Back in mid-April, Ivica Olic was still on course for a UEFA Cup, Bundesliga and German Cup treble with Hamburg. But the dream died, and the north German club ended up barely scraping into the UEFA Europa League. However, the Croatia striker himself will be playing in the Champions League, as he is switching to Bayern Munich after two and a half seasons in Hamburg.
After a brief spell with Hertha Berlin in the late 1990s, the 29-year-old returned to the Bundesliga in January 2007 from CSKA Moscow, where he collected three league titles and the 2005 UEFA Cup. Olic, who contributed 14 goals as Hamburg finished fourth in the 2007/08 campaign, emerged as a key personality and leading figure at the club.
He enjoys a similarly lofty status for Croatia nowadays, based on an impressive record of 11 goals in 61 international appearances. He appeared at both the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup™ finals.
English fans hold less than happy memories of the burly striker, as he was among the scorers when Croatia won 3-2 at Wembley in their final UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier, causing the 1966 FIFA World Cup™ winners to miss out on the continental showpiece. The father of two also hit the target when Croatia beat Germany 2-1 to win their group at the EURO in Switzerland and Austria.
FIFA.com spoke to Olic about Croatia’s forthcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers, and his new challenge at club level in Munich.
FIFA.com: Let’s start by talking about your club football. How would you assess your two and a half seasons with Hamburg?
Ivica Olic: It’s hard to put into words. I’ve had a very, very good time in Hamburg. HSV is a fantastic club and I was very settled there. The city and the people won a place in my family’s heart. It’s been hard to say goodbye, because it was a successful spell for me as a professional too.
You’re moving from the north to the south and joining Bayern Munich. Why did you opt for the switch?
Bayern Munich are the gold standard in the Bundesliga, and I’m looking forward to the new challenges. I know it’ll be a tough contest for a place in the team, but I’ll try my best to make the breakthrough.
Your strike partner next term could be Luca Toni – and your two sons are called Luca and Antonio. Is that just a coincidence, or is it intentional?
No, it’s a coincidence, although we crack a few gags about it at home. And both my boys do a frankly excellent impression of Luca’s trademark goal celebration (laughs).
What do you hope to achieve with Germany’s most successful club?
I want to perform well and contribute to a period of great success. After all, apart from the Bundesliga, we’re also in the UEFA Champions League. That’s an extra incentive for every player.
Turning to the national team, you face a crunch showdown against Ukraine on 6 June, where defeat could mean Croatia missing out on the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Are the players truly aware of the situation?
None of us is wasting a thought on potentially losing. We want to play well and win. That’s our target.
Croatia qualified for the FIFA World Cups in 1998, 2002 and 2006, but could fail to earn a place in South Africa. Why are Croatia struggling in qualifying this time?
Fundamentally, qualifying is never easy. A lot of people underestimate the scale of the task. But nothing’s decided yet, and we’ll do everything we can to qualify, although it’s a fact that we can’t afford any more slip-ups.
What are your memories of the 4-1 defeat at home to England in September 2008?
Taking a beating like that in front of your home crowd is never nice. But especially with games like that, you have to analyse it and move on. It’s all part of the game.
Croatia regularly appear in the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and have consistently been one of the elite in Europe too. Where do you think the current team stands internationally?
We know we’re a good team, and we know we’re always in with a chance when we get to the finals. At the end of the day, the smallest things make the difference at a World Cup or Euro.
You’ve played at the FIFA World Cup finals twice. What’s it like when you emerge onto the field for a FIFA World Cup match?
It’s an amazing feeling, with the national anthems coming up straight afterwards too.
Can Croatia win the FIFA World Cup in the future?
The World Cup is a hard one to win. But if you make it to the finals, you have a chance. The most important thing for the future is a good youth development programme.