In 1976, an energetic and exuberant 41-year-old Bosnian Croat named Miroslav Blažević was appointed as manager of the Switzerland national team. Back then, the ethnic composition of the central Europeans was largely homogenous with the coming decades bringing about waves of immigration and significantly altering the demographics of the nation known for its cheese, mountains and watches.
Having failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup, Blažević departed his post and returned to his native Yugoslavia where he later led a newly-independent Croatia to third place at the 1998 World Cup in France.
Almost 42 years have passed since Blažević’s appointment, and the man now commanding the touchline for the Swiss is another Bosnian Croat in 54-year-old Vladimir Petković. The social worker turned football manager left his hometown, Sarajevo, three decades ago and his life since then evoked the Dino Merlin hit, ‘Moj Je Život Švicarska’ (My Life is Switzerland).
Born in Sarajevo in 1963, his parents’ jobs as teachers meant Petković’s early years were spent living on the outskirts of the historical city, firstly in picturesque Vrelo Bosne and then the neighbourhood of Hadžici. A technical-gifted, towering midfielder, he progressed his way through the youth academy of FK Sarajevo – one of the city’s two big football institutions alongside Željezničar.
Having broken into the first-team aged 18, he completed his year of mandatory military service before returning to the club following the sale of their supremely-talented attacking midfielder Safet Sušić to Paris Saint-Germain. With first-team opportunities limited, Petković spent a short time in the second tier with Rudar Prijedor, where his reputation as a goalscoring midfielder was enhanced.
Upon his return to the capital, he played a peripheral role for the Bordo-bijeli, who claimed their second championship crown under the tutelage of Boško Antić. Although traditionally perceived to be the club of Sarajevo’s Bosniak aristocratic class, their supporter base was largely made up of inhabitants from the city’s central neighbourhoods and, at the time, was largely multi-ethnic.