In a revealing interview, Croatia’s coach Slaven Bilic talks tactics and about his team’s Euro 2012 campaign that began with a resounding 3-1 win over Ireland on Sunday. This is Bilic’s last tournament as an international coach as he will join Lokomotiv Moscow. Excerpts:
You have said that Croatia could go "all the way". Do you really mean that?
You can call me a madman but if we stay clear of injuries and prepare properly, which I’m sure we will, then we have a chance against anyone. There are only five matches on the road to the final — if we take each one as it comes with a right plan we really could go all the way.
It seems that, as a strategist, you put emphasis on individual instructions rather than specific formations?
My opinion is that formations are slowly dying out. It has become difficult to mark the movement of the players, with regards to the ball, just by assigning numbers to each line. Fluidity is more important — you want your team to stay compact with no gaps. But that doesn't mean the system is any less important. I will never underestimate the value of individualism and inspiration — but without a solid system, improvisation is just anarchy and that’s not a long-term solution.
You're known for being one of few managers who use five, sometimes six offensive-minded players at the same time.
It's pure pragmatism. Of course I prefer a passing, possession-based attacking game but you have to look at what's best for the team . But even though we use many offensive-minded players, solid defence is the foundation of our play.
You follow global trends and you have proved to be flexible when it comes to formations. How likely is a kind of tactical surprise at the Euros?
It is possible, although our style of play is more or less known. Maybe we won't go so far and play with three in the back line, although we have tried that before. But football has changed so much in the last few years and it's important to keep pace with that development.
What has changed the most in your opinion?
Think those Chelsea-Liverpool clashes in the Champions League, those were chess games between Mourinho and Benítez. The goal justified the means. But then Pep Guardiola was crucial in changing that with Barcelona. He initiated a revolution in the way coaches look at football because everyone wants to emulate the best: most teams today try to play football, they strive for creation, not destruction. Even the Italians took part in that — both the national team and clubs. Now everyone realises that apart from getting a result, it's important how you play.