x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Mihajlovic's sharp tongue is having positive results

As a manager, Sinisa Mihajlovic is quickly gathering as big a reputation for the sharpness of his tongue as for the accuracy of his left foot.

Through his career as a player, Sinisa Mihajlovic became best known for one part of his anatomy. He was OK in the air and had clever instincts that helped adapt his game so well over the years that a professional life that began on the left wing for Red Star Belgrade ended in the centre of the defence for the champions of Serie A, Inter Milan. It was Mihajlovic's left foot that gave him his global fame. Some people reckon no left foot has ever struck a dead ball as well as Mihajlovic's. Now, as a manager, Mihajlovic is quickly gathering as big a reputation for the sharpness of his tongue as for the accuracy of his left foot.

Mihajlovic, 39, took over as the head coach of Bologna last month and steered them out of the relegation zone while getting involved in spats and rows with leading figures in the Italian game. As Mihajlovic had worked as the assistant coach to Roberto Mancini at Inter, he was asked to comment on the latest trouble with the striker Adriano's discipline. He noted that while he and Mancini used to deal with Adriano the same way as Mourinho does, "people say Mourinho's great and that we did it badly."

Mourinho, piqued, refried some prize anecdotes from the colourful past of Mihajlovic. "Inter will give Adriano a second chance," said Mourinho. "that's what we do here. Inter even gave Mihajlovic a job as a coach after he spat in the face of Adrian Mutu when he was playing for Lazio." Among other controversies. Mihajlovic the player was notoriously tough, sometimes dirty. The kindest way to describe his attitude as a footballer would be to quote Sven Goran Eriksson, who managed him at Sampdoria and Lazio. "Super competitive," Eriksson called him.

Playing for Lazio against Chelsea, Mihajlovic spat at Mutu in a Champions League match in 2003. During a Lazio versus Arsenal game, Patrick Vieira heard Mihajlovic direct a racist comment at him. Mihajlovic said he in turn heard Vieira call him a 'gypsy'. By then, Mihajlovic had attracted fame for his aggressive nationalism. In his native Serbia, Mihajlovic made known his respect for the warlord Arkan. These sorts of incidents made him a figure held in little affection beyond the fans of his clubs or his country.

As the row with Mourinho simmered - Mihajlovic retorted: "I can't take anything Mourinho says about on-the-field incidents seriously because he never played at a high level" - a new area of rancour emerged. Ahead of the Coppa Italia meeting between Bologna and Roma, Mihajlovic revealed he had fallen out with Francesco Totti, the Roma captain. Totti, once a good friend, failed to turn up for Mihajlovic's testimonial match, explained the former Serbian international. So, in sulk, they had cut off contact with one another.

Mihajlovic first knew the teenaged Totti when he joined Roma in the early 1990s. He had previously starred in the Red Star team that won the European Cup just as the conflict in the Balkans was beginning. Mihajlovic, like all Yugoslavs of his generation, lived through challenging times. Love him or loathe, Mihajlovic was a man his coaches admired. Not just for his powerful free-kicks - he scored 27 goals from them in Serie A - but for his leadership. Eriksson and Mancini sought him out as a lieutenant.

Bologna have a lively and fiery new manager. Mihajlovic's half-time team talk at home to Torino last weekend was apparently full of rousing rhetoric. Bologna were losing 1-0. They scored five goals in the second half, coincidence? ihawkey@thenational.ae