Blaz Sliskovic - A Talented Coach
With One Job Too Many
Ozren Podnar reports...
The Bosnian national team manager Blaz "Baka" Sliskovic
holds a unique distinction in modern football: besides coaching
Bosnia and Hercegovina, the 45-year old former soccer idol is Hajduk
Split manager. Or, at least, he is sincerely trying to fulfill that
After Ivan Katalinic was sacked as the Croatian champion's coach,
Hajduk's directors tried to woo their former star player, but he
only accepted the post under condition that he could keep his Bosnia
job as well.
"I came to an agreement with Hajduk's directors that Bosnia
would come first to me, so Hajduk would have to suffer on certain
occasions," said Sliskovic, whose promising debut against Zadar
(2-0 at home) was followed by a 0-3 loss at archrivals Dinamo Zagreb.
Before the big match, Sliskovic supervised only one Hajduk's training
session, and it showed.
While the Croatian press cannot understand Hajduk's gamble with
the Bosnia manager, Sliskovic is being viewed with an ever-increasing
scepticism in his homeland as well. In fact, the FA banned him from
even mentioning Hajduk Split during the national team gathering
for the Group
7 World Cup qualifier against Spain.
It may look as though the FA is eagerly awaiting his first serious
slip to sack him, but Bosnia earned a good draw with the Spaniards
in Zenica, which gave the coach a new lease of life in one of his
Maradona From The Balkans
Sliskovic is one of the cult footballing personalities throughout
the former Yugoslavia. An ethnic Croat born in Mostar, in the predominantly
Croat region of Hercegovina, he used to be a highly technical offensive
Such were his skills that he was unreservedly respected on all
grounds, regardless of ethnic or soccer affiliations. His arsenal
of dribbles, passes, one-twos, swerving shots or ball-stopping skills
actually made him a big crowd puller on his own, regardless of his
team's position in the table.
Sliskovic's footballing prowess was matched only by his less than
professional attitude towards his duties: he was known to disappear
from the club for a couple of days, much in the style of George
Best in his Manchester United heyday, only to win back the coach's
confidence with another sensational performance.
Having debuted for Velez aged 16, he starred in the Yugoslav Olympic
team that won fourth place at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and lead
his club to an epic FA Cup win over Zeljeznicar Sarajevo a year
later. As an established star of Yugoslav soccer, he was then transferred
to Hajduk Split, which would become the club of his heart.
After two initial seasons marred by injuries and compulsory military
service, he went on to shine for three more years, frequently stunning
crowds, opponents and teammates alike with breathtaking moves.
On several occasions he scored goals directly from corner kicks,
notably against Red Star in the 1984 FA Cup final, while another
of his legendary goals came against Sparta Prague in the UEFA Cup
quarterfinals: a maliciously taken free kick from a sharp angle
to the near corner of the Czech goal.
A major idol in Yugoslavia, Sliskovic signed for Olympique Marseille
in 1986, but in spite of many good displays he was transferred to
Pescara of Serie A just a year later. There he encountered another
"phenom", the Brazilian Junior, with whom he struck up
an immediate understanding.
The supremely gifted tandem was voted the best in the 1987/88 season
ahead of Roma's Boniek-Voller, Milan's Gullit-Van Basten, and Inter's
Surprisingly, he was again offloaded, this time to Lens in France,
without the selling club's true motives ever becoming known. Perhaps
it was his supremely casual approach to practice or a poor propensity
to defensive commitments that alienated his coaches and ultimately
By 1987 he had already lost his place in the Yugoslav national
team, having collected just 26 caps - about one third of what experts
and writers had predicted for him on his debut in 1979.
"From 35 yards onwards, he is great. But, he is thinking
only of offense. If he paid half as much attention to defense, maybe
he would be as good as Maradona," said the Yugoslav soccer
guru, Miljan Miljanic, the former coach of Yugoslavia, Red Star
and Real Madrid.
The Unifier of Bosnia
After moving to Lens, Sliskovic would change teams on six more
occasions, even coming back to Pescara for another spell, this time
a middling season in 1992/93.
Still, he was good enough to help Hrvatski Dragovoljac to reach
the Croatian First Division in 1996, before hanging up his boots
at 37 and starting a chequered coaching career.
He managed, among others, Hrvatski Dragovoljac, and Bosnian clubs
Zrinjski, Posusje and Brotnjo, whom he lead to the Hercegovina title,
before the ethnic unification of the club scene in Bosnia and Hercegovina
Named Bosnia and Hercegovina coach in 2002, he did a wonderful
job, missing out on direct qualification for Euro 2004 by one single
goal. On the last day of the competition, Bosnia had to beat Denmark
at home to win Group
2, but could only draw and finished fourth behind Denmark and
Norway and the highly-fancied Romania.
Sliskovic's ascension to the national team post coincided with
the long-awaited unification of club football in the country, after
years of ethnic Serb, Croat and Bosnian Muslim leagues.
The team now had a charismatic and a respected personality in charge,
someone who openly stated that a player's ethnicity or religion
played no role whatsoever as far as his chances of being called
up for the national team were concerned.
"I can play ten or no Croats, depending on the shape they
are in," said this Bosnian Croat, earning additional respect
from all sectors of Bosnian society, adding: "For me, there
is no difference between Hibic (Muslim), Grujic (Serb) or Papac
(Croat). The only thing I care about is how one plays football,
regardless of anything else."
So far, his recipe has proven good for the national team, but his
attention now divided between two jobs may eventually prove to be
his undoing. After all, was he not his own biggest enemy during
his playing days?