Romeo Jozak: ‘Big talents happen due to development’

The UEFA Technical Instructor and the chief coach of the Kuwait national team shares his insights on the significance of “development” of football players at a young age.

Romeo Jozak... “I’m expecting a more productive Croatia in the future.”   -  Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Dr. Romeo Jozak, the chief coach of the Kuwait national team, knows a thing or two about developing players of calibre. After all, the UEFA Technical Instructor and UEFA Technical Assistant and Development Committee member holds a UEFA Pro Licence Doctorate in Science.

In India for business reasons, Jozak talks to Sportstar about age-group players’ development, Croatian football, and more.

Excerpts

Q: You believe that the 12-14 age-group is the time when fundamental skills need to be instilled in aspiring football players. Explain?

A: This is how we in Croatia have put it down in the development programme. Biologically, kids have the ability to adapt [to]some things faster in this window. I would enlarge it to 10-15 (age-group) for the decision-making part of technique. If technique development does not happen till 15, you have missed the train and need to choose another sport.

Big talents happen due to development. There is [Lionel] Messi, Neymar. You feel things are just happening or these players are sent down to earth. Luka Modric, for example, has passed through these stages. The base of such talents is development. Belgium and Croatia showed that (in the Football World Cup, 2018). Even France showed those qualities because of an unbelievable football education process and coaching system.

FIFA conducts an U-17 World Cup. Should nations focus on building teams for U-17 qualification as the route to future progress?

I have seen many U-17 World Cup players not make it as adult footballers. It is okay to focus on U-17 but not as a goal, but more as one point in the process of education. The U-20 World Cup is more relevant because majority of the 19-year-olds in World Cup champions side play for the first team at their clubs and adapt to their senior teams.

 

England is the current FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cup champion. Can they win the men’s World Cup?

England had a selection of fast, aggressive, dominant players in both teams. It is going to be hard for them to break into first teams at big England clubs, but luckily have a process for these guys to find their spots under the sun. England is going to be a serious team in men’s World Cup with these players, backed by tools for development. It is the same in Croatia. You don’t know about these players; they will be making an impact [at the] Qatar World Cup, 2022. They are 18 or 19 now and in three to four years from now, can make it.

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Will the next Croatian side at Qatar 2022 be an advanced version of Croatia we saw in Russia 2018?

I am expecting a more productive Croatia in the future. None of the young Croatians with potential are playing at home. After leaving to join big clubs, they are exposed to a higher level of development. By doing well for their clubs, they will do well for Croatia on return to fight for a place in the national side.

Croatia’s probing passing in the offensive zone was deadly at Russia 2018. Can you explain the hard work behind it?

Our starting line-up had the best strikers with defensive qualities in the world. [Mario] Mandzukic chases defenders, [Ivan] Perisic is like a tank and [Ante] Rebic got a yellow card for a defensive fouls. Such defensive players on the frontline make the job of midfielders easier. When the ball is taken away at the place you want it and facing an disturbed defence, the passes go directly over there. No team had such players on the striking line like we did, probably the best in the World Cup.

Croatia also had Modric playing with passion not seen at Real Madrid....

I was his coach in Dinamo Zagreb when he was 17 or 18. He was one among 20 others with similar qualities. We could not say he would become such a player. Modric was skinny, had unbelievable hunger, never gave up. He was a refugee from a different place. Life toughened him and he got stronger from suffering. All we did was push a God-given talent in the right direction. His job was not just to play football but inspire Croatia. When you see the whole nation following you, it was just crazy.