“I am ashamed,” says Vahid Halilhodžić even before proceeding with the usual courtesies, entering this brewery in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. This feeling has inhabited the former coach of Morocco since he was thanked last August, after brilliantly qualifying the Atlas Lions for the World Cup. A performance he achieved for the fourth time, after Côte d’Ivoire, Algeria and Japan. A world record. Like having qualified four nations for the World Cup, but having participated in only one of them. “Instead of being in Qatar, I’m here in the rain. I had really invested myself in this project for three years and it is still a World Cup that I will miss. But hey, that’s life. In front of a fish and a glass of Pouilly, ” Coach Vahid” empties his bag.

Fouzi Lekjaa, the president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF), criticized you for not selecting Hakim Ziyech, for favoring the international press in your communication and for not taking enough local players. What do you have to say to that?
When you arrive in a country, you don’t know all the good players. So you have to look for them. How many tapes I watched in Morocco! At least a thousand. I renewed 80% of the team. You have to find them, the players who can play for the national team. What makes a coach credible are the results. And never has the Moroccan team achieved better than with me in the World Cup qualifiers. 7 wins, 1 draw having scored 3 goals per game on average. What I did not appreciate were smear campaigns, to create animosity between supporters of different clubs, between locals and Moroccans abroad, that locals would be prevented from playing for their country. This pressure from the federation had been going on for a long time. They wanted me to take 3-4 players, while the team had achieved results without them. I didn’t give in, because you lose your credibility when the players feel that we decide for you. Some refused to play for Morocco because they had entourages who preferred them to play for Spain, Italy or France. And then they change their minds when there’s a World Cup! But you had to be there when you went to Kinshasa or Guinea during the military putsch. In Morocco, I wrote a sports document, like a charter, a synthesis that describes the identity of the team, defensively, offensively, on free kicks, individual markings, markings in zone, zone 1, zone 2, at 30 meters, each player must have a player next to it, within 16 meters, individual marking in the center, all the bases, play in the axis, Back to the goal, put away in one touch mandatory, the calls on the side, in depth, everything is there, all the automatisms. It has been translated into five languages, because there are Moroccans everywhere. “Didn’t you understand? Here, read this. I wrote this during the Covid lockdown. We are the only technical staff in the world who worked during Covid. There, for sure, I felt that with the Moroccan team I had built, we could do something at the World Cup. I would have liked to end my career on a successful World Cup and say enough is enough!

Have you left the recipe for success to your successor?
Yes, but I did the same in Japan. You never talked about that. I don’t want to brag, but tactically I have pif, I know how to do it. Defensively, at the limit, it’s easy, but offensively… There are a thousand possibilities. In 2014, all the teams were eaten by Germany, and we, Algeria, we ate Germany! I don’t have a defined system, I adapt all the time, every match is a battle. Today, every player has videos of his direct opponent. We analyze overall, in attack and defense, the difficulties and weaknesses of the opposing team, we put in place a lot of small things to take advantage of it. Everything is programmed. That’s what being a professional is today. Everything is done upstream.

Do you still do talks in the locker room?
No, I pick up a book and read. Because everything is already on the board. Just, when you have the opposing composition, you repeat the instructions of each, according to the numbers. Players forgotten on set pieces, it’s not possible with me.

In Morocco, as throughout your coaching career, your relations with the press have often been tense. What for?
With Moroccan journalists, what did I experience… Oh boy! One day I got up and said, “I hate you. I am at home and I tell you to your face. In front of 200 people. They had written something about my family. I know journalists, but I never expected anything from them. I don’t like the idea of cronyism with journalists to control your communication. I arrived in Morocco a week after leaving Nantes, where I was earning three times as much. All these family and even financial sacrifices, to finally be deprived of a tournament, it’s hard. When you coach a country, you have to live there, you go to the office every day. And on weekends, you travel to see games. In Morocco, they have the best technical center in the world. Widely. It’s phenomenal. The grounds, the medical, the hotel, the swimming pool, the restaurant… it’s five times better than Clairefontaine.

Long before Knysna, the first big mole story, it was you at PSG who denounced it in September 2004.
Yes, the second season is what makes the team explode. I knew after who were the two remote control players to put the in the team, and by whom. One by L’Équipe, the other by Merguez… Gilles Verdez, yes, from Le Parisien. I may have made a mistake by banning him from Camp des Loges. All the journalists were in solidarity, it was the beginning of the end. I don’t even want to talk about moles, those rotten ones. There is one who spends his time talking on the radio.

Jerome Rothen?
Everyone knows it! Moles, all they want is good grades in the newspapers! When I played, I preferred to have a good grade, but 5 or 6 I didn’t care… We are all different, each his sensitivity, his mentality, his selfishness …

Don’t you think that if you had put a little water in your wine, you would not have experienced the trauma of a third World Cup on TV, that you would be in Qatar right now?
If I had done that, I wouldn’t be Vahid. I prefer to die with my ideas. But I’m not stupid either, I’m able to change my mind when asked, if it’s for the good of the team. But if I’m not sure that this boy will bring a plus and that, on the contrary, it can explode a group balance… It’s not because a player has a status, does prowess in club, that I need him. I have feedback that you don’t have. The problem in a club is that the coach has become the weak link, the first to be fired, but if the head of the sportsman is the weak link, a club cannot perform. The coach he decides, but he spends his time consulting his players, his assistants, he decides, but he does not play, eh … JE am not a fake ass. I have never belonged to a lobby. Look at the Portuguese coaches, they are everywhere because they speak well, there are agent firms that lobby.

Who will you support during this World Cup?
The France. They can go all the way if they are solid defensively. Didier Deschamps is the school of Juventus. Pragmatism and realism. Win. I didn’t even look at the list of Morocco (interview conducted before the start of the competition, Editor’s note). A mother called me because her son was not called, he was crying. You can’t imagine how hard it is to make those choices. A player who has made the qualifiers and is not called, you can destroy his life. I am still traumatized to have played so little in 1982. It takes a hell of a mind to recover, not everyone is capable of it. Even not to play an irreproachable player, it’s hard. But the one who does not work well, is undisciplined, I take him out with pleasure.

In the end, don’t they come to get you for the same reasons that they fire you?
I don’t think so. For example, in Japan, it is the sponsors who impose players. Some were injured, others weren’t playing, so I was thinking of taking youngsters. And it didn’t happen. When they fired me, they blamed me for my communication. What, my communication? It was a pretext. It’s been like this three times. Again, I am a little ashamed. In Côte d’Ivoire, President Gbagbo ordered me to win so that he could be re-elected. I said, “Ask the players.” The president of the federation, Jacques Anouma, was his right-hand man and best friend, and I could not bear interference, it is not the president who chooses the players. With Ivory Coast, I went on a run of 23 games without defeat, before losing in extra time to Algeria in the quarters of CAN 2010.

Fate has led you to be more often a coach than a coach. Is it a coincidence?
I’ve never had a career plan, it’s not organized. Every time I leave a position, I have proposals in the process. Right now, my phone keeps ringing. I do not have an agent firm that deals with my career. It is mostly friends who advise me to go there or there. After the World Cup in Brazil, when I left the Algerian team, an English club and a very big Italian club wanted to meet me. But I had given my word to a very good friend who worked in Trabzonspor, so I refused their requests for appointments. And as soon as I arrived in Trabzon, I realized that I had made a mistake. I have a very spontaneous functioning, affect. I’m a bit stupid, but I only have one word.

In Trabzonspor, did you really come to blows with Florent Malouda?
Ah, but he, I’ve never seen that, I don’t even want to talk about it… I set up a video session after dinner, and he says, “I don’t give a damn about studying this team, asshole.” Oh, I was… In addition, the day before, I had asked the president to pay a million euros in cash because there were salary arrears and if the players have problems off the field, it hurts their performance.

What do you think of this modern football, in which players can be more important than their club?
In my teams, it’s impossible. The undisputed boss is me.

Can PSG have this type of problem with the contract they offered Mbappe?
You don’t manage Messi or Mbappé like the others, but… I had Pauleta, Drogba, Yaya Touré, it’s not bad too. And I never had any problems because I talked to them. I love talking to the players one-on-one. I explain to them that I am the boss, with or without them.

At Auxerre, Guy Roux wanted his salary to be higher than that of his best player to keep authority. Could a coach demand that today?
No. Before, football was organized in associations. Today, it is a private business. It has nothing to do with it anymore. Today, you know how it works? There are agents who recruit players for clubs. In Nantes, they even offered me an added value (sic) on a recruit. I’ve never worked like that! I am asked to develop a player, and that when I lose him, I touch on the added value realized. I told them I wasn’t interested. It is a purely economic approach, in the image of our society.

Today, is it possible to train FC Nantes serenely? All those who succeed each other seem to be systematically “in clash” with the management?
It’s a little special, yes. When I arrived in Nantes, the team was 19th. I found players in a sorry state. At the end of the season, it was better, but we had to sell players and find new ones. I offered them 55 players, they didn’t take a single one. Players wanted to come and play for me, because they knew me. But when I sayais to “son” (Franck Kita) that he was a salary of 100,000, he offered 25,000. The player told me he didn’t understand. That’s not how you negotiate! If he asks for 100,000, you propose 70,000 and we agree on 85,000. I couldn’t accept what was happening in Nantes. Mogi Bayat told me: ” This player, he is good”, I replied: “It’s me who decides if he is good!” Ah, that one…

What kind of players wants to play for you?
Good players. But it depends above all on what you have in your pocket. In Paris, I had 70 million euros. Today, they have a billion. Fifteen times more. In my day, I was told that we spent too much on bottled water, because the players took a sip and threw away the bottle. But whatever club or selection I coach, I’m 100% into it. It’s my house, they pay me for my steak. I’m 100% faithful, I don’t cheat!

Is it a regret not to have been able to associate Pauleta and Ronaldinho in your PSG?
When I arrived in Paris, when I asked the leaders if we kept Ronaldinho, they told me that it was me who decided. And a week later, I found myself in front of the board of Canal+ who explained to me that they were obliged to sell it. My dream was to associate him with Pauleta, but they told me that if we did that, the club would be relegated by the DNCG. What’s that? I got angry for ten days, until they showed me Ronaldinho’s contract. He was loaned to PSG by a company called Sportfive for a handsome sum of money, and in addition to his, PSG paid five salaries. His sister, brother, etc. In the squad, there was even a player who did not exist. His name was Rabiu Baïta, a fictitious player who was used to pay others! When you arrive and find out about this, you wonder if you should stay.

Do you feel out of step with today’s football?
The whole society is changing, and so is football. Now, players win colossal sums and are surrounded by parasites who use superlatives to describe everything they do, girls who make them believe they are all Alain Delon or Jean-Paul Belmondo. How do you yell at a guy who earns $15 million a year? You have to impose your credibility, as a coach and as a man to manage this relationship.

How much of the coach’s work does this human management represent?
With some players, social accounts for 90% of the work. They have not always received an education that has prepared them for this way of life, they must be taught respect.

You said you do not have an agent. Do you negotiate your own contracts?
Yes. I don’t even have a lawyer, experience is enough. There is the fixed and the variability that depends on the results. There you go. But then player contracts with clauses where if you mark the right you get 5 million and head 8 million… In Paris, I was a bit of a manager. When the president negotiated with a player, I would tell him: “Francis (Graille), he’s about that salary. Whereas him, that’s about it.

In Paris, you praised the lucidity of Hugo Léal, who had confessed to you that he did not deserve his salary. That’s crazy…
But what a salary and what a contract he had! Once, he returned three days late, so deducted from pay. But in his contract, he wrote that every year he had to earn at least so much, bonuses included, whatever he did. A sum significantly higher than what he would have earnedIf we had won all the games. A phenomenal contract! His agent was Jorge Mendes. He never dared to talk to me. How do they not feel ashamed of the club, not feel indebted, just a little respectful? But no, they didn’t give a damn. But it doesn’t just happen in Paris. If I talk about what I discovered in some contracts, it’s unbelievable, it’s a crime, you go to jail right away, not even a trial, it’s a robbery, a hold-up! I do not understand how that is possible. A president under pressure, the influence of the coach, a sporting director, an agent, the sincere desire to believe in this player? I don’t know. I always put the interest of the club first, as if it were my home, my interests.

When you are asked about Guardiola, you say that you would like to see him coach Amiens or Dijon. On the other hand, is the biggest regret of your career that you have never driven a Formula 1?
When I left Lille, I met Aulas for four hours in Paris, and he called me in the evening to say “Vahid, this is the job for you, come and sign tomorrow morning”, and he changed his mind in the night. They had just been champions for the first time, but Bernard Lacombe convinced Aulas not to take me, and they took Le Guen. Then I thought I could do it when I left Rennes for PSG. It was a difficult decision, because I had a special relationship with Mr. Pinault who had offered me everything to continue. In Paris, I signed four or five years, and I thought I had the means to do something, unfortunately I fell into a catastrophic economic situation. Going back to Guardiola, coaches of big clubs like to talk possession, direct play, blah blah, all those things that people like to hear. But have they ever played in the Champions League with Lille? Manchester United, at Old Trafford, they didn’t get inside our 16 yards once. Two years earlier, Lille was in the second division. And there, we played in front of 70,000 people against the best team in the world. I wanted to bring Delpierre in the90th, but the game didn’t stop. I even entered the field waving for the referee to interrupt the game to eject me. I felt we were going to take the goal. And we took Beckham’s goal (0-1). Before that, we eliminated Parma, one of the best teams in the world, 2-0 there, the best victory in Lille’s history. So Guardiola, at Barcelona, Bayern or City, he has to have possession because he has the players for that. The question is, what does he do when he loses the ball? Fast recovery in 4 or 6 seconds. It’s there, the work. In Lille, as soon as we recovered the ball, we threw ourselves against at a speed! When I arrived, they were averaging 2600 spectators. When I left, 18,000. I was the first to alert politicians to the need for a large stadium and a modern training center. I said to them: “Look at Lens next door, it’s a village, and they have better facilities than us, aren’t you ashamed?”

Should you have stayed in Rennes?
Oh yes. President Pinault really appreciated my work, he gave everything for me and my family, he wanted me to become a shareholder of the club. I had miraculously saved the club from the descent. When I arrived, I found the club in a catastrophic situation. They had recruited five or six mercenaries who really didn’t give a damn about the world, Turdo, Lucas, Loeschbor… You really have to be a human bastard to behave like they did, they didn’t give a damn. Lucas, the agents had taken 10 million out of the 20 it cost! I told Pinault about it, he said, “Oh? They think I’m a pigeon! Agents, they could assault you to make you play a player or sell him. It happened to me everywhere, these stories of threat!

On a daily basis, what gives you the most Pleasure in the coaching profession?
Seeing my players celebrate a victory. When they scream, like this… In these moments, there are no more egos. It’s sharing. It’s more glorious to win by being in charge of a group rather than as a player. On the contrary, I hate defeat because you are in court. For everyone, including the players, it’s your fault. You are the ideal accused. “It’s not me, it’s the coach.”

In 1993, when you arrived in Beauvais to coach, did you have this destiny in mind?
No, not at all. Already, going to Beauvais saved my life. I left Mostar on a Thursday afternoon, and on Saturday morning they came to kill me simply because I was Muslim and rich. They stole my car and everything in the house and then they set it on fire and blew everything up with dynamite. I lost everything, my café, my bakery, my clothes shop. We had to start from scratch. Religion develops hatred of neighbors. In my house, we never talked about religions. I am Bosnian, my wife is Croatian and my mother-in-law is Serbian.

Your celebrity didn’t protect you…
Before becoming a target, I was involved in organizing humanitarian convoys for a year and a half. And when I left, soldiers came to save my in-laws, thanks to a sergeant I knew. War is terrible, you can’t even imagine. I saw friends killing each other. People become animals ready to kill as soon as they put on the uniform. In a civil war, it is very difficult to remain neutral. But I don’t want to talk about war anymore. Every time I see Ukraine on TV, I change channels because it brings back bad memories.

The Mostar in which you grew up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with its landscapes and its mix of communities, was it a little paradise?
It was, yes. But the war destroyed everything. Everything happened in Mostar: destruction, massacres, genocides, everything! And today, the fascists in power teach young people to hate each other! But there is fascism everywhere. Look in Italy, all those Mussolini supporters! They were democratically elected, with television telling people all day long that the other is its enemy. In France too, society is moving to the right. When there is a gentleman who says to the National Assembly “Let them go back to Africa!” , we have to ask ourselves a little questions. I am proud to be one of the people for whom cohesion and sharing are important. In Lille, I left among other things because I had to fight for all employees to have a Champions League bonus, from the gardener to the laundress. They wanted to share half for the shareholders, half for the team.

In 1981, you left Mostar at the age of 29 to sign for Nantes. How did you end up there?
At that time, I was one of the most in-demand strikers in Europe. There was Stuttgart, Hamburg – the president had come to Mostar by private plane – Torino, Barcelona, Leeds who had sent for a month two 90-year-old grandparents who followed me all day to find out what I was doing. After a match with Yugoslavia against Hungary, my managers spoke with a dozen scouts and at three o’clock in the morning, they told me that there is also a French club, Nantes. “What’s that?” Nenad Bjeković, who played in Nice, tells me that it is one of the best clubs in France, that it is a great country. I met Budzynski. He had the smallest offer, but I felt the passion and real goals, so I went. What amazed me when I arrived at Nantes was that there was only one coach. In Velez Mostar, the coach already had an assistant, a goalkeeper coach and a physical trainer. In Nantes, there was only Jean Vincent.

But it was a team of great talent, with José Touré, William Ayache…
(He cuts.) Amisse, Bossis, Adonkor, Burruchaga then… Nantes, at that time, was really a rhapsody, Gershwin! I do not regret, I have traveled everywhere, and the France is indeed the most beautiful country in the world. What worries me is French society, which is completely confused, a little bitter. Well, the French, they are not happy with birth, it’s a complicated mentality! But there is an ethical and moral erosion of society everywhere. Today lying has almost become a mode of communication. And the bigger it is, the more interesting it is. It’s unbelievable.

When you were younger, you were a rock fan?
At 15, 16, I was playing in a band, I was really into it. I dreamed of one day being Jimmy Page, Brian May or Clapton.

And today?
I love Rihanna, she’s my favorite! I loved Whitney Houston too, the poor one. I like soul, rock, pop, Latin music too, but not too much Shakira. In my car, it’s RTL 2 all the time.

Your players are between 40 and 50 years younger than you. How do they perceive you?
They don’t know that I was a footballer. When you become a coach, you have to forget who you have been as a player. But from time to time, I like to send a pike to a player. Technically, I was very strong, and even now, I work with my strikers to show them the right moves. Yugoslav technique. The best in the world. When I arrived in Nantes, Emiliano (Sala) was in a catastrophic state. Saddened, depressed… I said, “Boy, listen. A centre-forward who doesn’t score 20 goals is not a centre-forward. Far from it! He looked at me and smiled. Afterwards, he often came to me to ask if he could work more. The best mentality I’ve ever seen in a footballer. And then he scored 14 goals in 12 games. He became Europe’s top scorer during this period. And then, presto, he leaves. And then he came back to Nantes toDrink champagne with his former teammates. He was truly an exceptional guy. The three months following the tragedy were the hardest I’ve ever experienced as a coach, terrible.

When you were young, did you dream of this life of adventure?
No, I wanted to become an electrical engineer because I was good at school and in Jablanica, where I was born, there were three electric dams. Then at 18, I had the choice between signing my first pro contract or going to university. I chose football.

Is it true that during your military service, you suffered a cardiac arrest?
Yes. They anesthetized me for shoulder surgery, and I choked. Allergy to anesthesia. But I didn’t find out until a year later, from a neighbor who was the surgeon’s assistant. When she told me, I started sweating, pfiouuu.

You shot yourself in the butt, too…
The only time I fired a gun, yes. I had the gun in my back, it bothered me a little, and when I touched it, the shot went off.

How do you explain that having played until the age of 35, having been twice top scorer of the France championship and having won the Yugoslav Cup, you had only 15 caps for the Yugoslav national team?
It’s political. I was voted best player in Yugoslavia, I took part in all the qualifying matches for the 1982 World Cup and we finished first in our group ahead of Italy, the future winners. I’m coming to the World Cup, I’m a substitute.

What for?
I don’t know. In 1982, I came to the World Cup to be top scorer. Next to me, there was Sušić and Petrović who could give me the balls to score. Miljan Miljanić, the coach at the time, said to me 30 years later, when I met him and said hello, because I received an education: “You know, in Spain I was wrong. I was unfair to you, you had to play. “

When you see the quality of the players, you think that Yugoslav football could have performed better…
There was technical talent, physicality, but also mental fragility. These were not athletes who resisted pressure and provocation. Where I learned to be smarter was when I played against Italy. Gentile, Collovati, Cabrini, they were really thugs. They pass by you touching your shoulder and they fall screaming. Incredible cinema.

Why did you stay ten years at Velez Mostar? Going to Red Star or Hajduk Split could have allowed you to go to the national team more often, right?
The politicians promised to give me and my family everything I wanted if I stayed in Mostar. They put a little pressure on my brothers, too. That’s how it was. Even today, when I go to Mostar, people sing: “Vahiiiiid , Vahiiiiid!” It’s respect, they have memory. Everywhere I went, people liked me. Except in Morocco, where in some stadiums they whistled at me because I didn’t call Ziyech or I had coached Raja. But it was organized.

In France, you were caricatured as the guy who liked to see his players finish training vomiting and who put in reserve those who arrived late, rather than talking about your qualities as a coach. You lived it badly?
It is the caricature of the Guignols, people who know nothing about football. But on the bench, in terms of skills, I’m not afraid of anyone. In general, players don’t like to work without the ball. But you have to! To say otherwise is a pipe. There is aerobic work that you are forced to do. In my teams, there are very few injuries because we do a lot of relaxation. I see a lot of coaches who have magnificent, extraordinary communication. But how are they in the work? Preparing for a training session can last two hours if you pay attention to all the little tactical details! I I have never assigned a session to an assistant. Never. I want my players to train the way they play. It’s in training that we win games. Culture of work and culture of winning. So they preferred to talk about me as a tyrant, to repeat the same stories. Like in Rennes, when I fired three players, including Réveillère and Diatta, because they had played all night at the Playstation, while the next day, we had a crucial match to save ourselves, in Strasbourg. I did without two of the best players, but we kept going. We even played our best game of the season by winning 3-0. But the collective is built on a daily basis, and you can’t make exceptions. The group is always above everything, it is my principle, the basis of my method, no individuality deserves special treatment. So, let us say: “Vahid he’s an old, he’s a tough guy”, ok, if you will. That’s also why I went abroad. I was tired of the fact that in France, I was never told about substance, competence, and that I was always called to make me react on my rigor. And I do not understand, for some coaches, the requirement is a quality, for me it was a defect. But most of the players trusted me, because when Vahid says something, he keeps his word, he’s loyal. In selection, I knew players who refused to warm up to enter the game. So of course for them, it was over. I didn’t come to please so-and-so, I came to improve the team and win.

What state of mind are you in today? Looking for a new position?
I am a little ashamed, again. I’ve had results everywhere, I still work the same way. So you have to have a little pride, it’s not nothing to bring four teams to the World Cup. I would have liked to relive what I experienced with Algeria. Everywhere I go, I am recognized as the coach of the Fennecs, we left a great impression. The day after the elimination against Germany, I went to a shopping center in Porto Alegre to buy some souvenirs, after 10 minutes there were 2000 or 3000 people who carried me in triumph. Can you imagine that? Brazilians! When we returned, there were several million people on the streets of the country. A national holiday. So I’ve never received as many offers as I do right now. Selections, clubs, even in France. I don’t know. When people call me, I say thank you, that’s all. I’m a little bit disgusted because I’m really passionate about football. There are people who work with me who are struggling to cope with the workload I impose. I’m like that. A crazy worker.


Source: sofoot.com

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