Dejan Lovren dao je veliki intervju Marku Šepatu za Dnevnik Nove TV.
Just the first half of the interview, the NT stuff.
Dejan, welcome to Nova TV's "Dnevnik". How are you? Seven days have passed since you announced your retirement from the national team. Have your emotions settled?
- I'm good. I'm surprisingly good since I thought it would be much tougher. In fact, it was harder a few months ago, while I was contemplating my decision. That's when it was really hard but I didn't want to make anything public. Actually, it was even before Qatar.
When did you start thinking about retirement from the national team? Why all of a sudden and when did you finally make your decision?
- It was before the Austria game in the UNL. That's when I came to a final decision - I figured I'd play out Qatar at a high level and that I'd retire after that. About specifics, there are plenty. But the main one was I felt I brought a lot to the national team but I felt I reached my zenith. I wasn't sure I could give any more. Did I feel needed at some stages, honestly at times I felt the national team no longer needed me. All these little things came into my decision to play in Qatar, do what I could to help [the team].
In the end it showed I'd made a good decision. I worked hard, I was a true professional in the six months prior to Qatar, especially with the war. I had a dilemma about staying in Russia, to do it or not, to leave, there were all sorts of thoughts in my head. But, again, in the end I stayed and it ended up being the right decision. In a way, I remained a true professional even though it was extremely difficult. In those situations, staying in Russia, a country the whole world was talking about, it honestly wasn't a comfortable situation. And being a Croatian national team player and staying in Russia brought me added pressure. It was very difficult.
Did you expect some kind of support from the people in Croatian football, specifically the HNS, the coach?
- I had support, I can't say I didn't. I had it, definitely. I spoke with the coach a lot, even when we were in Qatar in March. At that time things in Russia were still somewhat OK, but as time went on it got harder. Again, I can't say I didn't get support. However, despite all that support, no one understood my situation, how difficult it really was for me over there.
You say that a some stages you felt unneeded by the national team. Why did you feel that way and when?
- Well, I don't know, those feelings just come. It gets into your head, I can't say when exactly. I basically realised, watching the younger guys play, that things were going really well. Then I figured, I'm at an age now when I have to really take care of myself in terms of my physical readiness. I'm not the youngest anymore and I need a lot more time for recovery and recuperation, especially now at Lyon. Expectations here are bigger, to contribute at both ends is very difficult. That's why I admire Luka Modrić who is still at that high level. It's unreal.
Did you talk with Zlatko Dalić before you made your final decision? What did he say to you, did he try to convince you to reconsider?
- No. I called Zlatko and literally told him: 'Coach, that's it from me. Sadly, I think I'm no longer capable of contributing to the level I'd like. It's my final decision.' Naturally, he was surprised at some point, he went quiet on the phone. He did ask me once or twice to reconsider but when I make a decision it's final.
Did the possibility of winning a historic gold with Croatia in June in the UNL tempt you at least a little?
- Already in September, when I had made my decision about retiring after Qatar, I said to myself, OK, the UNL is coming, the Final Four. But then I looked at it from a different angle, I didn't play that UNL well, I only played in one game.
You scored against Austria...
- I did score that one goal but I still didn't feel like I'd contributed as much as I could. Like I said, there were some things that I'd realised around that time - namely that the team could do it without me. I'm really overjoyed seeing those youngsters, a younger national team that is coming, one that is in fantastic form. They deserve it. I really gave everything, in Russia and in Qatar, which was the icing on the cake. I really don't have anything to be sad about. I thought about going again, the qualifiers in March, if I start something I don't want to stop there. So, if I go, I go to the end. But in two years...
How was your relationship with Zlatko Dalić? He's more calm, you're more temperamental, you always say what you think...
- Well, I think Zlatko has known me long enough.
Were there any critical moments, you've said the relationship was occasionally on edge?
- There were, definitely. I won't lie. There were unhappy moments. But I say, that's simply a part of football.
- I didn't agree with some decisions, and, well, I always want to help the national team. In fact, I always wanted to contribute only positively. My opinion. Perhaps in those moments, from his perspective, that's not what he saw. But I say, in the end the proper player-coach relationship prevailed. In the end the national team is what's most important. I sincerely never wanted to create problems because I know the boys live to be part of the national team, let alone going to a World Cup and then to have me ruin it. Really, that wouldn't make any sense. I've always said: always be fair and correct, firstly towards the boys and in the end the coach and the rest of the technical staff.
You had five coaches during your 13-year Vatreni career. What does Zlatko Dalić have that, perhaps, other coaches didn't have? How did he turn Croatia into a big team that continues to perform and confirmed its status with a World Cup silver and bronze?
- He gave us freedom. Along with that freedom he had some kind of system in which he believed. We went along with that system. While in the past it wasn't relaxed, now it was much more so, but we still had the motivation to work and respect one another. It was the perfect balance and I think we lacked that in the past. Sometimes it was too relaxed, other times it was too strict...
There were NT coaches with whom you didn't get along. In the past you said, about Niko Kovač, that you were among the dissatisfied players. What was the problem?
- Uf...I was dissatisfied even under Zlatko a couple of times. I made that known, too. Perhaps I couldn't tell Niko Kovač that at the time because I wasn't strong enough, in terms of character, to express myself. I was young then. I was 23-24 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But, yes, there were some disagreements.
Perhaps that German drill [mentality], was that excessive for you, even though you're known as a hard worker?
- Oh, no, no. I don't have any problems with someone telling me what to do at training. But I always say there has to be mutual respect.
With Ante Čačić you had that situation in a friendly game against Hungary when you supposedly refused to warm up as a substitute. He later said you had given him some kind of ultimatum and that's why he didn't take you to Euro 2016. Was that the most difficult period of your NT career?
- I wouldn't say it like that. To be honest, I can't even remember anymore if that's how it happened. But it's not that I didn't go to the Euros because of Ante Čačić. That's just not true. The truth is I spoke with Ante Čačić and I explained to him why I didn't want to go and why I couldn't go. I had my personal reasons and I think the coach supported and completely understood me. So, that was a tough situation and decision. Even then I put the national team first, I didn't want to spoil anything. Basically, I didn't want to bring the negative energy I felt at that time into the national team.
When comparing Russia and Qatar, what are some of the similarities and differences between the two greatest successes? Both medals are dear to you.
- Definitely. What I'd highlight is the camaraderie we had, the positive energy and quality. Realistically, the quality in 2018, we were at the top. We all felt good, I was 28-29, Luka 32-33...Raketa, Broz, Kova, Vida, Mandžukić, Rebić...really, I don't need to go on. Šime.
What happened in Qatar that enabled us to repeat the performance? We did a rebuild in the interim, maybe no one expected it would come again in four years?
- I think it was perfect timing, the young generation that came through, those boys saw 'hey, I've got a chance'. It was just perfect timing. Some players on the way out, in the twilight of their career, but with a level of experience you can't explain except seeing it on the pitch. With that the young generation was full of enthusiasm, energy and positivity. So, again, I think it was perfect timing and a perfect balance.
When we look at the loss to France in the final and Argentina in the semi final, which one hurt more and where do you think we had a greater chance? Which one leaves you perhaps with more regrets?
- Both, both games. Honestly, whenever anyone asks me that I need to take deep breaths. The final in 2018, realistically you're never closer to the trophy. That hurts a bit more. But Argentina also hurts because when you look at it, that first 30 minutes how we played, it was unreal. And then in the space of ten minutes we unravelled.
You won two medals, played 78 times for Croatia and scored five goals. Could you, perhaps, and there were a lot, single out two or three teammates with whom you really connected over all those years?
- Šime is definitely number one. We'll remain on good terms for the rest of our lives. We were on good terms even before the national team.
Russia brought you even closer?
- Definitely, but I can say even after Russia. Especially this whole situation with his knee, he had a lot of problems with his surgeries. We were in touch many times after that, and it was very hard for him when he wasn't playing for the national team and at club level. He had a lot of bad things happen, and I felt he needed someone by his side. That basically brought us closer.
Aside from Šime is there anyone else?
- Luka, Broz, Mateo, there's plenty of us. But mostly that generation of guys with whom I'd spent many years in the national team.
Luka is staying, he actually highlighted something that is becoming a mantra, the belief that we can, in the near future, get that gold. Do you believe this national team can do it at a major tournament?
- Well, you always have to believe and truly believe. If you don't you won't get far.
Have we raised the bar too high or is it a good thing?
- Well yes, I think so. But for future generations that are coming, let that bar be high, let them grab onto it and to keep watching. I watched in 1998 and I always said: why is it that no one can beat that bronze generation, it's impossible. And then when we went through, well, literally through the English, you just felt wooow.
What do you say about the future, especially at the centre back position, it looks bright. You said it yourself earlier. Who has particularly impressed you?
- Well no, there are fantastic players, but I don't want to single anyone out. But the generation that's currently there, from Gvardiol to Šutalo and Erlić, we can't forget Ćaleta-Car, either. There are countless players who aren't there yet but are on the fringes of the national team. I think they have the predisposition to do something big, I just wish them all the best and that they learned a little something from me. So they know what they have to show on the pitch, what they should say off it, in the dressingroom and other things.
In an interview for FIFA you said you were a leader in the dressingroom. How much do you think you helped those boys during our recent transition?
- Sometimes I think it's silly to say 'leader', how can I say. I simply want us to rise up as a unit, to wake up. When I feel it necessary. I had the privilege to be at a great club like Liverpool, and I learned what it means to be at the highest level, what it means to be focused, what it means to be at the bottom with everyone insulting me. And I just wanted to pass all of my experience onto the young guys, and naturally to the rest of the team. And when I feel we're skirting the edge, I always like to wake them up even with some harsh words. So, does that mean being a leader, I don't know. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. I'm just that type of person and player, when I feel I need to say something, I'll say it. I know that I can only help someone.