‘A winner right until the end’ – Slaven Bilic leaves Croatia as a national hero

The outgoing boss has faced criticism from the press and former team-mates but has come out on top after a superb showing at the Euros, which resulted in undeserved elimination
 Sasa Ibrulj
 Croatia Expert Follow on


For the last four years Slaven Bilic has been putting up with his critics, with his head down, waiting for the perfect time to strike back. And now, that time has come.

Croatia impressed in their first Euro 2012 match against Republic of Ireland with a 3-1 win, but the fact that his tactical changes earned them a point against perennial heavyweights Italy showed that Bilic had more than just one weapon in his arsenal.

In his six-year spell as national team trainer, the 43-year-old followed in the footsteps of every single football coach in the Balkans. As a novice, he took over Croatia to unanimous disapproval from the public, journalists and even colleagues. Two years later his popularity sky-rocketed: he had become the most popular person in the country, with victories over England in Zagreb and Wembley in Euro 2008 qualifying highlighted as masterpieces.

His stock started to dip after Croatia failed to reach the World Cup in 2010 and performed miserably in most of the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012. Things had turned around – Bilic was heavily criticised for every move he made, and his abilities as a coach were questioned.


Qualifying for the Euros was a 'lucky shot', the result of one decent match, the one against Turkey, seeing them through to the finals. At some point he decided enough is enough.

Bilic told reporters: "I'm living the team after the Euros. I have signed a contract with Lokomotiv Moscow and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to work in such a strong league. Journalists have already found my successor and I wish him all the best."

He was talking about Igor Stimac, the former Derby County and West Ham defender. The 44-year-old Stimac, who coached Hajduk Split and NK Zagreb, is a pundit on Croatian television, and has criticised Bilic on numerous occasions. But now, it was time for him to hit back.

After the Italy draw, Bilic said: "What did I change at half-time? I decided to abolish the 4-4-2 and play 4-2-3-1. But how is it possible that none of your experts on TV manage to see that?"

The truth is that Bilic has nothing to prove anymore. Croatia once again surprised at Euro 2012 and earned the praise of the football world and no matter what happens, he will finish his reign as a winner.

On Monday, the team left Poland as the losers, out of the championship after a 1-0 defeat to Spain in the final Group C encounter. Now the whole country mourns the failure to defeat Italy, one of the big guns of the tournament.

That is Bilic's biggest win.