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Global Jan 23, 2014 Q&A (Part 1): Croatia technical director Romeo Jozak on coaching education

PHILADELPHIA — Croatia was the only European nation to qualify for both the 2013 FIFA Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups. The nation of 4.3 million people has produced such stars as Mario Mandžukić, Luka Modrić, and brothers Niko and Roberto Kovač.

croatia fa logoAs academy director of Dinamo Zagreb, Romeo Jozak oversaw the development of current exports Modrić, Eduardo da Silva, Vedran Ćorluka, Niko Kranjčar and Dejan Lovren. A couple months ago, he officially cut ties with Dinamo to focus on his job as the Croatian Football Federation’s technical director and chairman of the technical committee.

At age 41, he has already turned down offers from Arsenal to become their academy director and the Irish FA to become their technical director. Jozak’s opinions on the game represent those of a soccer scientist with a Ph.D. education and extensive practical experience.

Jozak took time between presenting field sessions and classroom lectures at the 2014 NSCAA Convention to sit down with for a wide-ranging interview: Jürgen Klinsmann just became the technical director for U.S. Soccer, which is the same job you have in Croatia. In an interview, he said licenses are the most important aspect of coaching education. Just how important are licenses to coaching?

Romeo Jozak: “It’s actually easy to answer this question, but I’ll say it to actually be more clear to people: There are a lot of surgeons in the States, I would say. There are probably two or three of the best ones, right? … They all have probably similar or the same credentials for education. They all finished with Ph.D.’s. You have to have the credentials. You have to have licenses in order to be eligible and have legal eligibility to allow you to work, so you follow a certain structure. Then again, we quite often talk about the quality of players and the requirements for the players to have in order to be a good player. We don’t often talk about the requirements the coaches need to have in order to be good coaches. A license is not one of those things.

Romeo Jozak

“A license is just proof that you followed the education, and the government gives you the diploma to work. But the talent and other things you need to have in order to be a good coach — not only within the licensing. I’m not having anything against licensing. Don’t get me wrong, and please don’t put me down that way. I encourage licensing. I encourage education, but this is not enough. It is needed. It is mandatory. You have to have it — but it is not enough. You have to have something more. You have to have talent as a coach. You’ve got to have intelligence. You’ve got to have personality. You’ve got to have sense for the play. You’ve got to have [an ability to] enforce your demands. All these things are genetically determined, and they’re like criteria of selection. So OK, if this guy is not intelligent, no matter what license he’s got, he’s never going to be a top coach.

We don’t often talk about the requirements the coaches need to have in order to be good coaches. A license is not one of those things. … I encourage education, but this is not enough. It is needed. It is mandatory. You have to have it — but it is not enough.

“If I have some knowledge, and I can’t transfer the knowledge to the players, what good is it to me? I’ve got to have the ability. If this guy doesn’t have the ability, the license is not going to help. If this guy doesn’t have the stable personality to perform on a stable level of consistency, the license is not going to give that to them. Those are the genetic things, and licenses give you education. The parameters you have as a genetic human being, together with education, form a good coach. Without these things, that’s not going to be good enough.”

SW: Looking at some of the coaches around the world, such as Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, I see very different personalities. Do you see similar traits somewhere in all top coaches, or are they all different?

RJ: “You know how it is? It’s again — intelligence. What is intelligence? Intelligence is ability to adapt in various circumstances, in new circumstances. So you’ve got [Didier] Drogba. You can’t approach Drogba in a similar way as you can approach [Frank] Lampard. … You’ve got to find a way, and if you’re not intelligent — you don’t have the knowledge and intelligence given the circumstances. How we like to say it, the player, they are subconsciously trying to beat the coach. They try to beat the coach, saying, ‘I can play better than you can play. So that means I’m a better coach than you are.’ The coaches have to show them, ‘Everywhere you go, I’m going to be at the end of the path, waiting for you.’ So you want to be the tough guy? I’m going to be even tougher. You want to be the wise guy? I’m going to be wiser. You want to be the smart guy? I’m going to be smarter. You have to show them. …

“You have to have the broad vision to actually see it all and cover it all, and then keep those guys in control. Whether he does this with yelling, as Mourinho sometimes does, whether it’s with explaining thoroughly, step by step, like Guardiola sometimes does, we don’t care. It’s just the method that he picked in order to get his team under control. You’ve got have the team under control, no matter what measures, but you’ve got to pick them because you know, because you’re intelligent, and you’re going to find the best way.”

SW: This happens all around the world, but it feels especially widespread in Major League Soccer that players finish their playing careers and go straight into management at the top level. Just because somebody is a good player, does that make him or her a good coach?

If you have those things that we just spoke about, the playing career is going to help you open the doors sooner, getting a chance better and just making yourself present there. If you don’t have those things, you’re going to open the door sooner, but you’re going to fail.

RJ: “It’s simple: if you have those things that we just spoke about, the playing career is going to help you open the doors sooner, getting a chance better and just making yourself present there. If you don’t have those things, you’re going to open the door sooner, but you’re going to fail. Those guys, maybe they get a chance because they’re big names. … One job, you get 100 percent trust from the club. The next job you get, you get 60 percent trust. Third job, you get 20 percent trust, and that’s it for you. … The intelligent players that used to play at the top level are going to go and widely explore from the youth, from the middle ages, not jump right away to this [top level] because they know they’re going to get easily killed by losses and not being ready for everything. … Those things, again, don’t necessarily have to deal with your playing career. You’re a player, but not necessarily an intelligent person.”

SW: One of the managers that really intrigues me is Roberto Martínez at Everton. He had success at Wigan before Everton. Then you also have David Moyes, who had success at Everton but is struggling at Manchester United. Is there any reason one is doing so well at his new club and the other isn’t?

RJ: “I can’t say for a fact, but I know that Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t win anything the first five years of his career being coach at Manchester United. At that time, he wasn’t Sir Alex Ferguson that we know today. He wasn’t with such credentials, such credibility, such authority at that time. He was just a coach, like Moyes today. Someone from above said, ‘Listen, this guy has got it. Don’t touch him because he has it.’ They didn’t touch him. He didn’t produce — almost got out of the league. Five years, he didn’t win any titles, nothing, almost got even to the Second Division. I think his sixth season, he won his first title as a United coach, but someone had patience and knowledge, above all, to say, ‘Keep this guy here. He’s going to produce.’ I’m not going to say it’s the same thing with Moyes, but someone on top knows something.

“Obviously, there should be someone above having the patience for Moyes as well. Why? It may be a different approach. It may be a different philosophy. Maybe those guys are used to Ferguson in the locker room, and it’s just a psychological thing. … Someone trusts this guy, and Ferguson above all trusts this guy. I wouldn’t get rid of him that easy. I would wait even for a couple seasons to see what’s going to happen because something’s too serious about it. I just wouldn’t get rid of him that easily.”

SW: It’s rare to see that type of patience these days. Ferguson was at United for 26 years as manager, Jürgen Klopp has been at Borussia Dortmund since 2008, and Arsène Wenger has coached Arsenal for almost 20 years. On the flip side, Moyes has a tough first half of the season, and everybody wants him out. A willingness to wait just doesn’t seem to be there anymore.

The big clubs are the big clubs because they’re different than the rest of the world. … They’re following [their own] structure — they’re following the philosophy.

RJ: “You’re right, but the big clubs are the big clubs because they’re different than the rest of the world. Imagine Barcelona: after Guardiola, they assigned Tito [Vilanova]. After Tito was having struggles with his health, this other guy [Gerardo Martino], a no-name guy [came in]. So they’re following the structure — they’re following the philosophy [of the club]. They’re not going to bring some big name — Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho — and I respect that. At Manchester, Ferguson has been there for history. Wenger has been there [at Arsenal] for a long time. Big clubs have stability. They’re not going to make those, we call them ‘gun-pulls,’ easily like that because they’re under some kind of pressure. They think on the long-term, and I respect that. Not many clubs in the world can brag about having that. In Germany, personalities don’t go along with that. The Italian personality, no way. They have like a gun-fighting personality. The Spanish, they have a gun-fighting personality. Even Germans nowadays because of the mixture of everything, they have those pulls and changes a lot faster than the other ones. In Holland, for example, you’re not going to see that that often. They’re more stable, which I’m OK with.

“Sometimes, a shock may help. Everybody’s going to get a shock, but then what is a shock? There has been some research in one of the leagues about how many good results a team produced with the coaches that were there less than one year, longer than a year, longer than two years, and there was a significant correlation between the longer they were there and how much better the results were. So we’ve got to be smart about it. … This is a situation where the game of football is not necessarily always about the result. The result means a lot, especially in the Premiership, especially if you’re at Manchester United, but in the long run, it doesn’t only mean if you lost a game, you’re a bad coach, or if you won the game, you’re a good coach — not necessarily all the time. Let him [Moyes] be for some time.

“I’m curious myself. The thesis I’m putting in front of you and discussing with you, I’m not sure even about it myself. I’m curious to see what it’s going to be like with Moyes, but something inside of me is curious about what it’s going to be because there has to be something about it. They wouldn’t just assign this guy that easily if they weren’t so sure about him and give him the opportunity. Maybe, on the other hand, we gave him a chance, but now, we’re not going to show the world we missed, so we’re going to keep him on the bench — just showing the world we think we know. This is the thing that could also be the reason why, right? If we fire him, it means we just missed. Imagine Manchester United firing a coach after a couple of months of being coach, which is a tragedy. It would be a disgrace for the club itself, right? But generally, I don’t know. I’m curious to see what’s going to happen with it myself, too.”

[ Q&A (Part 2): Croatia technical director Romeo Jozak on American development ]

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