After the 2-0 loss to Scotland at Hampden Park Tuesday night, all signs pointed to a new Croatian manager come Wednesday morning with Igor Štimac saying he would put in his letter of resignation for the better of the team. But who would it be?
Many pointed to former Croatia manager and the always animated Miroslav “Ćiro” Blažević to take over the reigns of the Croatian national team for the playoff round. Maybe even 2006 World Cup coach Zlatko “Cico” Kranjčar could make a return to the Croatian bench. However, Davor Šuker and the HNS opted for current Croatia U-21 manager and former senior captain Niko Kovač. The 42 year-old Kovac captained the Croatian national side for nearly half a decade, scoring 14 goals in 83 appearances from 1996-2008. He was as vocal as it gets for a football player, pulling the strings from his defensive midfield position game in and game out. He was respected by fellow teammates and adorned by fans for his ‘lion heart’ attitude; always leaving every drop of blood and sweat on the field.
Although Kovač has limited coaching experience, he has guided the current Croatian U-21 side to a perfect start in Euro 2015 qualifying with four wins in as many games without conceding a goal. Beforehand, he remained in the Red Bull Salzburg system as an assistant after his retirement from professional football.
“We decided to terminate the contract with current coach Štimac and named Niko Kovač as a temporary one for the next two matches in the World Cup play-offs. Our wish is that he remains coach after these two matches regardless of whether we qualify for Brazil or not,” –HNS president Davor Šuker.
As Niko Kovač prepares Croatia for their two-legged playoff in November from a temporary caretaker roll, he will add brother Robert to the coaching staff as an assistant. This team has too much talent to be losing games to Scotland and barely scraping by Wales and Macedonia. Maybe the players gave up on the system. Maybe the locker room got a bit stuffy.
Either way, there was a problem. And if anyone can fix it and get the players’ heads back on right on such short notice, Niko Kovač is the man for the job. Majority of Croatian supporters worldwide are excited for the switch. The players should be too.