By Kadira Malkoc
The failure of the Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina bid to host the 2008 UEFA European Championship need not spell too much gloom. In Bosnia, certainly, the very fact they were joining their neighbours in a bid was a welcome sign of a country gradually finding its feet again.
But there remains a long road to walk according to Mehmed Bazdarevic, Bosnia's first football captain. Bazdarevic, also a former NK Zeljeznicar midfield player and Yugoslavian international prior to the break-up of the Yugoslavian federation, met uefa.com in Paris to discuss the problems Bosnian football is facing, together with his one-time Yugoslavia colleague and FK Sarajevo old boy Faruk Hadzibegic.
Bazdarevic, now 42 and reserve-team coach at French Ligue 1 club FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, has recently completed his national coaching badge in France. "I am working with players who turn 18 and the ones who are not in the club's first team," he explained, before turning his thoughts to his homeland.
Youth the key
Bazdarevic believes that only by improving the infrastructure of youth coaching can this still-young football nation develop. "I wish I could work with talented young players from the Balkans," he said. "They are real football pearls. But times are tough now.
Short of resources
"Mostly there are no means," he added. "I went to see officials from Zeljeznicar to propose taking over their youth categories. I asked them to build a new artificial pitch with artificial turf and a small cafeteria for the children. They said I was asking too much. I left. I think there will be no improvement in Bosnian football until they start working with children."
Hadzibegic, another graduate of the French coaching system, also has a Sochaux connection, having been coach there from 1996-98. He was also director of football at Real Betis Balompié but is now preparing to return to his former club, Sarajevo, "as director or president".
Need to move abroad
Hadzibegic, a former defender, was also a known defender of a multicultural and unified Yugoslavia. He believes Bosnia's footballers will struggle to learn unless they move abroad. "The Balkans have the best playing potential in Europe," said Hadzibegic. "They know how to play, but they need to learn how to compete and this is, unfortunately, can only happen when they start playing abroad."
Under coach Blaž Sliškovic Bosnia have lost their opening two UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying matches, after finishing fourth -with two wins from eight matches - in qualifying for the last FIFA World Cup. Bazdarevic said: "I was so enthusiastic when I entered that first national squad. But very soon I realised that players of other nationalities were missing.
'Where are we now?'
"I did not want the Bosnian team to be made up only of Bosnians," he added. "Maybe one day the Balkan nations will find a way to reunify their football talents. I still keep my old Yugoslavian jersey - we were the fifth football power in the world, and where are we now?" The long walk, it seems, has only just begun for Bosnia.
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