Slaven Bilic’s six-year reign as Croatia coach ended in frustrating fashion when a 1-0 defeat by holders Spain knocked the Balkan country out of Euro 2012 and left the charismatic coach wondering what might have been.
But the 43-year old from Split, who is fluent in four languages, has a law degree and a rock band, will have few regrets knowing he brought the best out of his team, who often punched above their weight in major events.
The tournament in Poland and Ukraine was no exception as Croatia were in contention for a quarter-final berth until the last few minutes of their absorbing clash with the European Champions, when a Jesus Navas goal sent them packing.
Croatia’s “fiery madness” — the team’s official Euro 2008 anthem composed by Bilic’s band which epitomized their passion on the pitch and at times the unruly behaviour of their fans in 2012 — will now make way for daily work in club football.
Bilic will take over Russian top flight side Lokomotiv Moscow at the start of next season and, although he must be looking forward to a fresh challenge, coaching his country remains the most emotional endeavour of his career.
“I didn’t expect this to be my last game in charge because I thought we would get past the group stage with this phenomenal group who’ve shown great character and built a fantastic atmopshere,” said Bilic.
“I want to congratulate the players for six years of impeccable work and behaviour. I will leave nothing in the tank either professionally or emotionally whatever I do next but I will never be as proud as I was while coaching my country, which is a rare privilege and especially so for a young coach like myself,” he said.
‘Luck not on our side’
Croatia bowed out of Euro 2012 because they “lacked that tiny bit of luck”, said Bilic.
“We came here to go all the way and we failed as we lacked that tiny bit of luck that makes all the difference,” said Bilic.
Bilic said Croatia should have been awarded two penalties but Spain enjoyed “permanent help from the referee in those little details”. Croatia would now, Bilic said, head home “with our heads held high”.