He got me. Zlatko Dalić got me fair and square and now I have to swallow my pride and admit that his ‘method of madness’ actually works. Or he’s just the luckiest Croatian on planet Earth and can wiggle out of any tough situation. Either way, it works.
I called for Dalić to resign immediately following EURO 2020 after he lost the locker room. But it’s obvious to me he may be one of the most resilient coaches in the world and won’t quit when the going gets tough.
Dalić’s tenure as head coach of the Croatian national football team since 2017 has been the epitome of an ’emotional rollercoaster ride’. Dalić had all-time highs as well as all-time lows. But at the end of the day, he gets the job done…every single time. Plain and simple. Football is a ‘results’ business and Dalić gets results. He gets Croatia to tournaments, and more importantly, out of group stage. Love him or hate him, Dalić’s résumé speaks for itself and he should be considered the greatest Croatian coach in history. This means he passes outspoken legend, Ćiro Blažević, in the process, who brought the Vatreni to the quarterfinals of EURO 1996 in their first tournament appearance before taking 3rd place two years later at the 1998 World Cup.
Let’s start with the obvious: Dalić got Croatia to the World Cup Final.
Not just is this Croatia’s greatest sporting achievement of all time, but it also happened months after one of our darkest periods. Former manager, Ante Čačić, left the team in shambles during World Cup 2018 qualifying. Croatia lost to Turkey and Iceland, drew Finland, and barely beat Kosovo 1-0 down the final stretch. They needed to beat Ukraine on the final day of qualifying to force a playoff, where they ultimately walked over Greece to reach the World Cup.
Right off the bat at the World Cup, Nikola Kalinić was a huge locker room distraction in Russia and Dalić had the balls to immediately excuse him from the team following a 2-0 win over Nigeria. It showed Dalić’s focus surrounding the team and how he would not allow negative energy to affect the locker room. But as we all know, more players would speak out against Dalić publicly during his reign as Croatia coach.
Dalić immediately took one on the chin following the World Cup when Spain obliterated Croatia 6-0 in Nations League, handing the Vatreni their worst loss ever. Leading up to EURO 2020 (in 2021), Croatia did not have one marquee win under their belt since the World Cup and players such as Kramarić and Rebić were publicly speaking negatively towards Dalić and his tactics. Even after two sub-par matches against England and Czech Republic at EURO 2020, Dalić and company found their fortitude in a must-win game versus Scotland to book a spot in the Round of 16 with Spain. Although Croatia did not get the job done in extra time, two goals in the last five minutes of the match against Spain to equalize and force extra time was Croatia’s greatest individual comeback of all time in soccer.
Fast forward to the end of World Cup 2022 qualifying, Dalić and company only conceded three goals in seven games and found a way to beat Russia in absolute shit conditions to punch their ticket to the World Cup. Against all odds. With fans across the world asking for Dalić’s head. With players publicly criticizing him, Dalić always rallies the troops to get the job done in the murkiest of waters.
Zlatko Dalić will now be the first coach in Croatian history to lead the national team in three straight tournaments. Zlatko Dalić will also have the opportunity to lead the Vatreni to his third straight knockout round appearance if he can get out of group stage in Qatar. (Remember, Croatia has made the knockout round in every tournament since the 2014 World Cup.)
You have to give credit where credit is due and Zlatko Dalić gets the job done; in the sloppiest and most difficult way possible.
But as we regularly say to each other, “Croatians never do it the easy way.” And that can certainly be said for Croatia manager, Zlatko Dalić.