The view at the Slovene First League summit after nine rounds is a surprising one; not only are NK Maribor third, with a game in hand, but NK Domžale are seven points clear having not yet shipped a goal. That is a record in itself, while goalkeeper Nejc Vidmar has been between the posts throughout and – taking into account last term too – has survived more than 900 minutes, since 17 May, without conceding.
Domzale is a small city just 20km from the capital Ljubljana. Key to the club's recent progress is Luka Elsner, their cautious yet impressive 32-year-old coach. "This is the result of hard work and excellent relations between the players on and off the pitch," he said.
"We defend from the front and, if possible, attack from the back. Helping one another, communication and collective defence are our strengths. However, football can quickly punish you, as we saw when we led 2-0 and then conceded three goals in the Slovene Cup recently. That was a great lesson."
Elsner is today the most prominent scion of one of Slovenia's foremost football families. His younger brother Rok plays in Germany for FC Energie Cottbus; his father Marko was a famed forward for Yugoslavia; his grandfather coached the Austrian national team. "Through the experiences of family members, I have settled pretty fast into the role of coach," says Luka, who played for Domžale for nine seasons, lifting two domestic titles.
"My father helps me a lot at Domžale now and his advice is invaluable. Of course, by the age of 32, I am not wise enough to know everything about football, but the way I work is producing good results.
There will be defeats because, forgetting our current invincibility, we have a lot of room for improvement.
"It is true that we have trained excellently and that the players are good personal friends – we organise bowling, go-karting and other entertainment together, and we do combat sports such as boxing in training ... It is all about belonging to the club and being a group of friends. However, the Slovenian league is very competitive and our current advantage doesn't mean much. Our aim remains to get a European spot. Nobody in Slovenia compares to NK Maribor, so we don't compete with them."
While his father provides one source of advice, Elsner has not been shy either in scouring the continent for further inspiration. "I enjoyed Salzburg's matches last season," he said. "Southampton were another big influence under Mauricio Pochettino and I also enjoy watching Atlético Madrid – I admire their work ethic and fighting spirit."
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