Zlatko Dalic and Croatia’s World Cup success proves path to glory can start in the Middle East

Dalic (L) celebrates Croatia's unexpected march to the final with his star player, Luka Modric
Updated 19 July 2018

Zlatko Dalic and Croatia’s World Cup success proves path to glory can start in the Middle East

  • Dalic's success in Russia could pave way for more unknown, hungry managers to coach in the region
  • Croatian's time at Al-Hilal and Al-Ain crucial in his education and development as a coach

MOSCOW: Not only did Zlatko Dalic take Croatia all the way to the World Cup final but he also proved that a route to top-level coaching can start in the Middle East, that is according to Khalin Ghadin of the Saudi Pro League.
Dalic was little known when he took charge of the Croatia team in October last year, replacing Ante Cacic who was axed on the eve of their final World Cup qualification match.
In Russia the former midfielder took his team, from a country of just over four million, to their first World Cup final, losing out 4-2 to France having beaten Argentina in the group, then Denmark, the hosts and then England in the knockout stages. While the run ensured that the 51-year-old made a global name for himself, he was already well-known in the Arab world.
Dalic arrived in Saudi Arabia as a little-known coach in 2010, first heading to Al-Faisaly and then Al-Hilal.  After his spell with the Riyadh giants, he then took over at Al-Ain in 2014 where he won the United Arab Emirates league title. In November 2016, the Bosnian-born boss led the club to the final of the 2016 AFC Champions League, losing out narrowly to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea.
For Ghadin that illustrates that there is another route to reaching the top of the coaching tree. Traditionally, big clubs in the region have looked, when searching for overseas tacticians, for candidates with significant European experience.
“Most Saudi fans here are happy with what Zlatko achieved in the World Cup. It is incredible,” Saudi Pro League official Ghadin said.
“Many coaches start in Europe or South America then come to the Middle East with a great career behind them. What happened with Zlatko is the opposite. He started in the Middle East and then he left to Europe.  So this is an interesting point for Saudi Arabian media and fans.”
It remains to be seen with the new season approaching whether clubs in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and elsewhere follow the “Dalic way” and look for unknown, hungry coaches with potential. It could be a turning point for the region. 
“What happened with Zlatko means that many coaches now can start in the Middle East or come 
in the middle of their career,” Ghadin said. “It means that coaches do not have to be afraid to come here and think that they will not be able to go back to Europe or South America.”
The Croatia boss returned to his home country on Monday to be given a hero’s welcome as thousands packed into Zagreb’s Bana Jelacica Square to celebrate the side’s remarkable march to the final. He was able to reflect on how his time in the Middle East helped his footballing and coaching education.
“It is great that there has been such support from the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” Dalic told Arab News.
“I have happy memories of my time there, they love their football and there is passion and a lot of talent too.”
Despite not having the European experience that many of his coaching counterparts in Russia have enjoyed, the time spent in region prepared Dalic to take a team all the way to the biggest game in world football.
“It is a very good place to grow as a coach and it was a very good learning experience,” Dalic said. “There is big pressure on a coach every week in Saudi Arabia and in the UAE too. You are always judged on your last game and you have to produce results. If you don’t get the results then you are out. You know what you have to do and it keeps you focused.”
He added that the change in culture can also be valuable.
“You are going far from home and the way of doing things is different in football and in life. Whatever happens on the pitch, you grow as a person.”
If Dalic chooses to leave his current post then he is sure to have numerous offers elsewhere after his exploits this summer.  Wherever he goes, there will always be an appreciation for the Middle East and he has no hesitation in recommending that others follow his path.
“Football is not just about Europe and there are opportunities everywhere,” Dalic said.
“I would not change my coaching career and have no regrets.”

Saudi desert gears up for first Dakar rally in Asia

Updated 2 min 46 sec ago

Saudi desert gears up for first Dakar rally in Asia

  • Taking place from January 5 to 17, the 7500-kilometer adventure will be hosted in Asia for the first time
  • The race will start in Jeddah and will end in Qiddiya, Riyadh

RIYADH: There are only three weeks to go until Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 starts in Jeddah.

It will be the first time this adventurous race comes to Asia, where Saudi Arabia’s desert will play host to the 7,500-km-long rally over 13 days of action and 12 stages of challenging navigation.

Taking place from Jan. 5-17, the first edition of the rally will see more than 550 drivers from 62 nations explore the vast and formidable desert terrains of the Kingdom.

“We were really excited by the beautiful landscape. The deserts were exactly what we expected with their dunes, nice mountains and small canyons. We have some stages along the sea also, so it will be a mixed landscape, which is very interesting,” 13-time Dakar Rally winner Stéphane Peterhansel said.


Taking place from Jan. 5-17, the first edition of the rally will see more than 550 drivers from 62 nations explore the vast and formidable desert terrains of the Kingdom.

More than 550 drivers from 62 countries will participate in the 12-stage race, which runs from Jan. 5-17. 

“Saudi Arabia is a big country, so there are a lot of possibilities. It has many deserts, which makes it the perfect place to organize Dakar,” the French driver added.

Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 gets underway in Jeddah before drivers and crews navigate their way through the winding dunes for 752 km.

The challenge will continue up north along the coast for nearly 900 km through the Red Sea Project until the futuristic megacity of Neom, where the journey will reach its highest point at an altitude of 1,400 meters amid a series of canyons and mountains.

A combination of sandy stretches and gravel await Dakar’s thrill-seeking competitors as they cruise through the next 676 km from Neom to AlUla in Dakar’s fourth stage, before the sandy hills of Hail put the navigation skills of competitors to the test as they descend south onto Riyadh.

A rest day in the capital will be followed by Dakar Saudi Arabia’s longest stage — 741 km — as the route takes a turn west to the center of the Kingdom’s enormous desert.

The race will take place from January 5 to 17. (Supplied)

The course will then loop back toward Haradh in the eastern governorate of Al-Ahsa, marking the entrance to the Empty Quarter and building up to the grand finale in the future entertainment, sports and cultural destination of Qiddiya, where the winner will be crowned on the final podium.

“Saudi Arabia is a very big country, and you can find almost every type of terrain in it,” Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi said.

Spanish rally driver Carlos Sainz added: “I think everyone finds it very exciting. It seems to be really what Dakar needs, and we are hoping to enjoy it and have a good race.”

The Saudi Federation of Automobiles and Motorcycles officially confirmed route details of the rally at an international press conference in Paris. 

Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 will see pilots drive specially modified vehicles, trucks, quads, SxS (four-wheel drive, off-road vehicles) and motorbikes, designed to handle the 12 stages of the varied, challenging terrains.