The quote below is from a post I wrote last November right after Bosnia-Herzegovina was defeated by Ireland in the Euro 2016 qualification play-off.
Losing is not the worst thing that can happen, not if you have a courageous and positive performance to be proud of. Losing to a clearly superior opponent is understandable. You can still lift your head high knowing you had a real go. I had that feeling when Bosnia-Herzegovina lost 1-0 to Portugal in a hard fought play-off in Lisbon years ago. I don’t have that feeling now. What I feel now is more akin to shame and embarrassment.
Nearly a year later and my words are just as relevant now as they were then. That should tell you how much “progress” the national team has made under Mesa Bazdarevic. Almost none of the questions and concerns from last year have been answered. Just a few new names on the team sheet here and there but no real change.
Once again the Bosnian team went into a big qualifying match like they have no pride in themselves or their country and were quite rightly put to the sword by Belgium. The problems were numerous and obvious: poor selection of ageing players with no legs; in-form winger Edin Visca dropped from the starting 11 despite being the only pacey player we have who gives us a chance of counter-attacking effectively; Mesa choosing such a massive game to experiment with a new system, etc. That’s not to say that the Belgians were brilliant but then again they never really had to be — second gear was enough. And that’s what hurts; most of us did not expect to beat Belgium but we do expect to at least go down swinging, not cowering with our tails between our legs.
Two of the most jarring examples of Mesa’s failure to properly utilize the resources at his disposal are Visca and Ibisevic. Visca is a regular goal scorer and consistently one of the best players in the Turkish Super Lig and Ibisevic is in blistering form currently topping the Bundesliga charts with 5 goals in 476 minutes (1 goal every 95 minutes). One would think that Mesa would choose the system which is most suited to replicate their club form for the national team but he does the exact opposite. The same thing goes for Dzeko, Pjanic, and Lulic; all three had good starts to their club season but all three looked lost against Belgium. This sharp contrast between our players’ club and country form has plagued us for years, but I don’t think it’s ever been worse than it is right now.
Why, for example, did we not simply play a solid 4-5-1 with Ibisevic up front, and Lulic and Visca on the wings to cut in and feed the Hertha Berlin man with crosses like his club team-mates do? Everyone in their natural positions and with a clear game plan. Set the team up to play for the in-form forward and give it a real go. This may sound simple but both Susic and Mesa skipped mastering the fundamentals and instead attempted to reinvent the wheel with poorly planned and ill timed experiments. Trying to be too clever for your own good is never a bright idea, especially when you’re not very clever to begin with.
Now our qualifying scenario becomes all too familiar. Bosnia aims to finish second in the group, which means yet another difficult play-off — our fourth since 2009. The previous three were unsuccessful, with each performance worse than the last, and all signs point to a repeat of the same depressing pattern this time. This group of players is too accustomed to losing in big games. It’s impossible to escape the feeling that this qualifying campaign is already doomed. The phrase “dead man walking” comes to mind.
My conclusion now is the same as it was last November: Mesa Bazdarevic is not good enough. He hasn’t solved almost any of the problems he inherited from his predecessor Safet Susic, and he doesn’t show any signs of ever being able to do so. The Bosnian national team will have no success until the FA brings in a manager who understands that more strikers on the pitch doesn’t always mean more goals, that balance is far more important than forcing all the “big names” into one line-up, and that absolutely no player is undroppable if he’s out of form or does not compliment the system.
Losing feels awful, but knowing that you are stuck with a coach with whom there is no future is far worse; it all begins to feel pointless and leaves you with nothing to look forward to as a fan.
Another bit from last year:
After our disappointing World Cup experience in Brazil, the Bosnian FA made the mistake of renewing Susic’s contract. He was then sacked anyway only four matches later but the damage was done and that foolish decision cost us direct qualification for Euro 2016. I fear we may make a similar mistake with Bazdarevic and doom our journey to the 2018 World Cup before it even begins.
Unfortunately, my prediction was correct and the opportunity to make a change is gone. Mesa should have been replaced after he failed to qualify for Euro 2016, but just like Susic, he was given a second chance he didn’t really deserve. Sacking him now would be largely pointless and no one stands out as an obvious replacement, but even if there was, the Bosnian FA is not going to sack a coach after losing to the second ranked team in the world. We have no choice but to wait and hope against hope that he and the players muster enough character and quality to see out the qualifying cycle in a respectable fashion.