Ex international croatian player spoke with Discoveryfootball.com
Velimir Zajec was and is an important form of Croatian football and, by extension, of the former Yugoslavia. He began his long career at Dynamo Zagreb in 1974. He stayed with her for 10 years until 1984. Then one Sunday afternoon at the Panathinaikos game, then (Greek) team president George Vardinogiannis put him in a position of honour. And on the evening of the same day, the great Libero and midfielder (so he played for the Greens in most games) signed with Panathinaikos. In the Greek team, he played for 4 years (until 1988, 67 matches – 11 goals) with great success. He made many and passionate friends.
He also wore the shirt of the former Yugoslavia 36 times, scoring 1 goal. She has been a leader and captain in the 1982 World Cup and the 1984 European Championships.
Following retirement, he spent two years (1989–1991) as Director of Football at former club Dinamo Zagreb before returning to Panathinaikos to run their academy. Before long, he was promoted to head coach of the club. After a period he again, he returned to Zagreb, this time as head coach, before moving once more back to Panathinaikos in 2002 to become Director of Football.
In late October 1998, Zajec replaced Zlatko Kranjcar as a manager at Dinamo Zagreb (then known as Croatia Zagreb), following Kranjčar’s poor record in the champions league group stage, where the team only managed to grab a single point in three matches (drawing with Ajax at home, before losing to both Olympiakos and Porto on the road).
The team’s performance in the UEFA Champions League improved under Zajec, as they managed to stay undefeated in the remaining three group matches, beating Porto and Ajax and drawing with Olympiacos. Dinamo nevertheless did not manage to go through to the quarter-finals after finishing second in their group, behind Olympiakos (at the time, only the first-place finishers and the two best second-place finishers went through).
In 2004, he moved to English club Portsmouth to take up a position as executive director. He took over as temporary team manager following the resignation of Harry Redknapp in November 2004 and was confirmed as the new manager on 21 December 2004. Five months later, he reverted to his intended director’s role, following the arrival of Alain Perrin. He resigned from his position at Fratton Park on 10 October 2005 due to personal reasons.
On 25 May 2010, Zajec was appointed new coach at Dinamo Zagreb, returning to the club as a coach after 11 years. However, Zajec was sacked on 9 August 2010, after leading Dinamo in just 8 competitive matches, winning the 2010 Croatian Super Cup, exiting the 2010–11 Champions League in the third qualifying round, and picking up four points in the first three matches in the 2010-11 Prva HNL
Velimir Zajec is now in Athens and is working on the construction of a big football tourism complex, in his own area in Croatia. He thinks that the Champions League in the spring will give us great emotions and it is difficult to predict the winner. His great favourite is always Messi. The Croatian national is now superpowered in football, VAR has a number of problems. As he watches in 2022 a stunning World Cup in Qatar.
Velimir Zajec spoke exclusively at Discoveryfootball.com
DF: Now, what do you do?
R/: «I am fine. I am in Athens now and i am working on a project to build a football tourist complex on my property in Croatia !»
DF: How competitive is the championship in Croatia?
R/: «The Croatian league has not changed much thanks to the success of the national team,it is fortunate that players are gifted football and there is a good selection of young players, unfortunately, the only strong club is Dinamo Zagreb and there is not a competition in Croatia.»
DF: After the success of the national Croatia for the first time in its history in a World Cup final, has football improved in your country?
R/: «The success of Nacional time has not brought a small step forward in the most important thing, namely the improvement off the football infrastructure, the hole Croatia doesn’t have a stadion where the national team could play!»
DF: VAR is used in Croatia. And if so, tell us your impressions
R/: «VAR is certainly a novelty by football but unfortunately decision is made by groups of people dressed in black!»
DF: In England you have already worked, do you think Liverpool’s time has come to take the title this year, after 30 years?
R/: «Liverpool plays the best football in England thanks a charming club connoisseur Klopp and he has a great advantage but behind him is the best coach in the world so they fight to win the best club competition will be uncertain!»
DF: In the UEFA Champions League, do you see the same teams competing for Barcelona, Real, Liverpool, Bayern or could another one emerge as strong as Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City?
R/: «One of the most unlikely Champions League is expecting us in the spring and it’s hard to predict the same Barcelona with Messi, Liverpool with Salah and Klopp, Bayern with Lewandowski, Psg with Mbappe, Juventus with Ronaldo, Manchester City with Guardiola and De Brujne, my sympathies are always with Messi!»
DF: The European Championship is approaching. In a few months we will have the final phase in 12 different countries. The Croatian national is in the 4th group with England, Czech Republic and one that will emerge from the playoffs. What can your national team achieve this time?
R/: «Croatia after its great success and winning 3rd place in the 1998 World Cup with great generation (Šuker, Boban, Jarni) won a silver medal so the country with 4,5 million inhabitants became a superpower in football! Croatia has a difficult group but we are among the English favourite. Modric, Rakitić, Lovren, Vida, Perišić, Kramaric and the new generation Livaković, Brekalo, Vlašić, Petković are qualitative enough to produce good results!
Perfect for the football to play W.C in Qatar
DF: Did Lionel Messi just get the Golden Ball this year? He is undoubtedly the top soccer player in the world for the last 20 years. But 2019 didn’t go so well with Barcelona …
R/: «Messi is for me the best player of today and with Pele, Maradona, Crujjf the best of all time!»
DF: In 2020 we will have the World Cup in Qatar, the first Arab country to host the top football trophy. Do you think the event will be amazing?
R/: «Football is the most beautiful game and deserves the best treatment, And it will certainly have in Qatar!»