The Slovenia Times

A Breath of Fresh Air



It's the same all over the world: coaching the national team is one of the most coveted jobs in football but at the same time one of the most stressful. This is a post which is constantly monitored by thousands of sports fans, all convinced that they could do better at leading their countrymen to footballing glory.
Outgoing coach Matjaž Kek went from hell to heaven and back in his career and his time at the helm of the national squad arguably placed him in purgatory. He took over the role in 2007, with much scepticism surrounding both him and the national team which was then in 77th position in the FIFA rankings. Against all odds, Kek, 50, was the writer of a fairytale which culminated in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He led the national team 49 times, with 20 wins, 20 defeats and 9 draws, which makes him statistically the most successful Slovenian national team coach.

From success to struggles

Riding on the wave of the World Cup, expectations were high ahead of Euro 2012 qualifiers. In a group with Italy, Serbia, Estonia and Northern Ireland, second place seemed like a realistic goal. But it wasn't to be. The only respectable achievement was winning in Estonia, but a home defeat against the same team was the final blow which effectively dashed all hope. Add two more defeats in friendly matches against Georgia and Belgium and it becomes clear that the team was struggling. Even fans, whose love for the squad seemed eternal, booed them when they lost against Belgium. Team members responded by firing back ("you should never boo anyone in a friendly match") and largely ignoring the media.
A change at the top seemed inevitable. But when, in early October, Slovenia played its last qualifying match for the competition and won it 1-0, there was speculation that Kek might just hang on. It was a suggestion that was quickly quashed by the man himself. "We did some great things, showed some great performances, sold out stadiums... but recently, negative energy has built up and. It is time for new people and new challenges, but the foundations are solid," said Kek, who turned down an offer from an unnamed Arabic country after the World Cup.

New blood

And so one of the toughest jobs in the country now falls to Slaviša Stojanović. The 41-year-old was already a leading contender for the job back in 2007 but the then president Rudi Zavrl opted for Kek instead. "His time will definitely come," said Zavrl. It has.
Stojanović's career has been a steady progression. It started back in 1998, in Ljubljana, where he trained young prospects. In 2002, he became the head coach of Domžale to help promote the club from the Ljubljana suburb to the Slovenian premier league. He won two championships in 2007 and 2008. In his most recent coaching job, he served as an assistant coach of the United Arab Emirates national football team, where he worked alongside the legendary Slovenian coach Srečko Katanec. Stojanović has admitted that his time in the Middle East and working alongside Katanec was an invaluable experience: "This was without doubt a great experience and I owe a lot to Katanec. I learned a lot from him," said Stojanović, whose first goal is of course qualifying for the World Cup.

First challenge

Stojanović will have almost a year to prepare the team for that mission but his first test will come on 15 November in Ljubljana, when Slovenia will host a friendly match against the United States. "I am aware of the responsibility attached to the task ahead of me...This is no longer some local story, I am now at the helm of a team that is always a mirror of the state of Slovenian football as a whole," Stojanović commented, announcing some fresh blood in the team and an aggressive playing style.
If it were down to the fans, Stojanović would offer more opportunities to young players, such as Josip Iličić, Armin Bačinović and Tim Matavž, who were not given a proper chance under Kek's command. There is also a demand for Robert Koren and Milivoje Novaković to be dropped but Stojanović has announced that his work will be more of evolution rather than revolution. "The selection of players is not about choosing between the young and the old but between the good and the not so good," the new coach has said.


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