Born in Gornji Sepak, Bosnia, in October 1984, Sejad Salihovic was only seven when he and his family fled their country's civil war and settled in Berlin, where the young Sejad first began playing football.
By the turn of the millenium the technically able midfielder was already on the books of Hertha Berlin, where he progressed from the youth section to the reserve team before eventually making his Bundesliga debut in September 2004. However, he was unable to secure a regular berth among the seniors at Hertha and opted instead to join Hoffenheim some four years ago.
The 25-year-old became an integral part of the club’s fairytale rise from the depths of the third division to the upper reaches of the Bundesliga, a journey which also earned the free-kick specialist a place in the Bosnia Herzegovina squad.
With Hoffenheim flying high at the top of the early Bundesliga standings, FIFA.com spoke to the playmaker about his club’s explosive progress, missing out on the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, and his targets in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2012.
FIFA.com: Sejad, Hoffenheim are top of the Bundesliga with maximum points from two matches. How would you assess your start to the campaign?
Sejad Salihovic: We had a very good pre-season period this summer. The aim now is to continue showing what we’re capable of in the league.
The Hoffenheim squad is fundamentally unchanged compared to last season. How good are the team in reality?
I think we have a very good team, despite the lack of major changes. Most of the players who’ve left us weren’t regulars, with the exception of Carlos Eduardo. The squad’s basically stayed together, and we’ve shown we’re capable of getting results. If we pull together as a unit, we have a decent chance of getting somewhere this season.
We’re a modest bunch, and we’ve not forgotten where we came from.
You finished last season in a disappointing 11th place. What are the targets this term?
You can’t be talking about targets and our potential finishing position this early in the season. We want it to be a good season, certainly better than the last one. Our goal has to be a place in Europe, and that’s definitely my personal target. We’ve started well, and we’ll take each game as it comes from now on.
You joined Hoffenheim in 2006 and you’ve been part of the rise from the third division to the Bundesliga. How would you assess the club’s journey?
The club has certainly come on a very long way indeed. What’s happened here is phenomenal, but we have to take the next step now and become a truly established Bundesliga outfit. We definitely have the potential for that.
You’re a former club captain, but what’s your role in the team now?
I want to be there for the team, and I want my performances to speak for themselves. That's the only thing I’m focused on right now.
You’ve been a regular in the Bosnia squad since 2007. What does that mean to you?
Playing for my football-crazy home country means a great deal to me. I was thrilled when I was first called up, and I’m always delighted to be part of the set-up. Playing for this team is a dream come true. Being out there on the pitch with these lads is really enjoyable.
You were narrowly defeated by Portugal in the play-offs for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. How did the players cope with the disappointment?
You just have to deal with it. It was difficult, obviously, but you have to pick yourself up and move on. We have a young team with plenty of quality. Our main target now is to qualify for Euro 2012. That would be a great success for our country.
The squad’s basically stayed together, and we’ve shown we’re capable of getting results.
Bosnia have a new coach in Safet Susic. What’s he like?
He was a great player himself. He knows all there is to know about football and he’s calm and collected when he deals with his players. I have a lot of respect for the coach. He’s looking to make a few changes, and I think he’ll help us make progress. I hope he stays with us for a good, long time, because he’s an important figure in the future of Bosnian football.
Your most recent result was a 1-1 draw with Qatar. Are Bosnia short of form on the eve of Euro 2012 qualifying?
Most of our players were right in the thick of pre-season training. We actually played reasonably well. We were all a little weary, and we were all keen to avoid injury. Now we’ve started the season for real with our clubs, we’ll be up to the task with the national team.
You face Albania, France, Luxembourg, Romania and Belarus in qualifying for Euro 2010. What’s your assessment of the group?
Based on their record, France are certainly the favourites. But we’re a very good team, and we’re capable of beating anyone. We’re a strong collective, provided none of our key players is injured. We’re not scared of anyone, and we’re very confident about the qualifying campaign.
Bosnia have yet to qualify for a major tournament. Which players can help you change that?
We have plenty of good players, Miralem Pjanic of Lyon for example. But we don’t regard ourselves as stars. We’re a modest bunch, and we’ve not forgotten where we came from. It would be wrong to single out any one player, because we can only succeed as a unit.