Krunoslav Jurčić was one of the key men in GNK Dinamo Zagreb's last UEFA Champions League campaign in 1999/00 and 12 years on is relishing pitting his wits as a coach against "idol" José Mourinho.
The former Croatia midfielder began his second spell in charge of Dinamo this summer, instantly leading them through three knockout rounds and back into the group stage. And their immediate reward is a Group D home opener against Mourinho's Real Madrid CF with Olympique Lyonnais and AFC Ajax to come.
"During the last few years I have analysed [Mourinho's] work as a coach a lot, and I can say he is my idol," Jurčić told UEFA.com. "I don't want to hide that. I like his way of managing matches a lot, and his reactions during matches, he brings a lot of emotion into matches. If there are no emotions, football is not a real sport for me. Without people like José, football would never be as popular as it is at the moment."
It has been something of a mission for Dinamo to make the group stage again in recent years. They fell in the third qualifying round five seasons in row until this year when Jurčić ended that run. "To qualify for the Champions League means that we have done a very good job. Our goal for this season was to get into the Europa League, that was the main plan.
"Our team are young, and we have some new players, so we needed time to play at our best. But everything went in the right direction, some players played much better than we expected, and along with the technical staff and everybody around the team, things started to work perfectly, and we made it to the Champions League.
This is a big reward for our team, and it's a big honour to play with the best European teams. But being in such a group of teams is a big responsibility, to represent our club, our city and our country."
The last time Dinamo were there, Jurčić played in draws at Manchester United FC and Olympique de Marseille, 12 months after securing a memorable 1-0 win at Ajax. "I have some beautiful memories from that era," Jurčić said. "First of all, I am very proud that I was part of that Dinamo squad, and that now I can lead Dinamo in the Champions League as a coach. These are unforgettable matches. I always try to motivate my players by saying, 'Guys, try to do something great during your career, so you can remember it forever'."
Backing Dinamo all the way will be a player who certainly did something great in his career, the club's former striker Davor Šuker, who later conquered Europe with Madrid. "
The Champions League is so important for us, it's like a World Cup, these are the most strongest and most the attractive matches in the world," he said. "Dinamo have made really huge efforts in the last decade. They invested a lot and they were close a few times. But it's football, some teams are investing €100m, €200m or even €500m and they don't reach a Champions League group stage.
"Dinamo finally took that last step and I am so glad we will play against my other former club Real Madrid. I am looking forward to meeting them here and to being their host in Zagreb. Do I have advice for the Dinamo players? They should not think about the result – Real regularly score five, but I hope that will not be the case in Zagreb. This match is like a Champions League final for Dinamo."
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.