Zlatko Dalic: Croatia's unlikely managerial hero

Team Croatia in training ahead of 2018 FIFA World Cup Final against France
Dalic has led Croatia to their first World Cup final
Gian C

Luis Felipe Scolari, Marcelo Lippi, Vicente Del Bosque and Joachim Löw. Those are the names of the World Cup-winning managers of the 21st century - all of whom have gone on to become prominent figures in the world's game.

One more name is set to be added to that list when the final whistle blows in the Luzhniki Stadium this evening. The widely-tipped favourite to win this accolade is Didier Deschamps. Having won the prestigious trophy as a player in 1998, he has already made his name in management with the likes of Monaco, Marseille and Juventus.

France Press Conference : Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup
Deschamps during a pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday's final

However, the other potential name that could soon be etched into the Hall of Fame is a far less likely and renowned one worldwide. Just like their opponents on Sunday, Croatia's best year came in 1998 - where they lost to the eventual champions in a semi-final encounter in Saint-Denis.

Since then, they have been seen as perpetual underachievers. Despite having talents such as Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, as well as being coached by the likes of Slaven Bilic and new Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac, the best they've managed is to make it past the World Cup group stages.

It seems a strange decision, in light of the aforementioned managerial talents that hail from the nation, that the Croatian FA chose to appoint Zlatko Dalic as their national team boss.

Croatia Press Conference : Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup
Dalic during Croatia's pre-match press conference

After leaving his home nation in 2010, Dalic spent seven years honing his coaching talent in the Middle East - an unconventional path to glory that makes the narrative surrounding his rise all the more intriguing.

Dalic took up the reigns of Saudi club Al-Faisaly, with whom he quickly made his name and was voted as the division's best coach. In 2016 he led UAE-based Al-Ain to the AFC Champions League final after coming out on top in the West Asian side of the draw, only to lose to Korean giants Jeonbuk Hyundai.

Dalic's success story will be as empowering to Asia as it will be to Croatia. While many see the eastward moves as a one-way street because coaches and players sacrifice their careers for big cheques, managers such as Dalic have shown that the stream runs two-ways in regard to Asian football.

Zlatko Dalic made his name with major successes in the Middle East

As Arsene Wenger showed when he took over at Arsenal after a spell at Japanese side Nagoya Grampus Eight, or more recently, as Slavisa Jokanovic demonstrated by guiding Fulham to the Premier League after honing his coaching talents in Thailand, football in Asia has a lot more to offer on the world stage.

Whether or not Zlatko Dalic's name will be added to that remarkable list of the world's top coaching talents remains to be seen - but his exploits have already been a major success story for Asian football.

Edited by Mosope Ominiyi
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