The Bosnian Football Federation (FFBH) has been through difficult times, but it is now gradually moving in the right direction.
Elvedin Begic, who was elected the new president in December, visited FIFA with a FFBH delegation on 22 January. Among the group was Faruk Hadzibegic, who formerly played for Real Betis and Sochaux, coached the Bosnia-Herzegovina national team and was the last captain of Yugoslavia, for whom he won 65 caps.
In an interview with FIFA.com, Hadzibegic – who now has an official role monitoring the FFBH as an observer – said he hopes “to never have to intervene, as that will mean everything’s going well at the federation”.
A former central defender with deep knowledge of his homeland, Hadzibegic’s playing career included spells with FK Sarajevo (1976-85), Real Betis (1985-87), Sochaux (1987-94) and Toulouse (1994-95). And, as he explained, he was also involved in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s efforts to gain FIFA affiliation in the 1990s.
“I was part of the last commission that met Mr Blatter when the Bosnian federation was applying to join FIFA [Bosnia-Herzegovina was affiliated in 1996]. I was there as a former player, someone with a certain football authority, and we discussed the way forward. We cleared the first hurdle,” he said.
But matters soon turned complicated, with the war and internal disputes at the federation preventing any further progress. “We put ourselves in an awkward situation that forced FIFA and UEFA to suspend us from all European competitions,” said Hadzibegic.
“I was then named as part of a normalisation committee, in which I had a role as a FIFA-UEFA ambassador. I no longer have that role, but I’m still very attached to the federation and I care about football in my homeland. I continue to help and give advice.”
Hadzibegic recalled how, “during the Yugoslav era, Bosnia-Herzegovina was the main source of players,” before adding that “the current team is very good: I can’t find many faults with it.”
“The concern is that there aren’t enough of us, and we’re a bit short on the bench,” he continued. “We’ve reached the play-offs several times, but our federation has never experienced any big events. We lack the experience to manage those situations.”
The former Arles-Avignon manager is realistic about his country’s future. And he recognises that taking a post-war country of 3.8 million people to the summit of world football is no small task.
“The challenge is huge,” he said. “We’re all from the former Yugoslavia, where football was extremely well organised. Every effort had been made to establish a great quality of football, a quality that was recognised around the world. Now, Bosnia must take a very big step up to reach the former Yugoslavia’s level of excellence. We’re on the right track, but there’s still lots and lots of work to do.”
The Bosnians came close to qualifying for the last two FIFA World Cups™, only to be denied in the play-offs. And their Brazil 2014 campaign, for which they are placed in Group G of the European section, has also started strongly.
“Safet Susic, the head coach, is a real legend in Bosnia,” said Hadzibegic. “He’s doing an excellent job and the team are on track to reach Brazil. There are some important matches left, but we’ve never been so well placed to qualify.”
Hadzibegic, who describes himself as a “football fanatic,” says that when he is “in the dressing room or by the pitch, I’m in my element.” It is no surprise, then, that he plans to return to the dugout one day.
“It’s almost impossible to explain the feeling – you have to experience it,” he said of his passion for coaching. “It’s a bit like being in love with a woman. Why do you love her? You see everything in her: she’s beautiful, intelligent and kind. Other people may not see her like that, but you do. For me, coaching is the best job in the world. The dressing room is my passion.”
Hadzibegic has put that passion on hold for the past year to see his grandson, Imad, grow up in France, where his family still live. But the draw is still strong, and he continues to fulfil his role with the Bosnian federation.
“I have the perfect role for any fan: supporting football and youth,” he said. “With my footballing past in Yugoslavia and Bosnia, I have a duty to support all positive action by the federation if it leads the right way. And it certainly does, as it’s the way mapped out by UEFA and FIFA.”