We talked about Zlatko Dalić’s triumphs, trials, and tribulations yesterday.
Will he always be known for taking Croatia to the World Cup Final? Yes.
Should he ever have to pay for a beer while standing on Croatian soil. Absolutely not!
Whether you think Dalić is the best Croatian football coach of all time or not, we must pay close attention to what he has been doing since the EURO 2020 exit. Over the past five months, Dalić has been evolving. He’s learning. And most importantly, he’s putting his foot down. The results are there, no matter how ugly some games have been to watch.
In a Sportske Novosti article this week, Dalić shared his side of the story in what was a turbulent 2021 and how he lost control of the locker room following EURO 2020. Although he was happy with the team’s effort and drive against Russia this past Sunday in Split, Dalić wondered how EURO 2020 and the Spain match could have ended if the team played with the same spirit they possessed versus Russia at Poljud.
So here’s how the story goes:
Dalić admitted that he gave too many privileges to too many national team players during his tenure. He promised himself a new set of rules for players heading into September’s qualifiers – which means some would be omitted. Some players wouldn’t make the cut due to their fitness. Other wouldn’t make it because of their attitude.
But let’s rewind back to the summer for a second. Dalić told Sportske Novosti that he and his coaching staff met with Modrić and Kovačić in Zagreb immediately following the team’s EURO exit. Dalić asked Modrić if he had his trust. If he didn’t, Dalić would have quit right there on the spot. Modrić told Dalić that he did have trust in him, but Dalić had to change to make the relationship work. (It is unknown what Modrić fully meant by “change”)
For the time being, things were ironed out between manager and captain. All was well.
However, the very next day, Ante Rebić publicly criticized the team and Dalić on his Instagram saying, “the team has been shit for over two years!” That absolutely crushed Dalić’s spirit as he helped Rebić transfer to AC Milan and invited him back to the Croatia side for EURO 2020 when he originally leaned against it.
Since that day, Dalić has not called Rebić to the national team and the two remain on non-speaking terms.
For September’s qualifiers, Ante Rebić was an obvious omission purely based on attitude and being non-apologetic. However, Dalić also made it a point not to call ‘out of shape’ players or guys that weren’t putting in the effort when he had to name the team in Fall. Josip Brekalo, Šime Vrsaljko, Lovre Kalinić, Milan Badelj, and Domagoj Bradarić weren’t called up for those reasons and Bruno Petković was left off the team in September because he was measured to only be training at 22% efficiency during a practice session. And that pissed Dalić off.
It seems Dalić changed his tune and wanted fighters on the team moving forward as opposed to privileged players thinking they didn’t have to put in effort to make the team.
Dalić went on record saying his relationship with Kramarić was rocky as he did not want to select him for World Cup qualifiers after EURO. Dalić also told Kramarić to no longer speak to the media following his outburst earlier in the year stating that Dalić doesn’t know his natural position on the field. Is that why Kramarić has looked so uninspired on the pitch for Croatia in 2021?
The HNS and President Kustić sat patiently as Croatia did well in September qualifying – grabbing seven points out of nine. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a backup plan in case Dalić failed. The HNS was prepared to hire former Croatia international, Robert Prosinečki, as head coach in September if Dalić couldn’t get the job done. We now know that he did.
Dalić was never given a dull moment from his players in 2021. If it wasn’t Rebić, it was Kramarić. If it wasn’t Krama it was Lovren.
Dalić nearly kicked Lovren off the team following the 0-0 draw with Russia for a public outburst in front of the team. However, Dalić couldn’t pull the trigger because Ćaleta-Car and Gvardiol were hurt at the time and he desperately needed Lovren on the pitch.
Dalić was slowly becoming more authoritative with the team as Croatia and Russia stayed tied atop the World Cup qualifying table. Dalić began making big moves when he brought Borna Sosa to play for the senior side (after he publicly chose to play for Germany earlier in 2021), met with Bayern Munich defender Josip Stanišić in October to get him capped, cemented Joško Gvardiol’s role in defense, and later added Lovro Majer and Ivo Grbić to the team as well. Dalić even brought back Petković and Brekalo once he was happy with their training and overall attitude.
Dalić currently has momentum on his side with Croatia directly qualifying for the World Cup in 2022. From everything he told Sportske Novosti this week, it seems as if he has a solid grasp on the team regarding expectations, behavior, and the selection process.
At the end of the day, if Dalić is just now learning how to successfully manage the egos in his locker room with the talent he has at his finger tips, the sky is the limit for the Vatreni in 2022.