To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Croatia chose Davor Šuker as their Golden Player.
Golden Boot and later Golden Player; even before he had earned global acclaim by scoring six goals at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, Davor Šuker had won a place in Croatian hearts.
After Šuker chipped Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel for his second goal in a 3-0 win against the reigning European champions at EURO '96, one Croatian television commentator summed up the local feeling, saying: "Who else but Šuker could score a goal like that?" Šuker himself told UEFA.com: "I always said my next goal was my best, but the one against Schmeichel was certainly one of my favourites."
Šuker's story began with his hometown club, NK Osijek, where he hit 40 goals in 91 games before a transfer to NK Dinamo Zagreb in 1989. Šuker was 21 at the time and had starred for a victorious Yugoslavia team at the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship, scoring six goals. Two prolific years in Zagreb – including another 34 strikes – brought him to the attention of Sevilla FC, who took him to Spain in 1991.
Here Šuker established his reputation and over five seasons, found the net 76 times. That form was considered good enough for Real Madrid CF, who duly signed him in 1996. "The best days of my career were with Real Madrid," he said. "It was the best city, the best club and I had most success there." If the high point of Šuker's three-year stay at the Santiago Bernabéu was winning the UEFA Champions League in 1997/98, there was also a memorable debut campaign in which he registered 24 goals in 38 matches.
After Madrid, Šuker spent a season apiece with Arsenal FC and West Ham United FC in England, before seeing out the final two years of his career in the Bundesliga with TSV 1860 München. It was for 1860 München that he struck his 200th league goal in all countries in April 2002. An important milestone, according to the player: "For me, statistics are the important thing. I measure myself by my goalscoring statistics."
The best figures for Šuker were the six goals in seven games that won him the Golden Boot and helped Croatia to third place at the World Cup in 1998. "There have been lots of world-famous players who didn't win a Golden Boot," he said. "Our national team was third in the world and I felt like a world champion. However, I would swap my Golden Boot for the gold medal in France."
Disappointment came when Šuker had a goal disallowed in Croatia's final UEFA EURO 2000 qualifier against Yugoslavia, which would have taken the team through to the finals at their rivals' expense. "It was my saddest day in a Croatia shirt," he said. Croatia then played at the 2002 World Cup finals, but Šuker appeared just once. He subsequently retired from international football after 68 appearances and 45 goals.
Since hanging up his boots Šuker has worked as a football agent and runs his own football academy, which includes seasonal camps. "I wanted to stay in football and using my name I can do a good job with this academy," said Šuker who has recently begun putting his experience to good use in an international relations role with the Croatian Football Federation (HNS).
It was the HNS, of course, which chose him as Croatia's Golden Player and he is understandably proud. "Besides the Golden Boot it is my most important award and a big compliment. Now I'm retired, it is wonderful to have the chance to think about the past and talk about my 19 years in the game."
Last updated: 21 January 2011
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