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Home|Football News|Soccer in the Balkans|Zvonimir Boban

Zvonimir Boban: Next Croatian FA President, Or Deputy Minister Of Sports?

Ozren Podnar reports...

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Zvonimir Boban, the former captain of the Croatian national team, has achieved something notable for a footballer - a university diploma - and is a serious contender for the both the position of deputy minister of sports and that of FA president.

The 35-year-old former AC Milan star has recently graduated in history from Zagreb University, having submitted his thesis "Christianity in the Roman Empire" to Professor Petar Selem, a leading authority on the subject.

After four years of study, the Croatian footballing idol has secured a Bachelor's Degree and the title of "professor" awarded to graduates of Zagreb's College of Arts and Letters. "He was a professor on the footballing pitch, and now he is one in academic sense," according to the Zagreb-based Sportske novosti daily.

"I am proud of having fulfilled my old desire of completing myself as a person. I have no doubt that many people have had their doubts regarding my academic aspirations. It is only logical that public personalities like myself find themselves under public scrutiny," says "Zvone" Boban, admitting he is still a bit disappointed with himself.

"Only after four years of study have I understood how little it is that I know. Learning new stuff serves one solely to understand the insignificance of one's knowledge," adds the former skipper philosophically.

The man who during his ten year stay in Serie A had reporters drooling over his eloquence and knowledge of world literature, history and political affairs has shown now that he meant business when he promised four years ago that he would have his college degree not long after hanging up his boots.

"I took my exams regularly and I never thought of quitting. I hope my professors have been satisfied with my efforts and with the level of knowledge I have achieved. I have the sensation that they have recognized the seriousness of my approach to the studies," said the well-spoken Boban, who claims his quest for knowledge has not ended. Since he achieved the average grade equivalent to A-, he gained the right to enrol in the postgraduate course.

"My desire to keep on studying has not paled so I will carry on," says "Zorro", announcing that in the future, alongside with pursuing a masters degree, he will have to find some time for his old passion - soccer.

"The time of my return (to soccer) is maturing. The first step will be to arrange my thoughts regarding the football in Croatia." It is no secret that many Croats want to see him elected as the next FA president, after the aging Vlatko Markovic, in office since 1998, steps down, foreseeably after the forthcoming Euro 2004.

If he indeed is chosen for the new boss of Croatian soccer, he promises to work very hard: "I will have to tuck up my sleeves and work day and night for the good of the sport loved by so many Croats."

It may be true that Croatian soccer at the international level is prospering, as the national team has qualified for four out of five major international tournaments since the 1994-96 European championships, Croatia's first in history. However, at club level, matters look less than bright.

The leading clubs, Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk are mostly also-rans in the European Cups, with the second or third rounds of the UEFA Cup usually being their limit. The league competition has not been attracting major interest from the fans or the sponsors, and most of the distinguished players ply their trade far from the national borders.

One major obstacle for Boban's presidential ambition is the new prime minister Ivo Sanader's wish to have him installed as the deputy minister of sports in the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports.

Sanader has officially offered Zvone the spot, but he seems to be hesitating in view of a certain criticism received from the press regarding his "total political inexperience".

Boban, generation 1968, made his professional debut back in the spring of 1986 when then Dinamo Zagreb coach Miroslav Blazevic fielded him for a Yugoslav league game. A mere 16 months later, he was already a world beater at U-21 level when he scored the decisive penalty against East Germany in the Youth World Cup finals in Chile.

The Yugoslav squad included Prosinecki, Suker, Jarni, Stimac and Pavlicic, later to become regulars with Croatia, plus Predrag Mijatovic, the future star of Valencia and Real Madrid. The Yugoslav national team lasted just four more years, but Boban would surely have taken part at the World Cup in Italy, had it not been for that famous karate-kick directed at a Yugoslav policeman in May of 1990 at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb.

These were the moments before the legendary game between Zagreb's Dinamo and Belgrade's Red Star. Before the match, the Serb ultras, led by Arkan, later to be indicted for war crimes and assasinated, were rampant: tearing the plastic seats, throwing them into other sections of the stadium and burning Croatian flags.

The local fans were incensed and since the Serb-dominated police was not intervening, they stormed the pitch and headed in their hundreds towards the Serb-held stand. Now the riot police did intervene and the battle of Zagreb began, claiming dozens of injured on both sides. Seeing a policeman wielding a truncheon over a knocked-down Dinamo supporter, Boban took a run and flattened the cop (ironically, an ethnic Muslim) to the ground.

Later he was escorted by a dozen fans and club officials away from the stadium, but he did not escape punishment by the heavily serbianized Yugoslav FA: an eight month ban meant no Italia 1990 for him, but on the eve of the Croatian war of independence, he became something of a national hero.

In the autumn of 1991 the war was already raging, footballing activity in Croatia died down for six months, and Boban was transferred abroad like most of the Croatian stars of the era, Suker, Prosinecki and Jarni included.

Boban became one of Croatia's "sporting ambassadors", as the country's president Franjo Tudjman called them. Signed by Milan, he spent the first season gaining Serie A experience in David Platt's Bari, joining the San Siro giants in 1992.

In nine years with the "rossoneri", he won four league championships, one Champions League, one European Supercup and several minor honours.

After leaving Milan in 2001, he tried to soldier on in Celta Vigo, but things did not go as planned and Zvone, never accepting a secondary role, said goodbye to football only a month into the season. Having collected 7 Yugoslav and 51 Croatian caps, he won a bronze medal at the 1998 World Cup and played in the quarterfinals of Euro 1996.

Ozren Podnar

Zvonimir Boban

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Name: Zvonimir Boban
Position: midfielder
Birth date: 10/8/1968.
Birthplace: Imotski, Croatia
Height/weight: 183 cm, 78 kg
Appearances & Goals
51-12 (Croatia); 7-1 (Yugoslavia)
1985/86 Dinamo Zagreb 2-0
1986/87 Dinamo Zagreb 28-3
1987/88 Dinamo Zagreb 30-13
1988/89 Dinamo Zagreb (military service)
1989/90 Dinamo Zagreb 23-9
1990/91 Dinamo Zagreb 26-15
1991/92 Bari 17-2
1992/93 Milan 13-0
1993/94 Milan 20-4
1994/95 Milan 21-1
1995/96 Milan 13-3
1996/97 Milan 28-1
1997/98 Milan 23-2
1998/99 Milan 27-2
1999/00 Milan 17-6
2000/01 Milan 16-2
2001/02 Celta Vigo 4-0

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