Three days after Bosnia-Herzegovina returned home from their first World Cup appearance, the coaching post is empty. Safet Susic's contract expired on the last day of June and it is unclear as to whether the football federation will offer him a new contract or replace him with a new name.
While the Nogometni Savez Bosne i Hercegovine—Bosnia's football federation—is being somewhat coy, the public itself has mixed emotions. Susic has support among fans and journalists who consider qualifying for the World Cup to be the best possible achievement, while his critics argue that this team had potential to reach the knockout stage and blame Susic for not doing it.
Following their exit, Susic did issue an apology—per Fifa.com.
"I feel sorry for those we have disappointed," Susic said. "We should have done better by the quality of our players but now is the time for this team to look forward to [UEFA] Euro 2016 qualifiers."
Susic took over the national team in the last days of 2009, succeeding the generation that reached the World Cup play-offs for the first time in their history. Susic was considered to be inexperienced as a coach, at least at the top level, since his previous jobs were with Turkish minnows Istanbulspor, Konyaspor, Rizespor and Ankaraspor.
His coaching style and abilities in general were under question as well, as he had not been able to stay at one club for more than two seasons.
However, his superb reputation as a player—he was voted the best Bosnian footballer in history—helped him get the job. His predecessor, Croat Miroslav Blazevic, made some significant changes with regard to approach and his ways of motivating the players, but he also elevated Edin Dzeko, Zvjezdan Misimovic and Emir Spahic to the top level, adding them to young players like Miralem Pjanic and Asmir Begovic, leaving Susic with a great generation in his hands.
The first campaign, for Euro 2012, ended in tears, even though the Dragons got to the brink of qualification. Twelve minutes before the end of the crucial match against France in Paris, where they needed a win to top the group, the Bosnians were 1-0 up but a controversial penalty denied them victory and sent them to the play-offs. Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal friends were, twice in two years, too much to handle.
Still, Susic earned a new contract and he took the team through the World Cup qualifiers to reach the major tournament for the first time. He had luck with the draw, avoiding the big names in the group. Irrespective of the opposition, his team looked quite impressive, scoring 30 goals and winning eight out of ten matches.
That achievement is, of course, Susic's main bargaining chip. He was the coach of the team that qualified for the World Cup for the first time in the country's history. It is a fact and none of his critics can take that from him. He did something no one else had been able to achieve.
Under his guidance, this generation—with Dzeko, Pjanic, Spahic and Begovic as a spine—matured, creating a sort of winning mentality their precursors lacked. For years, the Bosnians struggled against "smaller" nations, losing crucial points to the likes of Faroe Islands, Estonia and Lithuania, but this was not an issue under Susic, especially in the second campaign. Also, Susic introduced some new and young players like Sead Kolasinac, Muhamed Besic and Toni Sunjic, all of whom impressed in the World Cup.
But, Susic's reign has not been all positive. Under his guidance the team showed tactical naivety, which tended to cost them against stronger opponents. Bosnia-Herzegovina failed to beat any top team in Susic's 1645 days. Too often, Susic made tactical experiments and this led to a lack of consistency.
The pinnacle of this was the World Cup, where Susic failed his most important test, making some strange tactical decisions in the match against Nigeria. He can blame bad luck and poor refereeing, but the fact is that Susic made crucial mistakes in that match that determined the rest of the World Cup path for the Bosnians.
Susic deserves praises for most of his work with Bosnia-Herzegovina, above all else he took the team to the top stage. Under his leadership, the team played 44 matches, winning 22 and drawing seven, the best record of any Bosnian coach.
But for all the positives, the team has become somewhat stale. Susic lost his grip, with a lack of discipline in the team being proof of that, and it seems like this is a perfect time to say farewell.
Bosnia-Herzegovina could use the change.