Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we cry.

Israel 3. Bosnia & Herzegovina 0. The final nail in the coffin of Safet Sušić’s reign as the Bosnian national teams coach.

A little over a year ago, everything seemed to be going perfectly for Safet Sušić. He had just successfully guided his team to the nation’s first ever placement to a major tournament and was taking his place in the history books, bringing the utmost of joy and pride to the entire nation.

Fans celebrating World Cup Qualification.

However, the world cup itself was not a successful campaign, 2 losses and a consolatory win against Iran, and the subsequent European Championship Qualifying can only be described as disastrous. 2 points achieved out of a possible 12. 6 points lost against heavy underdogs Iceland and Israel. Second highest team in terms of goals scored in World Cup Qualifying has in these past 4 games only scored a miserable 2 goals.

So, where did it all go wrong?

In short, poor management, of players, tactics, and in moments of crisis.

As a coach, Sušić has never had any real achievements prior to his posting as the national team coach. His decision making in terms of squad selection and in terms of managing the game has been uninspiring from day one. I saw this personally in the summer of 2014 when I went to watch the friendly match against the United States Men’s National Team. Although Sušić did call up a very important defensive reinforcement for that game, and handed him his debut in the national team’s colours, the squad selection was far from ideal.

The game itself started off brilliantly, the home team (Bosnia) took the lead and looked in control, however the tactics then started to unfurl. The United States team hit back and assumed control over the game, their coach adapted the tactics to the game while Sušić sat there idly frowning and observing, but still calm, as if everything was going according to plan. From there on his tactical faults became ever so apparent. Substitutions are never done in time, always in a late reactive manner rather than proactive manner, and when such substitutions do occur, they are often done by placing players into uncomfortable and unfamiliar positions. His faults up to the world cup were however forgiven, simply due to the fact that he achieved what no one before him did.

During the world cup, these faults became catastrophically detrimental to any sort of achievement that the national team could aspire to. The first game against Argentina was a respectful, and somewhat undeserved loss. The second game, a must win fixture against Nigeria, showed how out of depth Sušić really was in terms of tactical managerial awareness.

The game against Nigeria had many faults which consequently cost Bosnia further placement in the tournament. Firstly, with an available and fully fit left back, Sušić decided to use a winger in that position. Among this out of position player, there were three others, also fielded out of their natural position, which created chaos and confusion in the Bosnian strongest department, the midfield. Later on in the game, when the result was against the Bosnian team, Sušić again made poor decisions regarding the substitutions, firstly by taking of said winger-cum-left back, and replacing him with an unfit and injured central midfielder. Later on, instead of taking two ageing and visibly fatigued veterans, Sušić removed quick and electric attackers for central midfielders, thus ending the game with 6 central midfielders, 2 classic strikers and 2 defenders, an unusual mixture even in grassroots football, let alone in a world cup match.

This loss against Nigeria would only foreshadow what was about to come in the future. Sušić and his stubbornness insisted that having two strikers in the squad of 23 was more than enough, stating that if one of them were to get injured, a different system would be used, and that the likelihood of both of them getting injured was quite low. In the aforementioned loss against Israel, that is precisely what had occurred. The two strikers that were relied on ended up getting injured and were out of that game, another must win situation.

Back to the loss against Israel, the same mistakes again, in a different match. Without a classic striker, you would imagine any coach would change things up to suit the players at his disposal, this was not the case. The tried and tested system was used yet again, with players, yet again, in unfamiliar positions and unfit players, as well as ill players lining up in the starting 11. The game started off well for his team, but soon enough they were pegged back by the Israeli’s, yet Sušić, once again, sat there idly, watching his team crumble before him, making late, uninspired, or in this case illogical decisions regarding who was on pitch, consequently leading the team to another humiliating loss and in an incredibly difficult position with qualifying for the 2016 championship in France.

Sepp Herberger, coach of the German 1954 World Cup winning team once said “The ball is round so that the game can change direction” and this most certainly was the case with Safet Sušić and his tenure as the National Team’s coach.

 

 

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