A Tale of Two Managers

In November of 2014, Bosnia’s national team was in deep, deep trouble.  An embarrassing 0-3 loss to Israel was the nail in the coffin to Safet Susic’s tenure as Bosnia’s manager.  The PSG legend went from being Bosnia’s golden jubilee player, to Bosnia’s “greatest manager,” taking the country to new heights, capped by a heroic qualification to World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

After a disappointing tournament, a series of poor performances garnered him a new title among the Bosnian faithful, persona non grata. Change was needed desperately, and BiH’s football federation responded by lining an eclectic gathering of faces in search for the new manager.  The mandate was simple – try to salvage the EURO campaign, however, make sure to qualify for World Cup 2018.  By the way, meet all of the ethno-political objectives and requirements set in place by a football federation beholden to the same ridiculous political process plaguing the country in general.

For Vahid Halilhodzic, it was something he could not agree to.  Nobody would tell him which ethnicity had to be represented in the team or in the coaching staff.  Nobody would tell him which friendlies were mandatory and where.  If it wasn’t Vahid’s way, it would be no way. It ended up being no way, as Halilhodzic walked after two meetings with the Bosnian FA, and later took the role of Japan’s manager. His winning percentage has hovered near 70% since taking charge.

For Mehmed Bazdarevic,  the FA’s ever-present demands was something he could live with.  Compromise was something he was comfortable with.  There was no need for bold statements or emotional sentiments.  Bazdarevic would instill his managerial style and discipline despite big brother’s watchful eye.  Only, he hasn’t.

Bazdarevic’s tenure as BiH’s national manager can be summed up as unstable.  In other words, not much different from his predecessor’s.  The same old demons of the past are still visible there.  Sure, Bazdarevic’s beginning was decent – he was able string together some decent results to bring the team to a playoff for the upcoming European tournament.  However, when the pressure was on, systemic collapse was on the menu once again.  Bosnia looked downright disinterested against Ireland, and it showed.  In a friendly against Switzerland, a 2-0 victory seemed to herald some changes, but the recent match against Spain proved it was only a flash in the pan.  The lack of discipline was on full display.  Spahic’s slap-happy antics, an uncoordinated attack plan, and no midfield play to speak of. Around the team, the same casual and unprofessional behavior.

But perhaps most troubling, the federation’s greed, and Bazdarevic’s willingness to always compromise.  Unlike Meho Kodro, who said no to an away friendly against Iran in 2008 and ended up with the boot, Bazdarevic would not stand firm against a nonsensical trip to Japan for the Kirin Cup.  All of this begs the question – is it the manager, or is it BiH’s federation that is holding the team back and presenting an atmosphere crony politics, greed, and amateurish conduct?

Now, Halilhodzic and Bazdarevic will meet in the final of the same tournament, Japan’s Kirin Cup.  The only difference is, Halilhodzic is at “home,” leading his team through his own willingness and intent.  Bazdarevic, on the other hand, is a passenger, beholden to the same old shadows as his predecessor.  One man has compromised, the other stands on his principles.   But in the end, no matter the result,  it’s Bosnia’s team that has already lost.



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