In 2002, Bora Milutinovic made history when he led the Chinese national team to their maiden appearance at the World Cup finals, becoming the first ever manager to coach five different national teams at the world’s most prestigious football competition. An achievement later matched by Brazil’s Carlos Alberto Parreira when he led hosts South Africa during the 2010 edition.
There are few coaches on earth with the same colorful and amazing career as “Bora”.
He played football as a midfielder for clubs in Serbia (Former Yugoslavia), Switzerland, France and Mexico before embarking on a successful coaching career that spanned more than three decades.
The 69-year-old Serb has managed seven national teams and seven clubs in ten different countries from five continents, and in four of his adventures at the World Cup Finals, he managed to lead his teams past the group stage – Mexico in 1986, Costa Rica in 1990, USA in 1994 and Nigeria in 1998.
Nowadays, “Bora” lives in Qatar, where he is using his unmatched experience to help develop football in the emerging country as they gear up to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. He was also an influential ambassador for the country’s winning bid to host the tournament.
Samindra Kunti met “Bora” during his visit to Brazil to support the Supreme Committee’s “Generation Amazing” initiative. The legendary coach talked about the social power of football, the World Cup, his coaching career, the 2022 FIFA World Cup and more.
What are your activities here in Brazil?
“We are here as part of the Generation Amazing Program. An initiative by the Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy that aims to empower a new generation of leaders to use football to create positive change in communities. Football makes the World better.”
“This year we brought 22 kids to the World Cup in Brazil from four countries; Qatar, Jordan, Pakistan and Nepal. They watched World Cup matches and will go through many activities. This will help them learn a lot.”
“We are very happy to be in Sao Paulo. Today, we are here at Gol da Letra, with people learning Capuheira, sharing life experiences, coming together and talking about different topics. The other day, we went to the Cafu Foundation. Cafu is not only a great player, but also a great person, who is helping the poor in Sao Paulo to develop and obtain life skills.”
“It is a wonderful experience for the kids. Especially for those who have never left their country before. You cannot imagine how happy these kids are, leaving their communities and coming here in Brazil is like a dream for them.”
What do you think is the social power of football?
“The social power of football is just incredible! Take the current month of June as an example. It is a month when everyone talks only about football . They forget about everything else – problems, war, social difficulties. They just talk about football. It is an extraordinary atmosphere, a party atmosphere, where races are united. I truly think that it is important in this world to have a moment to fraternize with other people.”
How would you describe your role as an ambassador for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup?
“I am very happy to be part of all this, because I can share my experience. I am confident that the World Cup in Qatar will be fantastic. The stadiums will be air-conditioned; the training facilities will be perfect and the hotels are of the highest quality. During the World Cup, you will be able to see more than one game in the same day, because the distances between the stadiums are short. It is a great advantage for everyone.”
“Also bringing the World Cup to the Middle East will help connect this region with the world. I am glad that Qatar was given the opportunity to organize the World Cup.”
Can you tell us more about your coaching experience in Qatar with Al Sadd and about your work with Aspire?
“It was a marvelous experience. At Al Sadd, I got a chance to develop my ideas. I had six young players who were only 18 years-old and were starters in my team. It is always fundamental to give players with talent and enthusiasm the chance to show themselves.”
“Aspire is a great institution. I think it is the most modern sports center in the world. It has everything, A stadium, A hospital, and many more facilities. I participate in coaching young players.”
Some countries in the region like Saudi Arabia and UAE were able to produce some really good national teams, what is the reason Qatar is struggling to produce teams with similar quality?
“I think that’s not true, despite that Qatar is a small country, they were very close from qualifying to the World Cup finals many times before, and the differences in levels between teams in this region are not that big, and let me tell you something, Al Sadd were the Asian champions three years ago. That was extraordinary – and they even finished third at the FIFA Club World Cup in Tokyo. So, the situation is not as what people think.”
You have been to five world cups with five different countries. Which world cup experience was the most emotional or the closest to your heart?
“All! All the five!”
“I also enjoyed working with other national teams like Iraq, Jamaica and Honduras. But, of course, guiding Mexico during 1986 was my first World Cup, and in that year my daughter Darinka was born, it was a special tournament for me. Then came the World Cup with Costa Rica in 1990 in Italy, It was extraordinary. Exactly 24 years ago. Then, with the USA in 1994 followed by Nigeria in 1998 when we defeated Spain, It was quite a team, and then came China in 2002. It was the first and only participation of China in the World Cup.”
“Of course, it was always a little inconvenient in 1990, 1994 and 2002 to meet Brazil. When you meet Brazil, It is never easy! By the way I felt really sad when I heard that Mr. Mario Zagallo is sick and I hope he will get better soon.”
Which teams have you seen in the current World Cup and what do you think about the level of the tournament?
“Brazil is a football country, but this World Cup is a dream World Cup. Certainly, because of the less fancied teams. If I start with Mexico for example – Mexico’s results are extraordinary and especially the way the team played. Costa Rica is another of my ex-teams, and the USA too. They all played well.”
“Colombia is a hidden giant and Belgium play superbly. The Belgian team has organization, players with a great team spirit and it will be interesting to see what happens as they play confident and organized football. I think they have the best defense with Daniel Van Buyen of Bayern Munich and Vincent Kompany of Manchester City, a with the goalkeeper and Hazard playing in the midfield. It is a team that will create many problems.”
In South Africa football was very defensive. Now we see a lot of attack, goals and goals. Why do you think this change has come?
“I think football changed a lot, and teams knew that to progress you have to win, but of course there is always the risk of facing a counter-attack. This Brazilian World Cup is full of goals and fun. People forget about everything else and enjoy it. Football really is extraordinary.”
Which team is the favorite to win the World Cup title this year?
“Before the World Cup, I would have mentioned the favorites, as always, Brazil. That is natural. Also Argentina and then Holland and Germany. Three World Champions are already out in the Groups stage. Other teams that have impressed me spectacularlyare Belgium, Mexico, Colombia and Costa Rica.”