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Home|Football News|Soccer in the Balkans|Miroslav Blazevic

Ex Croatia Coach Runs For President
Miroslav "Ciro" Blazevic: So Much More Than A Coach

Ozren Podnar reports...

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The legendary football coach Miroslav Blazevic is not satisfied any longer with being merely the coach of the provincial team of Varteks Varazdin.

The manager who led Croatia to third place in the 1998 World Cup and the quarterfinals at the 1996 European Championships has announced his bid to run for president of his adopted homeland at the December 21st presidential elections.

The fact that he is recovering from recent prostate cancer surgery has not slowed down the energetic 69 or 71 year old, who has never revealed his true age.

"Some people from high politics have persuaded me to run for presidency as they are sure I could win," said Blazevic, a fierce right wing sympathizer. "As for the 10,000 signatures necessary to endorse my bid, I could collect them simply by turning up at any soccer game and ask the fans to sign their names."

If people from showbiz like Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger could succeed in politics, why couldn't I be Croatian president, Blazevic must have thought as he reached the decision to confront the current, moderate president Stjepan Mesic, a favourite to win another five-year term.

For Blazevic is, above all, a showbiz personality in Croatia. The eloquent, joke-cracking Bosnian Croat, nicknamed 'Ciro', has been able to turn most of his sporting achievements into entertainment for the masses.

A born talent-spotter

When he coached Dinamo Zagreb to the Yugoslav league title in 1982, he sported a white scarf, which became equally as legendary as Dinamo's triumph over the Serbs of Red Star Belgrade. A year later he abandoned Zagreb and signed for Grasshoppers Zurich, claiming that the communist leadership in Yugoslavia wanted him out of the country.

After he returned to Dinamo two seasons on, he made headlines by claiming that he would eat his coaching diploma if his squad's young star, a certain Robert Prosinecki, was ever to become a quality player.

Three months later, the 18-year-old was voted the best player of the 1987 U-21 World Cup in Chile, as Yugoslavia won the title. Only, Prosinecki was not any longer at Blazevic's Dinamo, but at rivals Red Star, where he went on to win three League titles, a European Cup and a multimillion dollar transfer to Real Madrid.

Before another spell at Dinamo, Blazevic coached Nantes where he made Didier Deschamps captain (this time he did recognize a talented player) and PAOK Salonica.

When he returned to now independent Croatia, he befriended the country's president Franjo Tudjman, never missing an opportunity to sing the praises of the "great leader who gave the Croats freedom and sovereignty." A prominent member of the Croatian Democratic Union, the conservative ruling party, he became Dinamo's coach, president and co-owner at the same time.

A visit to the French part of Geneva airport caused him a certain embarrassment: he was arrested by French police and held for two weeks on suspicion of taking part in Bernard Tapie's slush fund schemes at Olympique Marseille.

Already promoted to national team coach, he led a marvellous Croatian squad with Boban, Suker, Asanovic, Boksic, Jarni and (yes) Prosinecki to the European Championships in England, where he fielded a team full of reserves against Portugal, in order to rest the regulars for the quarterfinals.

As it turned out, a weakened Croatia were thrashed by Portugal three-nil, which not only hurt Denmark, whose qualification had depended on Portugal's defeat, but also pitted Croatia against the mighty Germany instead of the unfancied Czechs!

Croatia, unsurprisingly, lost by two-one to a Matthias Sammer-led German team, amid a flurry of domestic criticism against Blazevic.

Miracle in France

Two years later came Ciro's apotheosis in France. His team stunned the world by winning the bronze medal, and the manager himself won over the crowds by wearing a policeman's hat in honour of the French officer Daniel Nivel, who was put in a coma by German thugs early on in the tournament.

His defense of the homeland could not be limited to the footballing field; he threatened the editor ofthe Zagreb independent weekly Nacional with liquidation because of Nacional's "unpatriotic" writing regarding president Tudjman. He claimed he had spoken metaphorically, never meaning to inflict any harm on the journalist. In 2003 he was found guilty and fined a symbolic 800 euros.

His fortunes turned sour in late 1999 when Croatia failed to qualify for Euro 2000 behind none other than the hated Serbia and Montenegro. The end of his national team career came in 2000 after a 1-1 home draw against Scotland and another outing into the world of politics: he lead his players to sign a petition against the extradition of the Croatian Army officers to the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

A fervent Catholic, Blazevic quickly accepted an offer from the Iranian FA to coach the national team, which he was to lead to within inches of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. His popularity in Iran was huge: Croatian tourists swear that the locals treated them like kings upon realizing they came from the land of Blazevic.

Back for a fourth spell at Dinamo Zagreb, he again delivered a League title, but in the summer of 2003 fell out with the club's vice president (and the real boss) Zdravko Mamic. A spectacular exchange of insults followed, as Blazevic continued to ply his trade at unfashionable Slovenian Mura and finally Varteks.

In the meantime, he starred in a series of TV ads, including one during the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea, where he was dressed as a samurai warrior, hosted a TV show himself and wrote distinguished columns in soccer pages. Sent to Euro 2004 in Portugal as a reporter, he vehemently attacked Croatia coach Otto Baric during a press conference after a dismal 0-0 against the Swiss.

Last summer he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and in September he underwent major surgery in Innsbruck, Austria. From his hospital bed he announced he was working on his autobiography that would "set the nation on fire", but would be published only after he was dead.
"It will be super dramatic and certainly a bestseller," he added. He also confessed that after the operation he could, alas, not be able to have sex, and that he considered becoming a priest.

But, since the priesthood does not secure as much spotlight as a presidential race, Blazevic opted for the latter.
"I hope to overthrow Stjepan Mesic, whom I have never liked very much," he said, before appearing in a theater as a stand-up comedian, eliciting many a guffaw from the delighted crowd.

Reportedly, president Mesic, a witty man himself, is worried by Blazevic's arrival in the race. Still, telling jokes may not be enough to win a presidential mandate, not even in Croatia.

Fact file

Name: Miroslav Blazevic
Nickname: Ciro
Birthplace: Travnik, Bosnia
Birth date: February 10, between 1934-1937
Current occupations: soccer coach, presidential candidate
Coaching career:
1968-71 Vevey (CH)
1971-76 Sion (CH)
1976-79 Lausanne (CH)
1976 Switzerland
1980/81 Rijeka (YU)
1981-1983 Dinamo Zagreb (YU)
1983-1985 Grasshoppers (CH)
1985 Pristina (YU)
1985-1988 Dinamo Zagreb (YU)
1988-1991 Nantes (FR)
1991-1992 PAOK Salonica (GR)
1992-1994 Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
1994-2000 Croatia
2000-2001 Iran
2002/2003 Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
2003 Mura (SLO)
2003-present Varteks (CRO)
Yugoslav League title (1982)
Yugoslav Cup (1983)
Swiss Cup title (1974)
Swiss League title (1984)
Croatian League titles (1993, 2003)
Croatian Cup (1994)
World Cup bronze medal (1998)

Ozren Podnar

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