24 November ~ Watching Estonia crumble so meekly at the hands of the Republic of Ireland during the Euro 2012 play-offs acted to highlight just how badly wrong things had gone for Serbia during qualifying. Finishing in the top two of a group that contained Italy, Slovenia, Northern Ireland, the Faroe Islands and the aforementioned Estonians should have been a task well within the capabilities of Vladimir Petrovic's squad. With Serbia eliminated and Petrovic duly fired, the Serbian football association (FSS) are now in search of a coach who can pick up the pieces. It is hardly a surprise then that Sinisa Mihajlovic, dismissed by Fiorentina a couple of weeks ago, features among the potential candidates.
A deeply controversial figure, Mihajlovic won 63 caps during a 12-year international career. His left foot was widely recognised as one of the best of his generation. Of equal, if not greater, renown was his temperament. Volatile wouldn't quite do it justice. His on-field behaviour was at times raw and uncontrollable.
Mihajlovic was born in Vukovar, in what is now eastern Croatia, a city that saw some of the worst atrocities of the Balkan conflict in the 1990s. From a family of Gypsies – something that opposition supporters and players have been known to use against him – Mihajlovic's parents were of mixed ethnicity, one a Serb and the other a Croat. That, in combination with the renown of their son, made them vulnerable during the fighting and resulted in their panicked evacuation from the city. Sinisa, meanwhile was an established professional with Red Star in Belgrade by the time the violence erupted.
One memorable exhibition of Mihajlovic's capricious nature came during Euro 2000, when the then Yugoslavia faced neighbouring Slovenia in the group stages. With his side already 2-0 down, Mihajlovic was booked for dissent. Two minutes later he gifted Slovenia a third goal, before almost immediately shoving an opponent and earning himself a second booking. Within the space of a few minutes his professionalism had inexplicably disintegrated. Whether rattled by his mistake, or simply angry with his side's capitulation, it was hardly the behaviour you would expect from an experienced international in his thirties. Fortunately for Mihajlovic, the ten men recovered to draw 3-3.
His move into coaching has seen him take on a more urbane image. He has been sacked by both Bologna and Fiorentina. Those experiences sandwiched a generally successful, if brief, stint at Catania, where he led the Sicilian club to the safety of mid-table after inheriting a side deep in relegation difficulties. In short, he has not done badly enough to be labelled a persistent failure, but he neither has he impressed enough to remove lingering doubts.
"Just because he failed in two out of three clubs, does not mean it will fail in the next six," said the former Yugoslavia international Dragoslav Sekularac. "No one can deny that he has a name and personality that commands respect". Mihaijlovic's candidacy has split public opinion between those who admire his status and character and those who question his experience and competency. One poll found 62 per cent of fans were in favour of him getting the job – a modest total given the widespread popularity he commanded as a player. Mihajlovic himself has said that he is open to discussions with the FSS. Regardless of whether the call comes, he seems a figure eternally destined to divide opinion. Marcus Haydon