Blazevic manages to unite Bosnia

Players on strike and embezzlement claims but now a superstitious septuagenarian may go to World Cup

It was last May that football in Bosnia-Herzegovina hit rock bottom. The manager, the former Barcelona forward Meho Kodro, quit; the players went on strike in support of him; fans enforced a boycott; and newspapers published allegations of embezzlement against the board of the football federation. Things were so bad that in order to fulfil a friendly fixture against Azerbaijan, the youth coach was left driving round knocking on the doors of any professional he knew to see if they fancied a game. A local walking into the team hotel to have an ice cream with his girlfriend was mistaken for one of the late call-ups, and had a key pressed into his hand by the kit-man who then berated him for being late.

"Ridiculous," said Kodro's assistant, Elvir Bolic. "This is just another farce perpetrated by individuals who are taking Bosnian football nowhere." Even worse, Bosnia had been drawn in a World Cup qualifying group with the European champions, Spain, one of the Euro 2008 semi-finalists, Turkey, and a Belgium side widely held to be fast improving.

They should, logically, have had little chance of avoiding embarrassment, never mind reaching the World Cup, but then logic and Ciro Blazevic have never had much to do with each other. This, after all, is the man who attributed the Yugoslav league title to which he led Dinamo Zagreb in 1982 to his lucky white silk scarf, and then wore a lucky gendarme's cap throughout the 1998 World Cup.

Appointing a bombastic, superstitious septuagenarian as manager was a bold response but, 16 months later, Bosnia stand on the brink of a qualifying play-off for South Africa 2010. Following yesterday's 2-0 win in Armenia, they could secure at least a play-off place if they beat Turkey in Zenica on Wednesday and for all the input of the likes of the Wolfsburg forward Edin Dzeko, his playmaking club-mate Zvjezdan Mismiovic and the Montpellier defender Emir Spahic, Blazevic is taking the credit.

Mention Blazevic to Slaven Bilic, who played under him when Croatia finished third at the 1998 World Cup, and he can't help himself but roll his eyes. "I'm not saying he was a bad coach or a great coach," Bilic said, "but he was the ideal coach for us. He would gradually motivate you. He knows every day in his head that he's going to make a small incident to wake everybody up a bit, and then he's going to do this, then he's going to tell them to go out to a nightclub.

"Then at team meetings he'd be talking about, say, Estonia like it's fucking Brazil. You know he's lying; you know it isn't true, but you say: 'Fuck, yeah, it's going to be hard.' Or you'd be playing Argentina and he'd say: 'Argentina, not a bad team, not a bad team, but none of their players play for the best teams in Europe.' So you'd look at him and say: 'What the fuck are you talking about?' But it worked." Blazevic isn't big on facts. He says he is 73, but an assiduous Bosnian journalist checking the records of the church near where he was born discovered he is rather older. He promised not to publish the details if Bosnia beat Belgium in their next two games, and they did, 6-3 on aggregate.

His great gift is raising morale. The 19-year-old midfielder Miralem Pjanic has been a sensation at Lyon but is not guaranteed a place in the national team. For some tyros that would be a source of major frustration, but not him. "I don't mind," he said. "It's just fun being here." The older players, who it might have been thought would be more cynical, are just as enthusiastic. "The spirit within the squad is tremendous," said Spahic. "We're like a big family. I think that's the secret."

Not that Blazevic gets everything right. When he stood for the presidency in 2005, he polled only 0.8 per cent. He turned down the young Robert Prosinecki, vowing to eat his coaching diploma if he ever made it as a player. He said he would hang himself from the goal-frame if his Iran side failed to beat the Republic of Ireland in a play-off to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.

He was wrong on both counts, but coaching diploma and neck remain intact, and that is something for which all of Bosnia can be grateful.

And if they win on Wednesday, it may be worth him considering standing in the next round of elections.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform