Over the last few years, I keep telling myself I should stop getting involved with Croatian national team and the whole shenanigans happening in Croatian football but, here I am again, talking and moaning about it.
If you’re reading this, you will understand, it’s hard to escape football when it’s such a big part of your life.
There have been a lot of articles written about situation in Croatian football, especially after the hooliganism that happened during the Euros – even I wrote about it before.
So, what made me do it again? Well, besides Lee, the boss?
Over the last international break, Croatia played two matches – at home against Ukraine as part of World Cup qualification, and a friendly match away in Estonia. Now both of these don’t sound that big at all, and I really didn’t want to get excited, but they were important for several different reasons.
The match against Ukraine was played in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital and official home of the national team, but it was the first time in two years that there were people watching it inside the stadium.
Yes, two years.
UEFA loves punishing Croatia almost as much as Croatian hooligans love to throw flares onto the pitch and sing inappropriate songs. I won’t go in detail about all these things and why fans throw flares and want Croatia (sorry, the Croatian FA) to be punished. There’s an explanation and I sometimes understand how they are feeling, but I’m always for a peaceful solution over any kind of violence.
So, back to Ukraine match.
It was a sold out stadium first time in years – tickets were as low as £4. People were pouring into the capital from all parts of the country because they will always love football and the national team no matter how horrible the Big Men Upstairs are (familiar? Yeah), Croatia actually perform well, most of the time, and it was a really exciting match to watch.
It shouldn’t come as a shock – most of our players are regular starters in Europe’s top 5 leagues. The result wasn’t as exciting, only 1-0 thanks to goal by Fiorentina’s Kalinić, but it was all nice and cheerful – just like the BMU’s wanted.
And that’s where the first problem lies.
If you read some statements, articles and columns on the Croatian FA’s official website, you’d think it was performance worthy of a World Cup title with the atmosphere of four Dortmund Yellow Walls.
One columnist even called it “perfection”.
But this is all a part of the FA chairman, former Arsenal man, Davor Šuker and the whole FA trying to convince the “undecided, unspoiled” part of public that are there only for the football that everything is fine. That all those complaining about the FA and calling it corrupt are wrong, and that everything is better when we all get together, buy tickets and sing songs.
Surely these monitoring choppers were only there to provide a light show, right?
— Mihovil Topić (@MihoTopic) March 24, 2017
There is one phrase in aforementioned column that compliments the crowd which came back in “a magnificent way” after “being driven crazy by hooligan villains whose only goal is to bring down the FA”, and asks the critics to “understand that Croatian football does not revolve around one man [Šuker]”.
Reading just these few sentences, doesn’t it all feel and sound like propaganda?
If you’re not convinced, read on…
The second match Croatia played was a friendly in Tallin, Estonia.
Even though it’s officially spring, it definitely isn’t in Estonia – it was cold, far away, and a meaningless match.
Croatian manager Čačić (*smirks at the word manager*, I could do a better job with this team) didn’t bring a full squad but it was still star-studded and exciting, so of course I watched the game.
It was horrible.
Croatia lost 3-0 (Čačić’s first loss!), with young Juventus midfielder, Marko Pjaca, picking up an ACL injury which needs surgery and will probably rule him out for the rest of the year.
The pitch was a disgrace – the Estonians didn’t even allow training on it before the match because that would have ruined it completely.
Players said after the match that it was basically like playing on sand. And poor Pjaca can surely confirm this from wherever he’s recovering post-surgery.
But, biggest talking point came after the match, when players were giving their usual short interviews.
Croatia’s captain for the night, and currently one of the hottest prospects in Europe, Ivan Perišić, gave an interview to Croatian national television, where he publicly called out the chairman Davor Šuker for picking out awful friendlies that have no point whatsoever and hurt players more than they help them.
The Šuker that all football fans knew and loved back in the 90s and 00s, has a nickname among Croatian football public – ‘Brand’.
He is trying to get our national team earning money and sponsorship like the biggest clubs. At first glance, it’s not such a terrible idea, but when it involves meaningless trips to China to earn a few bucks (that more often than not ends up in wrong places) and risks injuries on bad pitches – it’s football and players that suffer.
All these friendlies are here to “build a brand”, as Šuker says, to show the world how good our players are, how they love playing for our national team and how everything is great and the BMUs are dealing with all the problems.
That’s why, in the transcript of Perišić’s interview that was posted on FA’s official website, there’s no sentence where he criticises Šuker. Censorship at its finest – rounds up my propaganda theory. There was no mention of the crowd this time, because away fans aren’t as good and obedient as those in Zagreb and were chanting at the board and the FA.
I’m curious to see what will happen next.
Will the FA release statements or pretend nothing was said?
Will Perišić be stripped off the captaincy in the future (he’s the 2nd choice captain, after Modrić)?
Will other players let their opinion be known? I assume most of them aren’t too happy about playing on bad pitches or flying for half a day in the middle of the season.
If you browse around Facebook and comment sections on Croatian portals, there are comments saying players should live with it now after being quiet for so long and letting all this get as far as it has.
The Croatian national team is probably the best it has been since that famous 1998 World Cup, with players that are among the top 10 in the world in their position (could argue Modrić is the number one in his), but it’s hard to enjoy when you constantly have this feeling that you need to “pick a side” and aren’t allowed to “just watch football”.
One thing is sure – I, and many like me, would really love to enjoy watching our national team A) without thinking how a good result will mean the FA will be happy and think things are going their way, B) without someone judging me for cheering for the team because “it helps the Big Men Upstairs”, and C) definitely without helicopters and drones watching from above.