By: Kapil Patwardhan
Before May, Safet Susic, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 59-year-old coach was widely hailed in his homeland for being the first ethnic coach to lead the side to a major international competition. Such is Susic’s popularity in his native land that there were protests when he took over, bizarrely because the fans were angry that it had taken him this long to take the reins of the national side. Susic has justified his uber-popular status by leading his side to the World Cup finals, that too in style.
But ever since, Susic, voted as one of French powerhouse Paris Saint Germain’s all-time greatest players, has unveiled the squad that has travelled to Brazil, the adulation has been tempered by sharp, stinging bursts of criticism.
Susic, the attacking midfielder who has very enviable figures of 172 goals in 341 appearances for PSG, has had to smart off unending salvos of nepotism. The presence of his nephew, Tino-Sven Susic who has interestingly represented Belgium at youth level, in the final squad seems to have stirred a hornets nest. The young Tino-Sven Susic has just one international cap and when the senior Susic was asked why he had decided to pick the relatively unknown youngster, he snapped “he has a beautiful name”.
Apart from that though, the Bosnia and Herzegovina team have been molded into a unit that comes out all guns blazing under Susic. They scored 30 goals in 10 qualification games, often catching teams off-guard piling on wave after wave of attacks. Susic, who made his name as an adventurous and sharp midfielder, forever looking to drive forward, has managed to imbibe his own personal style of play on to his team.
The 59-year-old who has 21 goals in 54 games for the erstwhile Yugoslavia has not had the easiest of rides. His country, torn asunder by a horrific civil war, has been beset by problems.
Bosnia and Herzegovina have had three separate football federations, all of whom claimed legitimacy and proclaimed to run the national team. With ethnicity and related tensions a major sticking point, Susic has marshaled his troops well, managing to strike the right balance between Croats, Bosnians and Bosniaks.