AL SHAHANIYA coach Igor Stimac was one of the stars for Croatia, alongside legendary names such as Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki, at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, where they finished third in their debut World Cup as an independent nation.
Stimac, 49, who played 53 times for Croatia including at Euro 1996, also had stints at Hajduk Split, Cadiz in Spain and Derby County and West Ham United in England.
Stimac coached the Croatian national team in 2012 and 2013. He also had stints at Croatian clubs Hajduk Split, Cibalia, NK Zagreb and Zadar, and Sepahan in Iran.
Stimac, who joined Shahaniya only recently, spoke to Doha Stadium Plus about his side, the Qatar Stars League and Croatia’s failure to live up to the expectations.
You had coached Sepahan in Iran and this is the second time you’re with a West Asian club. What’s your assessment of Qatar football?
Qatar is a smaller country than Iran. The facilities are much better here. But in Iran, you can find quality home-grown players. The league is also very competitive with plenty of clubs fighting for the first four positions.
But in the Qatar Stars League (QSL), there’re only four-five clubs who’re targeting a top-four finish while
the rest are fighting for survival. That’s the big difference I’ve noticed, but the tournament can get better.
Why did you join a bottom-placed side?
I decided to join Shahaniya because some of my friends who’re close to the club wanted me here. They asked me for help. I was free and decided to join them and want to fulfil their target of survival.
Are you happy with the club’s overseas players?
I’ve faith in all our foreign recruits. (Alvaro) Mejia is a wonderful player and has kept the defence stable. (Mehrdad) Pooladi and (Rahim) Zohaivi possess a fighting spirit which was reflected in our last game against Muaither. Kesse Mangoua is a proven midfielder.
Why haven’t Croatia won anything big in recent years?
Croatia is a very small country with four million people. All the players come from academies, which lack good facilities. Still, we’ve produced quality players like Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic (both Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Mario Mandzukic, Marko Pjaca (both Juventus), Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic (both Inter Milan), who’re playing in top clubs. We’ve good players, but the number is less.
There’re 9-10 players who’re brilliant, but Croatia needs at least 20 for great results.
What was the reason behind Croatia’s good run at the 1998 World Cup?
Suker, Boban, (Aljosa) Asasonivic, (Robert) Prosinecki and myself belonged to a generation who played together for
the Under-14, U-15, U-16 sides in the undivided Yugoslavia. Winning the U-20 World Cup in Chile was the biggest moment in our career. That achievement laid a strong foundation for the good
run of Croatian football at the 1998 World Cup.
What’s your opinion on teams in the region?
All countries are getting better as they’ve made huge investments in the sport. The results will come slowly, but the important thing is to have focus. In some countries, motivation is not that high. It’s the coach who has to motivate players, and the best way is to guide and help them.
What’re your thoughts on other QSL teams?
I’ve watched Al Sadd, Lekhwiya and Al Rayyan. They’ve top-class foreigners and that makes a huge difference, but they also have so many good Qatari players on the bench. That isn’t good for Qatar football. They’re destroying some talents because they don’t have any chance to play. If those unused players are allowed to play for lower-teams, it’ll help improve the tournament and benefit the national team.