Hello one and all, welcome to this instalment of Conquering Croatia! It is time to get bedded in to the club with Yves Lemaire taking the lead role. Our famed manager will not have a lot of time to settle with the season starting during July but let us all learn about the squad, tactics, pre-season and more importantly the competitive football.
If you haven’t already, make sure you catch up on the save introduction piece to give you full context of how this one will work.
On top of what is stated above to get on with, two important things must take place with any Manager…the very first press conference and of course the first board meeting.
Meeting the Press
The first press officer gets things going. “Yves, welcome to Croatia firstly. There is one thing we all want to know, why HNK Gorica? Why Croatia? This is seen as far as what you’re used to.”
Yves proceeds to reply in English. “I am here for the challenge, I am here because I saw potential is this squad and the club. I needed to leave France for the benefit of my career and prove to football fans how good of a manager I am.”
After that confident response shall we say, the next question rolls in. “Good Morning Yves, what is your aim with Gorica in a league that is dominated by Dinamo Zagreb?”
Yves again shows some confidence sprinkled with arrogance. “You said it already, Dinamo’s dominance. I’m sure everybody in Croatia is bored of it, HNK Gorica will be built to topple them, that’s a future fact.”
Lastly, a local press officer and season ticket holder took the stance of a fan. “Croatian fans are passionate and do not accept broken promises from any manager or player. How can you deliver this promise?”
Yves stood up whilst looking the press officer in the eyes in a direct manner. “At GOAL FC I proved French Football wrong, you will see me do it Croatia.” Yves walks out and heads up to the board room.
Meeting the Board
As some of you will know, at GOAL FC Yves became good friends with then chairman Jocelyn Fontanel. Here it was a different set up and three members to answer to.
As Yves Lemaire, shook hands with the directors having already met Chairperson Nenad Crnko, the board were straight to business with their expectations.
They then switched straight to the club finance overview, not giving Yves a second to talk as our manager noted down what he could whilst the three members went through each part in seamless collaboration.
Whilst itwas short Yves was finally acknowledged to speak. One of the Board Members states “This is all good for you so far? There is work to be done yes?”
Yves in a bit of shock of the directness of the meeting simply replies “Yes, this will be fine to work with.” As he felt like he was about to sweat from the pressure.
“Mr. Lemaire, transfers is a sticky subject. The club has had a huge turnover of incomings and outgoings before your arrival with around 18 players arriving and also leaving. There is no room for new players to come in or go until January. We appreciate it is difficult but we ask you keep this squad until then.”
Yves went through the lists (incomings appear first, then outgoings) to try and digest the amount of players who were new to the club.
“I admit, this is a lot and we’ll need the players to settle together. I won’t buy until January if needed as requested. I will find a way with what we’ve got.” Yves said this convincingly and the board members nodded and gave their thanks to end the meeting. I don’t think these will be the type Yves becomes pally with!
The Squad, Pre-Season & Tactics
It’s a big squad, something that cannot be denied. One issue in Croatian football is there is no reserve league format. U19s then straight to first team level. I’m not knocking this completely as it shows attention to domestic talent however, some players will simply not be at the right ability for this transition. That means multiple loans may be seen for development purposes.
Yves looked at the U19 squad overview and has brought up young playmaker Luka Kapulica to develop internally and another talent to look out for will be defensive midfielder Vinko Skrbin. A decent starting squad though but there is likely to be some players moved on in January depending on the half season squad progress and playing time.
It was that time to meet the players and Yves went into the room full of confidence and enthusiasm but soon left without it. After introducing himself and his plans, the squad were less than impressed bar one player.
After the cold introduction from the squad, Mr. Lemaire realised he doesn’t just have to win over the fans and the board, but also this very team that will make or break his first season.
It was a tough pre-season for Yves and the team, whilst there was some good performances, there were no wins to show for it. This was partly due to tactics with a 4-3-3/5-2-3 being used. The 4-3-3 looked more beneficial to the side however, it did require some tweaks for it become the go-to for this season at least.
The 4-3-3 is indeed settled on and it is more of a counter approach when going forward, moving the ball quickly and into the box for chances. There is a sense of aggression with get stuck in however, this is a physically strong team especially in the defensive department. The team has bags of pace across the pitch which will be used to full effect in the attacking and defensive transitions.
SuperSport HNL 2022/23
July – October 2022
What can be deemed a successful first half of the season which paused at the end of October for the World Cup break. There was some early teething problems in terms of goals in the first few matches scoring 1 goal in 4 games but the defence was unbelievable resolute.
At this point, the tactic mentality was changed to cautious and this really brought out the counter attacking element of the formation, hitting teams with stunning pace and passing to create chances. Striker Nikola Vujnovic has been a joy to work with for Yves so far, not just for his goal contributions but his general link and hold up has been key to the teams success.
On loan Fulham midfielder Tyrese Francois has also been playing top level football here in a box to box role, seamlessly link defence and attack scoring some wonderful long rangers too.
This could well just be a honeymoon period for Yves Lemaire and the second half of the season is very busy schedule wise, a blip can be expected but can the team maintain a position in the European places?
SuperSport Superkup 2022/23
The Superkup is the Croatian domestic cup competition, not be confused with the standard season curtain raiser.
It’s been far from convincing despite the progression as third tier Dugo Selo took HNK Gorica all the way to penalties.
Fortunately, the boys held there bottle to proceed to the second round…where there was another penalty shootout against fellow league side Slavo Belupo.
It can be confirmed that Dinamo Zagreb will be the third round opponent, however if progress is to be made Yves knows the team have to play with more motivation within the competition.
Of course, over the season plenty of things can happen away from the pitch and in the words of Gattuso it’s sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe sh*t…
Yves is offered a year extension by the World Cup break meaning, he will at least survive at HNK Gorica until the end of next season. Being that all things go well!
HNK Gorica have Fulham as a parent club which could prove useful in terms of loans and transfer listed players that they have. On form midfielder Tyrese Francois is currently on loan from Fulham and is proving to be good business. The club also have feeders in the three tiers below the HNL which will be good links for developing youngsters.
Players Likely to Depart
At a club with lower reputation in a top division domestically, they may be able to pick up players you wouldn’t expect from time to time. Much is the case with Moussa Wague, the ex-Barcelona wing back has no intention of renewing his one year contract at this stage however, this may not be a bad thing financially as his wages are more than double the next highest earner!
One that is more of a shock is star centre back Aleksander Jovicic who wants to explore his options come the end of the season. Yves tried his hardest to persuade him but ultimately Jovicic wants to see what else is out there for him in a step in team ability.
Youth Intake Preview
There has been many of times where Excellent intakes have been previewed and they’ve fallen far short of that, hopefully this one comes through as it is looking very promising indeed!
It will be post World Cup and the season will get really serious as Yves chases a European spot with the club. There maybe some squad movement in January along with the domestic cup competition where Dinamo Zagreb need to be tackled first. It’s a promising start for sure but continuity is key.
As always, I hope this was an enjoyable read and I appreciate you taking the time to have a look. Take care out there.