Anyone looking to establish a connection between Turkish and Croatian football need look no further than Robert Prosinecki. The former star, now coach of Kayserispor in Turkey, is still revered as arguably Croatia’s finest ever playmaker.
But that is not the only reason the members of Croatia's U-20 squad, who are gearing up for the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 in Turkey this summer, are eager to emulate the 44-year-old’s success.
“Anyone who has watched Robert Prosinecki’s footballing style cannot be indifferent,” said coach Dinko Jelicic told FIFA.com in interview. “He is not only an idol for our players, he was also my idol in his playing days”.
After leading Yugoslavia to the FIFA World Youth Championship Chile 1987 title, at which he also secured the adidas Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, Prosinecki is understandably the perfect role model for his young compatriots.
Focus on technique
So much so that Jelicic frequently enthuses about Prosinecki with his young charges: “His technical perfection, incredible imagination and the passion with which he played every match are unique.”
Yet the 39-year-old coach nevertheless identifies similar qualities in his squad. “Croatian football is known for being highly technical and the players grow up with that mentality. Therefore, it is also the same in our U-20 national team,” Jelicic continued.
Our goal is to work with young players and improve them to reach the top of world football, like in the past.
It is precisely for that reason that Jelicic believes a Prosinecki-esque triumph is certainly possible in front of the passionate Turkish fans once the competition kicks off on 21 June. “Every player has the right to hope and dream big, so our purpose in each tournament is to win the cup and to do everything we can to reach the top,” the coach said.
With anticipation growing ahead of the showcase of the world’s best young talents, the Croatians, backed by their 4.5 million-strong population, know it is another chance “to show our best football and all our players’ quality to the world”.
After scraping through qualification at the UEFA European U-19 Championship 2012 in Estonia, where they finished third in the group stage, Jelicic is aware his side are not among the favourites to take the crown. For that reason, he is banking on his compatriots’ support to spur them on.
“Whenever your homeland shares a common goal, especially in the World Cup, passion and extra national pride can help give us the belief we're among the best teams in the world,” the coach said. “Therefore, we are looking forward to the U-20 World Cup in Turkey with a great deal of desire and excitement. Croatian players are patriotic. That inspires us.”
All the elements are in place for Croatia to go a long way at the tournament, which will take place across seven cities: Antalya, Bursa, Gaziantep, Istanbul, Kayseri, Rize and Trabzon. Furthermore, in a country as lively and football-mad as Turkey, Croatia could even become a fan favourite alongside the hosts.
“The key for us is being a team,” Jelicic concluded. “Our goal is to work with young players and improve them to reach the top of world football, like in the past.” And where better to achieve that aim than in Turkey, where Prosinecki himself could well be in the stands, cheering on his potential successors.