Bazdarevic’s Worries – and my own to boot

After the honeymoon phase that even Safet Susic enjoyed as the manager of the Bosnian national team, reality is finally setting in for Mehmed Bazdarevic.  After a hot start as manager (5-1-1) successfully lifting Bosnia to third place in its EURO2016 qualifying group (behind Belgium and Wales), the shock of Ireland, and the ensuing confusion has left him asking some questions – not just of his players, but of himself.  In the two most recent matches, friendlies against Luxembourg and Switzerland, the results were certainly positive (3-0, 2-0), but have we made real progress?

In the playoff round against Ireland, the team looked tired, sloppy and defeated.  In politics, pundits often say that voters can just smell a loser.  The fans had a similar sensation after the match in Zenica.  This team was cooked, and everyone knew it.  The fog that night was thick enough to cut, but not thick enough to blind everyone as to what was really happening.  The team failed, and Bazdarevic failed equally hard with them.

Perhaps the euphoria of the historic World Cup 2014 qualification was too much for little Bosnia. Perhaps the overwhelming desire and hunger that was shared like a zeitgeist between the team and the fans, and indeed the nation, is no longer there.  Can the team go forward without riding the coat tails of national pride and patriotism?  Croatia underwent a similar metamorphosis after their World Cup 1998 heroics, when the team finished third under manager Miroslav “Ciro” Blazevic.  Can Bosnia undergo a similar change and transition from glory of the “golden generation,” to the future?  More importantly, is Bazdarevic the man to count on for such a job?  It remains to be seen.

Bazdarevic has elected experimentation in the aftermath of Ireland.  More daring than his predecessor, he has scouted a decent array of potential national team players.  We have seen the reintroduction of Ervin Zukanovic, and the introduction of younger players like Daniel Graovac, Gojko Cimirot, and Haris Duljevic.   Many would argue he has already done more than Susic had done during his entire tenure.

However, there are negatives.  Quite a number of them.  The constant experimentation with the lineup and shifting of players has got to stop.  The in-form players should be starting – at their primary and natural position.  Given the current situation, Bazdarevic should either start with a 4-5-1 against stronger opposition, or a 4-4-2.  Between Dzeko, Ibisevic and Djuric, the team has three quality classic strikers available.  Edin Dzeko as captain and talisman will always have the preference, but Ibisevic and Djuric are good back ups.  With a 4-4-2, I’d like to see Bazdarevic pair Dzeko with a more mobile, creative player like Edin Visca or Armin Hodzic.  The fact that Bazdarevic refuses to bend tactically is a big minus for the team.  The team may be able to get away playing two identical types of players in front (tall, powerful and slow) against weaker opponents, but it gets exposed eventually.

 

As far as the defense is concerned, forcing Ervin Zukanovic as a left-back is not going to do us any favors, any time soon.  Zukanovic is a quality player, with plenty of attributes, but speed is not one of them, unfortunately.  With his height, technical ability and physical strength, Zukanovic should be one of the starting center backs, along with veteran Emir Spahic.  I know, I know, Spahic has his own army of haters out there, but at the moment there isn’t much of an alternative.  There is something to say about experience.  This is why you still see John Terry captaining Chelsea.  This is why Steven Gerrard was a stalwart in his Liverpool side for a lot of years.  Some aspects of football cannot be chalked up on the statistics board, and experience and leadership are some of them.  As far as the left back position is concerned, for once we have a quality left-back in Sead Kolasinac with speed, strength and defensive ability to boot, and we force the equivalent of Franklin the Turtle into the role instead?  It makes no sense.

At right-back, things may not be so cut and dry.  Mensur Mujdza, the crystal man seems to be all but dried up.  He never really impressed to begin with, he was just the best we had for a long time.  The match against France (yes that one, after just praising Spahic) was perhaps his best.  The time has come to hand someone else the reigns to the “coveted,” RB position.  At the moment, the options are slim at best.  The best choice seems to be Ognjen Vranjes – another somewhat slow and often sloppy player – but one who understands his role and plays with relative loyalty and bravery.  Outsiders looking in may be Mateo Susic and a somewhat controversial choice on my part – Kerim Memija, one of Zeljeznicar’s recent jewels.

So we come to the most difficult to figure out portion of the lineup – the midfield.  The wingers in a 4-5-1 are relatively stable – Edin Visca and Senad Lulic.  Lulic has been on and off (mostly off) but in his stead, we have virtually nobody worth replacing him.  Everton’s Muhamed Besic is a must starter, along with Miralem Pjanic. The question of Pjanic has been difficult to answer.  In the two most recent matches he was excellent.  Not only was he excellent but his Juninho-esque free-kick mastery was on full display.  But what’s with the Jekyll and Hyde act as Manchester City fans would say about Dzeko back in the day?  Many are arguing that Pjanic is being played out of position and should be moved back to a more central midfield role.  This may be true.  However, at the moment, with a lack of a Zvjezdan Misimovic replacement, Pjanic best serves his purpose as the preliminary classic “10” role player.

If you can count, that’s four players so far.  What about that elusive fifth spot?  There are quite a number of contenders.  Among them, Gent’s attack minded Danijel Milicevic, PAOK’s talented Gojko Cimirot, and the kid with uncle issues, Tino-Sven Susic.  At the moment, Cimirot seems to have the most upside, long-term, but Milicevic could prove to be a useful spark, and the perfect compliment to Besic and Pjanic.

Bazdarevic still has a mountain to climb.  I’m talking Bjelasnica here.  Perhaps more important than the lineup is the attitude adjustment this team desperately needs. Preparing the team mentally for playoff encounters like Ireland is essential. Luxembourg and Switzerland were a good start, and nothing cures a team’s problems like winning. However, if the team is to turn into a tradition, the correct steps have to be taken.  Qualification matches are a whole different animal, and as Ireland proved, sometimes pride has to give way to hustle and a spirited fight in the mud.  Is Bazdarevic ready to be a boxing coach in Bosnia’s corner?

 

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