Political scientist Drazen Lalic appeared on N1 television's morning show Novi Dan on Wednesday. Ahead of the evening's World Cup semi-final match played by Croatia and England, he commented on this generation of the Fiery Ones, the first generation in exactly 20 years to progress through to the knockout stages of the tournament.
Is today a day that will go down in history?
"It already is. Even if Croatia lose the semi-final, and then again if they lose the thid-place match, they would a still place fourth in the world. It's a historic day. Football is the most popular sport in the world. The World Cup is the biggest event this year, there is nothing that happened in the world which could be compared to magnitude of the World Cup. And there, Croatia made it into the top four countries in the world, fair and square... There is no other event that can give Croatia such a level of recognition. Before the last World Cup in 2014 I said Croatia opening the tournament against hosts Brazil was more important than the country joining the EU (in 2013). And today is even bigger than that. I truly believe today is a historic day."
What happened that football became so successful, important, that it had this renaissance of sorts?
"I'd say we have two sides to the sport. On the one hand, we have local football, which is pathetic. It's a cesspool. On the other, we have a great shiny face of the international edition. It's a national team almost completely made up of players who play abroad. Even the manager came from abroad as an accomplished coach.
We seem to have this potential, as a nation, to totally ruin ourselves, but we also have potential to do huge things. Very few can ignore this beautiful feeling. The large majority of us loves this country a great deal, and even the people who are the harshest critics of the Croatian Football Federation (HNS), like me... we all can't avoid celebrating this openly. Even people who are against the HNS, club supporter groups, sports reporters... the large majority of them are happy."
We sometimes hear the media describe manager Zlatko Dalic as a man who said no to politics. Is that correct?
"Depends which politics you are referring to. If you are mean internal politics of the HNS, then he said 'no' in part. Certainly, he cannot be controlled, he can't be forced to field a player just so he could be sold for a better price. He brought in his assistants, like (goalkeeping coach) Drazen Ladic, who were not exactly liked by people running Croatian football. (Football boss) Zdravko Mamic no longer controls everything, but his people remain in place...
As for (head of HNS) Davor Suker... He poses for pictures with the president (Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic), and he had made some huge mistakes, and it would be unfair for him to take credit for the success of the national team."
Has manager Zlatko Dalic become a phenomenon?
"I don't like it when in the media some say that this team is the same as the one led by (previous manager) Ante Cacic. This is a team set up by the former nomenclature controlled by Zdravko Mamic. Most of these players formally have the same name, but their spirit is completely different. Their spirit is completely defined by Zlatko Dalic.
Reagan once said you can't cheat people in close up. You can tell in people's faces if they are honest or not, if they are modest and hardworking, or if they are fake. You can tell. If you compare Dalic and Suker - when Dalic speaks he is focused on his listeners, and Suker's eyes wander around, he isn't focused in any way, neither rationally or emotionally. With Dalic you can tell from a mile away that he doesn't care about money, that he is a patriot who means well and wants what's good for the sport, and for this country... There is no manipulation, no schemes, he is simply a modest guy, and people feel that. He is a great symbol of a different Croatia, a kind of Croatia different from the one that is dominant."
Can this renaissance of football be applied to other aspects of society?
"It's true that many problems of Croatia in general have also plagued professional football, because it is an area rife with corruption, crime, political extremism, immoral management, and complete ignorance of the interests of common people.Our politicians don't care how many people actually turn out for the elections.
Cleaning up and reforming the state of affairs in football could send a strong signal for other reforms, in economy, politics, or other areas... Many of our players are examples how to care about the common good and patriotism, which should be promoted. People are leaving Croatia in droves because of hypocrisy and amoral, and people like Dalic, Subasic, Perisic, Mandzukic, they are outspoken in what they think and feel towards their country and sports and life. This gives us great hope that this success will be used for other benefits."