If the FIFA World Cup™ is the stage on which international coaches are judged, then Ratomir Dujkovic can surely claim to have firmly established his star quality by leading tournament debutants Ghana to the last 16 at Germany 2006.
However, this was not the first time, and seems unlikely to be the last, that the Serbian has exceeded expectations. The former Red Star Belgrade goalkeeper is certainly well regarded in the likes of Venezuela and Myanmar for his achievements while in charge of these respective nations during the 1990s, and his two-year stint in charge of Ghana's Black Stars merely strengthened the reputation of this veteran coach.
Naturally, with such an impressive CV, the 60-year-old found himself courted by several high-profile suitors after quitting his post following Germany 2006, and it was to the surprise of many that he turned down numerous illustrious positions to take charge of China's Olympic side. FIFA.com caught up with Dujkovic recently to discuss the reasons behind his choice and look back on a year to remember in 2006.
FIFA.com: After your success with Ghana, why did you choose China as your next destination?
Ratomir Dujkovic: I have coached several national teams and achieved things at both continental and international level. But I have never been in charge of a junior side at the Olympic Games , so I see the China job as a challenge for me. On football planet either as a player or coach only challenge helps you improve. Without question, the potential here in the world's most populous nation was another key factor in helping me make the decision. There is plenty of passion for football across the country and the players have no shortage of talent. I hope I can help them improve through my experiences and knowledge.
China seem to have developed a natural bond with coaches from former Yugoslavia, including Bora Milutinovic , who led China to their first-ever FIFA World Cup finals back in 2002. Did you seek advice from these coaches before took the job?
Yes, I made a lot of inquiries with them, including Bora, and they all gave me good tips and information.
And their feedback was positive?
Of course, that is why I am now here. From what they said, I was convinced that taking the China job would be the correct decision.
Is it the case that you turned down other offers to go to China?
A number of national football associations, including Cameroon and Qatar, came to me but, yes, I chose to take over China's Olympic team.
Did you see any positive signs from the team's quarter-final finish in the recent Asian Games at Doha ?
I was satisfied to see that the players performed rather well throughout the campaign in Doha, beating the likes of Iraq and Oman to reach the last eight. They displayed good skills and spirit that made me optimistic about the team's future.
Do you not think, however, that it will be a tough task to lead the team to success at Beijing 2008 given the fact that China are currently even not the best team in Asia?
Nothing is impossible in football. The team have shown that they are capable of playing against strong opposition and, as long as we work hard and well together, we can be successful.
Having qualified automatically as hosts , China won't need to qualify, so you should have spare time and energy for preparatory work.
It is good we have qualified automatically but on the other hand, such qualifying rounds can usually provide competitive games through which the team can improve. When you play with pressure, you will gain necessary experiences of coping with difficulties. To make up for this, we will have to arrange good friendlies and warms-up against strong oppositions.
Does the experience you have gained with your previous teams give you further hope for success here in China?
Definitely. In Africa and Asia, the situation is very similar: both continents have talented players who should enjoy a great future in the game. A coach's job, therefore, is to develop these talented players into good footballers and get the best out of them within a team.
But, Ghana aside, African and Asian teams failed to live up to the fans' expectations at Germany 2006.
It was natural that Europeans dominated because football is considerably more developed across that continent. The professionalism of football has been in place for so long that it is no surprise that most world-class players and teams are produced there. However, African and Asian teams can drawn inspiration from the European example by first improving the infrastructure and secondly carrying forward the professionalism of football.
Do you feel South Africa 2010 will provide African teams with a good chance to advance to the latter stages just as the Asians did in 2002, when Korea Republic reached last four?
It goes without saying. And any success will further encourage the people to work harder and better.
Finally, what has been the most memorable game of your career so far?
It is very difficult to think of one in particular. But if I am asked to single one out, then I would say I was extremely happy when Rwanda defeated Ghana 1-0 in Kigali, because that was a victory that took us to the finals of the 2004 African Nations' Cup.