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Hadžiabdić on edge as Wales welcome Bosnians

Swansea City AFC cult hero Džemal Hadžiabdić's loyalties will be divided as a Wales side with "no excuses" for underachieving meet his native Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Džemal Hadžiabdić spent three years with Swansea City as a player
Džemal Hadžiabdić spent three years with Swansea City as a player ©UEFA.com

As Wales prepare to take on Bosnia and Herzegovina in Cardiff on Friday in UEFA EURO 2016 Group B, one Welsh cult hero is likely to have divided loyalties.

"I have watched both Wales and Bosnia," Bosnian-born former Yugoslavia international and Swansea City AFC midfielder Džemal Hadžiabdić told UEFA.com. "Over the last ten years, Wales have had different managers, but when I read things and listen I think people make too many excuses. But there is no excuse with the players that Wales have at this moment.

"Bosnia are under tremendous pressure after losing to Cyprus in their opening qualifier," he added. "The manager, Safet Sušić, is a good man and a good coach. After the war nobody talked about football, but 20 years later he has taken them to the World Cup finals. For the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was a dream. But there is too much criticism in the press and from the fans. He deserves better treatment."

Hadžiabdić, 61, was born in Mostar but has kept a home in south Wales home since a move from his local side FK Velež to Swansea in 1980. The left-back had been expected to sign for Norwich City FC or West Bromwich Albion FC until John Toshack – who was in the process of steering Swansea up through all four divisions of the English Football League – took him to Wales.

Hadžiabdić in his Swansea days
Hadžiabdić in his Swansea days©Getty Images

"Sometimes these things happen in football," said Hadžiabdić, known affectionately to Swansea fans as 'Jimmy'. "John Toshack remembered me playing for Yugoslavia against Wales. I made my debut in a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur in pre-season. Spurs were strong with great players like Glenn Hoddle, Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles. I used to have cards of these players from chocolate bars! Toshack asked me to play 45 minutes. It was the best 45 minutes I played in my entire football career. The whole stadium was on its feet – I was in shock."

Hadžiabdić was at Swansea for three years, but while he has spent the best part of the last 20 years coaching in Qatar, south Wales is never far from his mind – not least since he has maintained a family home in the area. "When returning to Swansea over the last few years I have watched managers like Roberto Martínez and Brendan Rodgers," he said excitedly. "Their work is totally different to what has happened in the past."

Hadžiabdić is still fired by the art coaching, and while he has adapted to modern methods, his basic principles remain the same. "I try to create the right atmosphere in my teams," he explained. "If you don't have this, you cannot win anything. My life is that of a football coach. I want to keep learning and continue to study the game even now. My dream is to work at Swansea City, but this is a dream of a lot of people. However, I never give up."

Fans who watched him in his three years at the old Vetch Field stadium will attest to that.

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