Coaching China PR has proved to be a major challenge with the world's most populous nation failing to qualify for any FIFA tournaments over the past year. But legendary ex-Croatia coach Miroslav Blazevic is confident he can overturn that recent poor form and guide China through Asia’s challenging qualifying path all the way to the 2012 Olympic Football Tournament in London.
Blazevic, who led his country to third at the FIFA World Cup France 1998™, is no stranger to China having this year taken Shanghai Shenhua to third in the C-League in his first season in China. FIFA.com caught up with the former Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina boss recently to share his views on his new job, China’s potential and his memorable past.
FIFA.com: Why did you choose to travel to the Far East to manage Shanghai Shenhua last season, before taking over China Olympic side recently?
Miroslav Blazevic: China is a country which constantly amazes me. When I was a little boy my mother told me this is a great, enigmatic country. I had been wanting to come to China since then and I am glad that I eventually had my dream realised. I am in no doubt that China will be a world power in the future, including in football.
What goal have you set with the China Olympic side?
My objective is to take the team to the next Olympic Games at London 2012 and I am confident that we can achieve that.
How do you rate China’s football?
China has plenty of talented players and I hope they will develop into true stars. The footballing potential of the country is huge and I believe China will become the next nation to emerge on the continent after Korea Republic and Japan.
Interestingly, the C-League was dominated by you and Branko Ivankovic, your former assistant with the Croatia national team. But he won the dual by taking Shandong to the title…
Ivankovic is blessed with a host of star players but he has also proved he is a good coach. Strong financial support, a good team and his advanced managing know-how all contributed to Shandong’s success. I hope under him the club can break further ground in next year’s AFC Champions League.
Was guiding Croatia to the third at France 1998 as tournament debutants your favourite coaching memory?
That was a very special campaign for me. We had overcome a great deal of difficulties and strong opponents to achieve that. Our country was undergoing a special time during that period so our success meant a lot for our people.
Your achievement 12 years ago left Croatia with a strong legacy, and they went on to qualify for the next two FIFA World Cups. What did you make of their failure to progress to South Africa 2010?
Croatia is a football-loving nation but after all it is a small country and we have limited sources. It is therefore always a challenge for us to compete against strong European rivals in World Cup qualifying. Also some unexpected injuries to some of our core players during the qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010 also played a part in our failure this time.
Who is the best player in the current Croatia team?
We have plethora of talents in the team but if you ask me to pick one out, I would name Luka Modric. He has been doing well with both club and country and he will play a key role with the national team for many years.
Both Croatia and your adopted country, China, will soon face their respective qualifying campaigns for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. What are the prospects for the two teams?
Croatia has shown the world what they are capable of by qualifying for three consecutive World Cup finals so hopefully we will have few problems in achieving that feat again. China, with their great potential, will enjoy a bright future.
You have proved you are one of the best coaches in the world….
I am sorry to interrupt you. I am not one of the best coaches, I am the best!
Few coaches remain active well into their 70’s so what is the secret to your longevity?
You must love football and your profession as you love in life. A true love doesn’t disappear with the passage of time so you can always maintain your work level as long as you love.
So when are you going to retire from coaching?
I will die at my coaching post!