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Buric's Phone Call
1st July, 2015
I was initially quite certain this was a prank call. Buric and I have not been the best of friends - more 'nod-when-you-pass' than 'hug-and-talk' kind of friends, so to receive a call like this seemed a bit fishy. However, on reading articles and talking to Croatian experts (internet people!), it all checks out - The man needs saving and he wants me to do it.
Last month, Buric took over a Croatian club with a lot of history, Hajduk Split; this was his first job as a football manager. As his first act as manager, the 51 year old stripped the club of some of its best players in an attempt to establish his own core group. Unfortunately for him, the club's financial conditions did not improve as much as he had expected and it has put the historic club in a spot of bother - both in terms of personnel and finances. On the eve of his 1st month-i-versary as the manger of the club, the former Barcelona player decided to sell Tomislav Kis, who many at the club believed to be the next best thing in Croatian football for just about 1/10th of what fans and the board would've expected. Protests and petitions followed immediately after, leading to Buric's phonecall to me; he had been sacked by the board but given the opportunity to pick a temporary successor to clean up his mess.
I have had the required badges for a few years now; I knew I wanted to be a manager well before my career ended. The thing I forgot was - if you don't make full use of your 15 minutes of fame, no one will remember you. As I rejected any and every contract to be a part of the SKY and Premier League broadcast, the public's memory faded; I became a footnote in an ever-growing anthology called football. When I announced I was open to managing a team in Europe, the only response I got was 'get-in-line'. So, a chance to rebuild Hajduk Split and save the club, or simply get my name out there again is why I answered Buric's phone call. It's selfish but it's what comes with managing a brand.
As I take my seat on the airplane, a surprisingly hairy baby begins singing the song of his people - there's tears and screaming and howling - as this part-human, part-wolf indicates just how smooth my next 12 months in Croatia are going to be. I was probably Buric's tenth phone call, I'm thinking to myself; surely he called close friends, ex-teammates and other Croatian managers before he called me to take over his job. What's worse, Buric would've only been allowed to pick a replacement if the board were out of options as well. This means I was probably the 34th or 35th pick to manage Hajduk Split; no one wanted to touch this job. Maybe I should've considered just what I was saying 'yes' to.
As I walk out of the aircraft, I'm greeted by about 50 fans, who wear Hajduk scarfs and carry banners - not too bad. I wasn't expecting a red carpet and was secretly hoping I wouldn't be greeted to silence, so a bunch of true, passionate fans of the club is relatively good. I'm happy to be in Split, that is until they start singing:
"Are you Buric in disguise?"
The mother of the werewolf translates it for me, as the kid looks at me, far too pleased about it. I can do nothing more than fake a wide smile and walk briskly towards the car waiting for me at the exit.