In a country, Slovenia, in love with skiing and basketball, football has never been the national sport. In recent years, however, things are changing, also thanks to many talented players who play in major leagues, first of all Italy
“Daily work, commitment and discipline. Austro-Hungarian mentality with a pinch of Balkan genius”. He has no doubts when he talks about Slovenian players, Arden Stancich, one of the greatest Italian connoisseurs of football in these areas. They are players that a coach can develop, as long as he knows how to take them in the right direction. Tactically immature, they come from a school where roles are not well defined and from teams that develop a slow, cumbersome and unproactive game.
The difference in physical preparation between Slovenia and Italy is abysmal. To make the leap in quality you need to know how to give up hamburgers and beer after the game. Rodolfo Vanoli knows something about it, who after being one of the legends of the defense of Lecce and Udinese, spent a good part of his coaching career in Slovenia. For him a national cup won with Capodistria and a Scudetto with Olimpija. Victories achieved above all thanks to a change of mentality. In Koper they still remember the legendary final of the Slovenian Cup, in May 2015, where the local team prevailed with a peremptory 2-0 victory over the favorite Celje. A tactical masterpiece, with the Styrians practically not seeing the ball for ninety minutes. Domen Črnigoj was also part of that team, who would later become one of the cornerstones of the Venezia midfield promoted to Serie A and who played for Salernitana in this last part of the season.
Vanoli isn’t the only Italian coach who has sat on the benches of the Slovenian top flight. The latest in chronological order was Edy Reja, who in this last remnant of the season tried to save Gorica. The Nova Gorica team has had a privileged relationship with Italian football. Thanks to a collaboration with Parma – which didn’t end very well – many Italians have passed right through there. Luigi Apolloni sat on the bench of the Isonzo city and in that period the Cagliari star Gianluca Lapadula and the Genoese Massimo Coda also played in the team. For both a shower of goals in the 2013-2014 season.
In any case, the Slovenian one is also a good breeding ground for Italian football. Forty-four players have passed through Serie A, some have also left their mark. There are currently eight. The last to make his debut was the Koper Martin Turk. Signed from Sampdoria on loan from Parma in January, aged just 19, he has defended goal for the Dorians four times this year. Thrilling debut for him in Turin against Juventus and last match at Maradona against Napoli. He handled it very well, with excellent performances, rewarded by excellent grades on his report card. At the moment, the awareness remains that you don’t make your debut in Serie A so young by chance, let alone if you play in goal.
In a few days he will return to Parma, where he has been growing for years at the court of Gianluigi Buffon. He could stay there next year to play more consistently, Buffon permitting. His dream is to emulate other great interpreters of the role who started from Slovenia. The best known in Italy is certainly Samir Handanovic. With 566 matches, the Inter captain is seventh in the all-time ranking of Serie A appearances. Onana. He could stay at Inter, change team or end a fantastic career. For him the title of best goalkeeper of the 2018/2019 season, an Italian championship, two Italian cups and two Italian super cups.
However, the first Slovenian to win an Italian championship was the granite defender of Sampdoria, Srečko Katanec. It was the era of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini, while Vujadin Boškov was on the bench. Katanec was also the first Slovenian footballer to tread the fields of the Italian top division, many others came after him; some have even entered the history of their teams. In Cremona they remember Matjaž Florjančič, in Bergamo Josip Iličič, in Chievo Boštjan Cesar and Valter Birsa. With over 200 appearances in Serie A, made wandering from Palermo to Parma, Jasmin Kurtić too.
Meanwhile other stars stand out on the horizon and for now they both wear the Udinese shirt. The Friulian team features defender Jaka Bijol and midfielder Sandi Lovrić. Both landed last year at the court of Andrea Sottil and both have shown that they can grow very quickly. The story of Lovrić is singular, a Slovenian citizen by chance, born of Croatian parents, who passed through Piran before moving to Austria. He played for all the Austrian national teams before choosing to wear the tricorn. His goal in the World Cup qualifying match in March 2021 allowed Slovenia to beat Croatia for the first time in its history (sic!).
Football is now becoming one of the national sports in Slovenia as well. It wasn’t like that in the past. In the 1980s the flagship was skiing and the children dreamed of becoming like Bojan Križaj, Mateja Svet and Jure Franko. The ball was mostly a practice reserved for those who were contemptuously called “brothers of the south”. The conviction lasted over time. In 1996, Slovenia played Bosnia at home in a World Cup qualifier. The match ended 2-1 for the Bosnians. It was played just as the results of the parliamentary elections were awaited in the press room set up for the occasion in Ljubljana. Loud laughter accompanied the colorful consideration that the Bosnians of Bosnia had defeated the Bosnians of Slovenia. Now if the country doesn’t stop yet for the national team matches we’re close. Football is not yet the national sport, the dominance will be
still for a while detained by basketball. NBA star Luka Dončić remains the most beloved sports champion.
Meanwhile, however, the football heroes make their way and many children in the parks dream of becoming one day like Messi, Ronaldo, but also like Handanović, Jan Oblak goalkeeper of Atletico Madrid or Benjamin Šeško, the one who should become the new attacking star of the Leipzig after making their mark on Salzburg.
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