mates.

The architect of that success was coach Zlatko Dalic, whose meticulous work shaped a team of world-class individuals into a formidable unit. The 51-year-old’s efforts have been rewarded with a nomination for The Best FIFA Men’s Coach award.

Dalic as a player

  • Defensive midfielder

  • Represented clubs including Hajduk Split, Velez Mostar and Varteks Varazdin

Dalic as a coach

  • Started out at Varteks and as assistant coach of Croatia’s U-21 side

  • Won the Albanian Super Cup with Dinamo Tirana and managed clubs in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where he reached the AFC Champions League final with Al-Ain

  • Replaced Ante Cacic as Croatia head coach in October 2017 spoke exclusively with Dalic about his experiences over the past few weeks and his nomination for The Best FIFA Men's Coach award. It has been a few weeks since the World Cup Final. How do you feel? Zlatko Dalic: I still feel like we are all living our dreams. When we came back, more than 500,000 people welcomed us in Zagreb, it was a day none of us will forget. And afterwards, each of us got their own welcome in their home city - it's just an amazing period, the whole summer is unbelievable. When we saw in person how much this result meant to the whole nation we realised how important our journey in Russia was to all Croatians. I am just so proud of my players who did something historic for themselves, for our football and for our whole country.

Can you still believe what you and your team achieved? It will probably take a few more years to understand the magnitude of this result in terms of sporting success. We understand now how happy and proud we made our country, but I think we will only start to understand how difficult and amazing it is for a nation of four million people to have two World Cup medals in 20 years. You know how many countries have more than us in that period of time? Only Germany and France. Not Brazil, not Italy, not Argentina, not Spain. That's impressive and it's a testament not only to this team and the 1998 team, but to all the players, coaches and people who work in Croatian football.

How was the return home to Croatia after the final? There are no words to describe it - watch the footage and you'll get the feeling that we won the World Cup. We drove for six hours from the airport to the main square in Zagreb, and people were standing for ten hours in the sun just to see the players' bus for one minute. They were so happy and proud, none of us will ever forget those moments. The day after, the same "crazy" welcome home parties were organised in each player's home cities—really, the whole country lived for our team during those days.

You are nominated for the The Best FIFA Men's Coach award. What do you think about the nomination? I am very honoured to be included in that group with my colleagues, all of whom I respect very much. Individual awards are always a consequence of a good team performance - that's how it works for the players, and even more so for the coaches. Therefore, I can only thank my players for their remarkable performance at the World Cup, which allowed me to be in this position. Of course, I am happy I could contribute to this historic result for Croatia, but I always give credit to the players because they are the ones who play the game.

Do you think you will win? The important wins were those at the World Cup, against Nigeria, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Russia and England - any individual recognition is not nearly important as that silver medal that we won as a team. Of course, it would be something to appreciate and cherish, but winning it or not will not change the fact that this summer was the best sporting period of my life.

What do you think about the other nominees? When I look at the list of nominated coaches, I am very honoured to be among those colleagues who all do a great job with their respective teams. I am glad to see five World Cup coaches, it shows how important that tournament is, and I would expect that a national team coach would win this year. Didier Deschamps did a great job with France, but it was impressive what Stanislav Cherchesov did to take underdog Russia to the quarter-finals, for Gareth Southgate to take a young England team to the semi-finals, and for Roberto Martinez to win a medal with Belgium. They all did amazing jobs. I am thankful to everybody who will appreciate our amazing run in the World Cup. I think we outperformed each of our opponents, even France in the final—while I give them credit for a deserved win.

Your player Luka Modric is nominated for The Best FIFA Men's Player award. He also won the Golden Ball at the World Cup. Do you think he will win The Best as well? I don't know if he will win, but I will say this: I have no doubt that he deserves to win. For a number of years, he has been a crucial player at Real Madrid where he won four UEFA Champions League trophies. It is difficult for anybody to win an individual award while Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are creating history with their goalscoring records, which is why they deserved to dominate them during the last ten years. But, Luka won the adidas Golden Ball at the FIFA Club World Cup, then he was again a key player during their Champions League victory and then went on to deservedly win the Golden Ball at the World Cup, where he led Croatia as a player and as a captain to glory. What more can he do?

I can't think of a better player to succeed Ronaldo and Messi. He is a humble, hard-working player who always gives his best, who leads by example and who makes everybody around him a much better player. I don't see anybody who deserves it more than Luka this year, and I am sure the football world sees it the same way.

Can you describe your style of coaching? It's different to coach in a club than in a national team, and I believe you have to adapt a little bit considering the circumstances, the players you have at your disposal and the competition you face. But, I try to be a player's coach. I want to have a good relationship with the players, where we trust each other, where I am completely honest with them and clear with my ideas and plans. They are grown men and I treat them as such, and I expect them to treat me, my staff and teammates with respect as well. Once everybody understands that we are there for each other and that the team is above any individual, that's a good foundation to continue working on tactics, fitness and everything else football-related.