Croatian veteran Baric back in limelight

At 71, Otto Baric is no spring chicken, but in Euro 2004 the veteran campaigner will once more get the chance to coach a national team in a major tournament.

At 71, Otto Baric is no spring chicken, but in Euro 2004 the veteran campaigner will once more get the chance to coach a national team in a major tournament.

Baric’s achievement in qualifying Croatia for Portugal is no small one as he replaced Mirko Jozic at very much a transitional period for Croatian football.

Jozic departed after the 2002 World Cup when Croatia were eliminated in the group stages despite having beaten Italy in Ibaraki.

The likes of Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki and Robert Jarni quit the international stage following that tournament, joining the likes of Slaven Bilic and Igor Stimac in retirement.

That golden generation – Suker, Jarni and Prosinecki had been part of the Yugoslavia Under-21 side which won the World Cup for that age group in Chile in 1987 – had been at the heart of Croatia’s emergence as a footballing nation after the brutal war of independence.

Baric inherited a team stripped of the quality which had been available to his two immediate predecessors Miroslav Blazevic and Jozic.

However, in taking them to Portugal he has certainly fulfilled the first target of his new mission.

He has groomed the likes of Dado Prso, Tomislav Sokota and Marijo Maric, Jerko Leko, Marko Babic and Darijo Srna.

They will try and prove worthy successors in Portugal to their esteemed predecessors in the red and white chessboard shirt of the national team.

Australian-born goalkeeper Joey Didulica and Ivan Klasnic, who has contributed to Werder Bremen’s excellent season in the Bundesliga this year, are two more players who have been given recent opportunities to link up with the national team.

Baric has had a long and successful career in the game, although his previous job ended in disappointment when he was ousted as Austria boss after the national team lost 6-0 to Turkey in a play-off for the 2002 World Cup.

The fact that Turkey went on to finish third has since put that disappointment in perspective, and when Croatia came knocking at his door he was earning a living at Salzburg as director of sport.

He spent most of his playing career with NK Gradanski but started out as a coach with NK Lokomotiva.

Much of his coaching career has been spent in Austria, and his impressive coaching CV includes LASK Linz, NK Zagreb, NK Dinamo Vinkovci, Sturm Graz, Rapid Vienna, Fenerbahce and Stuttgart.

His first major achievement as a coach came back in the 1970-71 season when he led unfashionable Admira Wacker Modling to the Bundesliga title in Austria.

Twice clubs under his command reached European finals. Baric’s Rapid Vienna were defeated by England’s Everton 3-1 in the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup.

Then in 1994, Salzburg reached the final of the UEFA Cup where they were defeated by Inter Milan.

That goes down as arguably the finest achievement of his career.

More recently he led Dinamo Zagreb to consecutive domestic titles in the mid-1990s.

Not everyone is an admirer of Baric – at Fenerbahce he picked up the nickname “Otto Porridge” after a long period where he prevaricated over whether to take the coaching job at the Istanbul outfit.

A more flattering nickname was that of “Otto Maximale” which was bestowed on him when he was in charge of the Austrian national team.

Baric was assistant to Blazevic when Croatia first appeared on the world stage, reaching the quarter-finals of Euro 96 where they were eliminated by eventual winners Germany.

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