FK Sarajevo: The Lowdown with Saša Ibrulj
Celtic’s season kicks off in two weeks with a trip to Bosnia to play FK Sarajevo in their first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League. Ahead of that game, Janefield Street spoke to Bosnian football journalist Saša Ibrulj to give us the lowdown on Celtic’s opponents.
What kind of manager is Husref Musemić? His style of play?
SI: I see him as an old (Yugoslav) school (of football) manager. He is very strict, discipline as the first place, he wants to be the boss and control the locker room and if they play bad it is usually not his fault.
I would not call him a big tactician, but he knows how to motivate the team, how to prepare them for big matches like this and I believe he is much better when he needs to adapt his team to the better opposition.
Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan was owner of FK Sarajevo up until March, when he sold it to a Vietnamese businessman, what was your take on Tan’s era at the club and the new owner?
SI: After [Tan] he took over the club is financially stabilised, they had no trouble with payments, they had the most money in the league, bought the best players. But, the pressure and the expectations from the fans are equally high and FKS had some difficulties to cope with it.
When it comes to the new owner, he is unknown to the fans, so far he says a lot of nice things, he promises to invest money, but we are yet to see how things will look.
Side note: Just five days ago, the FK Sarajevo players refused to travel to the club’s pre-season training camp as they had not been paid several months wages following the takeover. Previous owner, Vincent Tan eventually stepped in and paid the outstanding wages.
Who are Sarajevo's key players? What do they bring to the team?
SI: Their best player is 34-year old striker Mersud Ahmetović. He is the best player in the league too. And that says a lot.
Young Mujakic was very good at the back but he left for Belgium, young keeper Kovačević is top prospect. However, it is difficult to say. Bosnian clubs change a lot during summer transfer window and no idea who will be playing Celtic.
What are Sarajevo's strengths and weaknesses? Do these differ between domestic and european football, and at home and away?
SI: They differ a lot. In Bosnia they are the strongest side, they want to control the possession, to play passing football and this is what they try to do.
In Europe this is complete opposite; they are well aware of the fact that they are outsiders and just want to keep the opposition away from their goal. I expect them to do the same against Celtic; to leave the ball to them and defend high, hoping to do something from the counter and set-pieces.
What are the club's expectations for European competition each year?
SI: No Bosnian club ever qualified for group stages of any competition, so this is the ultimate goal. However, we are fully aware of why no Bosnian club ever qualified. We are just not good enough. So I guess teams are entering European competitions with no expectations just high ambitions - hoping that they can make it a step further than last year.
How would you rate last season for them? Did they overachieve with the league and cup double?
SI: One of the best seasons of any club in domestic league in last ten years. However, I don't think they overachieved - they are the richest club in the country and have the best team. What’s more, I expected them to win the league with more ease, but they almost ruined everything in the last couple of weeks.
What was the impact on the squad with the 10-2 aggregate defeat to Atalanta in Europe last term?
SI: As strange as it sounds, it had a good impact on them. In Bosnia, League managers are often replaced after two or three bad results. I think we had more than 20 managerial changes during the season, and there are 12 clubs in the league.
When they decided to keep Musemić it was a sign that the club took that defeat as the reality check. To be honest, they were ok in the first leg away (2-2) and Atalanta scored basically from every single chance they had in Sarajevo, so FKS were a bit unlucky too.
There seems to be a generalisation among western football fans that there is a huge hooligan issue in Eastern Europe, is there such an issue with the fans of FK Sarajevo? What kind of welcome will Celtic fans get from the locals and the opposition fans alike?
SI: Well, yes and no. We do have our problems, especially with nationalism. But hooligan groups are small and not that strong - I would say Holland, Sweden or Norway have much more serious issues. Ultra movement is strong, but still, I believe Celtic fans will be more than welcome in Sarajevo. People see Celtic fans (and Scots in general) as funny and friendly people, so I doubt there will be any (big) problems.
The war in Balkans as we know had a damaging effect on the whole of the country, how much of an impact did the war have on the club? Do you think they have got back to where they were before it? Or has it left a lasting scar/legacy on the club?
SI: That is a tough one and it would take much more time to properly answer. The war had a huge impact on the club and football in general. Some of the old facilities were used as cemetaries and the club had to start over after the war. But, it was 25 years ago and people try to finally put that aside.
What is your prediction for the tie? Celtic or Sarajevo to progress?
SI: I think Celtic is a much better team and they are clear favourites, but it will not be easy. Celtic will be in control and if they manage to break Sarajevo early and score the first goal, they will not have any major problems, since the Bosnian side has no quality to return after going down especially in the first leg where they will be very motivated and hyped up.
I would go for Celtic to win 3-1 on aggregate.
Thank you to Saša Ibrulj for taking the time to answer our questions on FK Sarajevo, and you can keep up to date with Bosnian Football and Saša’s work by following him on twitter @sasaibrulj