(updated)Interview: Croatia coach urges China to invest more in soccer

November 11, 2014 5:38 am 

By Gordan Gabrovwc

ZAGREB, Nov. 10 (PNA/Xinhua) — Croatia head coach Niko Kovac has advised china to invest as much in soccer as in other sports.

"I don't see any reason why the Chinese team won't be successful on international level if china invests as much in soccer as they do in some other sports," Kovac told Xinhua.

"That's not something that can happen fast. We are talking about a 10 to 15 years process. It took Germans 10 to 12 years and now we see the results. They have to do the same in China. When this happens, I can tell you, we will have to beware when Chinese get going."

The same goes for the Asian continent, according the Croatia coach.

"I think that Asian teams have a better chance than Africans to challenge Europeans and South Americans because they have bigger population," he said.

"With right investment they can produce not only quality players but clubs and national teams."

It has been over a year since Davor Suker, Croatian Football Federation (CFF) president, appointed Kovac as head coach, instead of Igor Stimac, another member of Croatian 'Golden Generation' who won the bronze medal at the 1998 World Cup.

Kovac had a mission to beat Iceland in the World Cup and when he did that in a convincing style, Suker knew that Kovac was a right man for that job even though he was the second youngest coach at the World Cup in Brazil.

"Being young doesn't mean that you don't know. For sure, experience is important, but, if you lack knowledge, what good will experience bring to you? I think that I've been through a lot in my 18 years as a professional player. I've worked with many great coaches and learned a lot from them that I can use now."

Before Croatia managed to win only one win in Brazil and didn't pass the group stage, Kovac was 'people's hero'. Polls published after the World Cup showed a change of hearts among Croatian fans.

"I know that public opinion can change fast so I didn't pay much attention to it before the World Cup or after it," he said. "But I can tell you that ordinary people supported me after Brazil, as well. When I was on a vacation in Croatia and speaking daily to the people that I met in the cafes, restaurants, shops or on the streets, I got only positive reactions. I was surprised because I didn't expect that."

It didn't help Kovac's popularity that some experienced players like Brazilian-born Eduardo Da Silva and his close friend Ognjen Vukojevic left the team and went public expressing that the coach didn't meet their expectations. On the other hand, it helped Kovac to speed up the process of introducing younger players to the A-team that he led as U-21 national head coach.

"That was their decision and I have to respect that," he said. "When I pick players for the team I can only look at their skills and if they are good or not. I can't pick them because I like them or because we were once on the same team.

"I want to be friends with all of them but that is a personal thing. That's something that can't interfere with my job. I have to think what is good for the team. I am bringing younger players in because I believe that the team can have a success only if there is a good balance between experienced and young players."

Bringing more younger players to the team and more players that are playing in Croatian Premier League clubs didn't affect results of the national team.

After three rounds of Euro 2016 qualifying, Croatia sits on the top of the Group H table with maximum nine points and 9-0 goal difference. Win in Sofia against Bulgaria and a 6-0 triumph over Azerbaijan at home restored some of the trust that Croatian fans lost after the World Cup.

"Wins are always important, not only for the coaches, players and for the atmosphere in the team, but they also bring a lot of joy to the people in general," said the coach.

"But, I didn't feel that we had a problem in the team, certainly not as dramatic as it appeared in the press."

Failing to reach the knockout stage at the World Cup probably cost Real Madrid star Luka Modric a place on the short list for the FIFA Golden Ball Award.

"I would put him on the list but they didn't ask me," said Kovac. "There are a lot of good players in the world and it's hard to make a list of 23 and to satisfy everybody.

"In my opinion, Luka had to be on that list but we can't do anything about that now. It's up to him to think about this as a challenge that will keep him working hard and hopefully he will be among the 23 candidates for the Golden Ball next year."

When Kovac looked back and analyzed a year that he spent on the coaching bench, the conclusion gave him peace of mind.

"You can't achieve anything overnight," he said. "We have a vision and we are following it. I can see that players are becoming more and more familiar with it. I am satisfied.

"In 12 matches that we played, we won eight, lost only two, both at the World Cup, and drew twice. I know that there will be ups and downs, but we can be satisfied."

His position as head coach is firm but you never know what the future can bring. Hypothetically, Kovac could one day follow the footsteps of his countrymen Miroslav Ciro Blazevic and Branko Ivankovic to become a coach in the Chinese Super League.

"Never say never," he said. "I am still young and you can see that majority of international coaches that work in China are very experienced managers who've been through a lot.

"I think that this will not change in the near future but I also think that young coaches, like young players, can bring some new energy. So, I would like to see that young coaches also get a chance to work in those leagues."

As a proud Croatian, Kovac ruled out one scenario – to lead any other national team.

"That's difficult," he said. "Being national coach is something different. There are a lot of clubs but national team is only one. I wouldn't say definite 'no' to that idea but at the moment I can't picture myself doing that." (PNA/Xinhua)



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