Miroslav Blažević may be nearly 79, but the famed coach from Bosnia and Herzegovina has never managed a club in the land of his birth – until now.
To the great surprise, and joy, of FK Sloboda Tuzla he has taken over the side who were once among the elite of the former Yugoslavia, before relegation in 2011/12. Blažević assumes the helm with his team trailing NK Jedinstvo Bihać in the promotion race but there are few better qualified to lead Sloboda back to the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Premier League.
"The people of Tuzla want the club back among the best in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I can and want to help them," Blažević said. "For the first time I am coach of a club in the country where I was born, and there is no greater challenge. First we have to get back to the Premier League, and then to the upper reaches and fight for a place in Europe."
Recalling his tenure with the club where he is most associated – and where he won the 1981/82 Yugoslavian First League title – Blažević added: "As Dinamo Zagreb coach I came to Tušanj [Sloboda's stadium] and it was never easy. Sloboda Tuzla were a very strong team, but they will become even stronger."
Blažević went on to win the Swiss championship with Grasshopper Club plus two Croatian titles in further stints at Dinamo. He also totalled 111 games in charge of the national sides of Switzerland, Croatia – coming third at the 1998 FIFA World Cup – Iran, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, leading them to the 2010 World Cup play-offs.
Amid a coaching CV also containing the China Under-23s and clubs in France, Slovenia and Greece, Sloboda represent the 27th stopover of a career launched back in 1968 with FC Vevey. This latest reign will begin with a mid-season training camp in Slovenia, followed by high-profile friendlies, starting against FK Crvena zvezda.
However, it will not be easy. Besides the huge interest his return has attracted nationwide, there are ten other former top-flight clubs in the First League – namely Jedinstvo, FK Rudar Kakanj, NK Gabela, HNK Čapljina, FK Radnički Lukavac, OFK Gradina Srebrenik, HNK Orašje, FK Budućnost Banovići, NK Iskra Bugojno and NK Troglav Livno. The last of those teams will form Blažević’s first competitive opposition on 2 March.
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