Telegraf in Bologna: Sinisa's battle, leaving Eagles, hanging out with Klopp in Belgrade
Miroslav Tanjga and Sinisa Mihajlovic have been through a lot together - now they intend to bring European matches to Bologna
The great battle of Sinisa Mihajlovic gave new strength to Bologna, where a great deal of work and responsibility has been taken over by Miroslav Tanjga, the best man, friend and closest associate of the former head coach of Serbia.
The Virtus-Partizan match in Bologna also brought an opportunity to talk to the former Vojvodina and Red Star footballer, who built much of his career in Germany and is now working in Italy to bring Bologna back to its old glory paths.
Together with Miha, he was able to restore faith in the team after much turbulence, along with great ambitions of management and owner Joey Saputo. Tanjga spoke about this, as well as about his interesting friendship with Niko Kovac and Jurgen Klopp, in a wide-ranging interview for Telegraf.
"Miha accepted a big challenge last year, 14 points from 22 games... They had no success until he came, then he extended his contract for another three years. Thank God, everything is going well for now. We'll see what the day carries with it, what the night does, it's mostly a challenge, that's how it is in Serie A. At first, many thought it was an impossible mission, that it was difficult to come up with a big result. In the end, it turned out to be a bad assessment. We ended up in the middle of the table and now ambitions are quite different, the club is owned by a man from one of the 200 richest families in the world. He is of Italian origin, but lives and works in Montreal, owns an MLS club there. His desire is for us to get to Europe as soon as possible," Tanjga says, hoping this would be realized quickly.
"This year that's the plan if a chance opens up, we are now two points away from Europe. We will see, anything is possible in football, we go without pressure. The team that struggled to survive is now fighting for Europe with some minor reinforcements."
How did you manage to bring the winning mentality back to the team?
"Italians love football a lot, they understand it a lot, the fans have returned to the stadium, there are over 20,000. That already means something, there is a lot of talk in the town about football, there are higher expectations, but it's such a league that you don't know where you might lose. No talk, just work, results come in the end. There is no plan, Napoli wanted to go for the title before the season, now they are below us. You have three bad results, that's the end, bad atmosphere. It is quite difficult to make forecasts."
It seems that teams like Bologna suit Miha, he has already lifted a number of teams from the lower portions of Serie A, but was it harder in Milan?
"The question is what kind of team he finds and what kind of reinforcements they bring. That's the most important. Sometimes you get a team that can't do any more. You squeeze everything out of it, but it's not enough for Scudetto or some bigger goal."
Tanjga's path after his playing career has been varied.
"I worked for a long time as a scout in Milan and Turin, then for the last year and a half here. But I go to Serbia once every two weeks, I used to come here, now I live here. I'm improving my Italian, I speak German well because I played there for 10 years, but Italian is harder for me now, you know how it is when you turn 50 and learning a new language. But all I need for the pitch and the locker room I know. But for any bigger story, I go to classes every day."
The club's rise also includes big plans involving a stadium.
"Renato Dall'Ara is an old stadium, the president is building a new one, but everything that's old must be left in place. It will be in the same place, here in Bologna you cannot tear down anything, everything is antique. The pitch will be a little closer, our stands are not far from the pitch even now. It may be dug in by perhaps a meter, the capacity will be expanded, but all that is old must remain, however old it may be. I saw a rendition of the new stadium, the president presented it to us at Christmas. It's just that a bunch of permits are needed here, they are rigorous in terms of bureaucracy. It should start in about a year. They had already agreed with one firm to do it, but that company foiled.
Saputo is especially dedicated to following the club.
"The owner comes often, every 3 to 4 days, watches a game and goes back. He has an apartment near the center, by the way, all the cheeses served at McDonald's restaurants around the world, it's all his. He's successful across America and Canada, this to him is like a hobby. He was born in Canada, originally from Sicily, his father and mother are still alive, and he inherited everything from his father and continued to work."
What does cooperation and communication with Miha look like under current circumstances, when he is often receiving medical treatment and has to rest?
"We are in daily contact, nothing is done without his knowledge, he watches training sessions in the hospital, he has them on cameras, he is allowed to follow them. We are a little more than friends and best men, I took part in his wedding first, so he got a son and named him after me, then I got married and he was my best man, my son bears his name. Then I was in his wedding again in church, we have no right to argue."
"If we didn't understand each other, we wouldn't be that close. There is always a conflict of opinion, in order to come to the right decision and information, you have to have different opinions. In that sense, that is mostly why I have been brought on, to talk about everything, openly. This is what matters the most, not just in football. I can always tell him my opinion, it's up to him to decide what to do in the end. I think that's the most important thing."
Tanjga also looked back at the moment with the national team.
"I worked as a scout at the time and I know what was going on. I think there were two objectively stronger teams in the group at the time, Croatia and Belgium. One would progress, the other went to playoffs. We were on a good path to build a team and to progress, and to do so with relationships within the team itself. Then there was some slight misunderstanding about how to progress. About coaching, working, controlling work, and he was already in Sampdoria. Simply, there was no understanding of how to proceed. They went their separate ways in peace, not fighting. In that case, it was best to go separate ways in a gentlemanly manner."
Even as a player Klopp "threatened" to become a great coach
For a long time, Tanjga played with Jurgen Klopp, and a great friendship was born.
"We played together for a long time, I talk to Klopp often. He is privately the way he is in front of cameras, relaxed. I was at his 50th birthday party 2-3 years ago, he acted as he always did. He was not a great player, nothing special, but when he was 33 he was given a chance to become a coach at Mainz. The club was getting relegated, they didn't know what to do, so they asked him 'would you like to be a coach'. He went into it as now a player, tomorrow a coach. We played for four years together at Mainz. As a player he hinted that he would be a coach, he was a really smart guy, he also graduated from university, and in every analysis of the game, he did everything differently than everyone else...
"He's great at psychology, he's not there to do the training, anyone can do the training. He gets involved in training occasionally, but he's the one who chooses reinforcements, determines tactics and assembles the team, leads the match, and that is most important. But he is also a master at finding his associates. They know how to do the training, the purpose of training, he had Buwach for a long time, he was a very important man in his career. It is very important to him and you cannot cheat or lie to him, he immediately sees through it. Miha's the same, you can't fake it.
Did you speak to him ahead of Liverpool's game against Red Star?
"I was in his hotel all night before, with ,y son. We didn't speak after the game, I told him 'you don't have to worry' before the match, I was also a guest at the Arena before the match, it's stupid to compare Red Star's with Liverpool's team, a team that costs a billion with, I don't know, one of 50 million. And in football anything's possible, it turns out to be so. He himself was surprised, they underestimated Red Star 100 percent, did not go into it properly, and when you don't to that, you play at 30 percent, then it comes back to bite you. Then, even if you want to play the last 20 minutes, you no longer can. I was also a guest in Liverpool, 4-0, as they wanted to score, so they did. Red Star played slightly worse in the domestic championship before the rematch, and then came Liverpool, who could have expected anything.
In addition to Klopp, Niko Kovac is also a player and coach who enjoys Tanjga's great trust.
"Niko Kovac is a good friend of mine, we played in Herta for a long time and he told me recently, 'you know Miro, Germany has changed. I'm a Croat, but I was born in Germany, I am more German than Croat, but every time they write about me recently, they emphasize that I am a Croat and a foreigner to them. Even though I was born here. That's what it's like here, you can be whatever you want, but you are always a foreigner. It's all unclear to me, you go to London and score seven times, then that happens...' I think they were wrong, they had no sensibility and patience with him, he is a young coach after all. He 'cleaned up' the squad, he wanted to make a new collective and for that to last, and they wanted it overnight. Clubs like City, Barca and Real are investing a lot. Bayern has the money to invest also, but the Germans will not do it. They will not break their caps and limits. But when a team and a story come together, they can do a lot. Football is a tough story, sometimes you buy 10 players and miss eight, sometimes you buy three and score with each.
"Now it's all up to the management, the kinds of things Milan dd when they brought in Rijkaard, Van Basten and Gullit. Then Boban, Savicevic... Then when they made mistakes, they couldn't put themselves back together for seven years. They did the same when we were there, they missed everything, and when you spend a lot of money and you don't bring the right reinforcements, then that's a problem. In Italy, say, Juventus makes no mistakes. That is why they have been champions for so long, they have been preparing free agents. They know a year in advance when their contract expires, so they prepare the ground, have conversations... They have Nedved, people who know football. Inter has no less money."
The team is diverse, and especially interesting is the temperament of Gary Medel, due to whose behavor Mihajlovic reacted quite strongly recently.
"Gary Medel is injured now, he's not playing, but his absence was used by little Jerdy, the Dutchman. He's played great, so we don't miss Medel. I like Latin American players, they don't like to lose, it's good to have those players on the team. They go out to win every match, they have a mentality, but sometimes they overplay it, too.
Still, no one elicits as much joy as Palacio.
"Palacio celebrated his 38th birthday on February 5 and he is still the fastest player on the team. I have never seen this, the way he trains, plays.... Even though he has missed a few chances now. He has never been injured, 38 years! He trains the best, every day."
Is he reminiscent of Ibra in that he dominates at that age?
"You know what he is, compared to Ibra - a fast train. As much as he runs during one game, Ibra doesn't during three. He's quick, agile. Ibra... There have been stories that he would come, but it was more the media. Honestly, I don't know if Ibra would be worth it to us, I respect the career and the big name. I met him, he is a good guy, but his build and play style would not suit Bologna. He did the job in Milan, the audience returned, tying 3-4 wins. But, how could we put him on now without playing Palacio. We are a team of workers, they have to do everything. He has been given 3 million for six months, after which there are new extensions on the contract, plus bonuses, it can add up to 20 million.
One player in particular has become attractive in Bologna.
"We have the little Orsolini, we bought him from Juventus. He is already in the national team, he is 21 years old, everything is possible with him. We brought Dan Skov Olsen, he is an interesting player, then one Japanese young player, we have a good team, we just need to strengthen a little the defense. Danilo is 36 years old, he is sunsetting, one has to think about that in time.
I hope for the Eagles' success against Norway
The Eagles have a big fight ahead for the European Championships, and Tanjga hopes for the best.
"I follow the national team, it is my great desire that they qualify for the European Championship, everyone benefits from it. I would love it the most, we have a quality team, it just needs to be shown."
Is the problem in the constant rotation of players and changes, which was the case also with Mihajlovic, rarely does the same defense line play two games?
"Simply, sometimes the tactic itself depends on who is playing. On the other hand, if you have two equally good players, one who is in better shape must play. Sometimes there was a bad mood, there's all sorts of things, head coaches were replaced more than they needed to be. Norway is not easy, it can play against Israel. It would be good for us to qualify, it would bring funding to the FA, that would overflow to the clubs, I look at it that way."
Regional league would be salvation
Tanjga would not mind to see some changes in Serbian football.
"I would like Vojvodina or some other club to become champions, it's not good that Red Star and Partizan simply dominate. What wouldn't Radnicki Nis be the champion? I was the sporting director at Vojvodina for two years, after Germany, I advocated for a regional league, it would be a salvation for everyone.
"What do we and Croatia have, one derby. Imagine if Red Star, Partizan, Vojvodina, then Zeljo, Sarajevo would come to Split... If that happens in basketball, it could here, too, you can do anything when you want to, when there is good political and every other will. Cars were being pushed into the sea also 30 years ago, they will be pushed now, it's a handful of fools, but that can be solved, too. But with such matches, sponsors, audiences, everything would return.
Although there are many problems, a positive approach could change a lot in Serbian football.
"The easiest thing is to stand on the sidelines and say nothing's right, sometimes you need to grapple with things and think positively. My clubs are Vojvodina and Red Star, but I live in Novi Sad and I belong there more at the moment, let's not tell lies. I used to say that when I was young I supported Red Star and that is true, but my son plays in Novi Sad for Vojvodina, where I worked as a director. I'm kind of closer to Vojvodina at this point. You never know, maybe I will go to Germany, I already had offers from Vojvodina, but I couldn't accept because I was here. But why not, one day."
Finally, Tanjga also revealed if there is time to socialize with Serbian (basketball) players in Virtus - Djordjevic, Teodosic and Markovic.
"We didn't have the time, when they came, Sinisa had his own problems. I was maybe at two games, and they play Wednesday-Sunday, there is no time. When I have a day off, I go home. We met in a restaurant once with Teo, but on one occasion we also met Djordjevic, he and Miha were recording something. The president of Virtus also wanted to buy the Bologna football club, but our current president won. And since it didn't work out in football, he went to basketball and took over Virtus."
Video: Miha arrives in Belgrade for Serbian FA ceremony, along with Deki Stankovic
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