This Croat takes no joy from England's mistakes
By IAN LADYMAN
Last updated at 20:56pm on 17th December 2007
| Mr Cool: Vedran Corluka at the Manchester City training ground at Carrington |
Being a Croat footballer in England has never been a more precarious occupation, given the country's leading role in plunging our national game into despair over the last month.
But Manchester City's imposing right back Vedran Corluka is looking ahead to coming face to face with two of England's fall guys this week with some well-intended if rather belated words of consolation.
Goalkeepers Paul Robinson and Scott Carson made dreadful errors during defeats to Croatia - Robinson in Zagreb and Carson at Wembley - and they will cross Corluka's radar again as City face Tottenham in the Carling Cup on Tuesday and Aston Villa in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday.
Corluka said this week: 'I will never make fun of what happened to them as I know how it feels. Once, it happened to me.
'I was playing for Croatia Under 16s and in the last minute of our last game I fell flat on my face to allow Denmark to score a goal. I was the last man and I just fell over.
'Because of my mistake we didn't go to the finals of the European Championships. Afterwards I was upset, crying and saying sorry over and over again. But what use is sorry? It didn't change anything. It was my fault and everybody knew it.
'So I was not pleased when I saw what Robinson did in Zagreb and what Carson did at Wembley. They are good goalkeepers and are young. They will come back.
'I have seen that shot many times for the first goal that Carson let in. It was hit very hard. He should not take all the blame. I was sad for him.
'I was just happy that Croatia were through to the finals. It is a shame what happened to England but, to us in Croatia, it was not a surprise that we beat them.
'We knew the quality and spirit that we had. It is amazing for Croat football that we are there next year, and what happened when we beat England at Wembley was amazing, I can't deny that.
'There we were playing this great team with these great players at this world-renowned stadium. We were beating them and there were 10,000 Croatia fans there to see it. Amazing.'
Assured of a place - at England's expense - in next summer's Euro 2008 Finals in Switzerland and Australia, Croats are understandably proud of their footballers. Few have a bigger profile back home than 6ft 4in Corluka.
Having played 68 times for Dinamo Zagreb, he was largely unknown when City manager Sven Goran Eriksson signed him for in excess of £5million in the summer.
It was a big step for Corluka but it was never likely to faze him. Only 21 years old, he has nevertheless seen more in his short life than most players will in a lifetime.
Raised in the small Bosnian village of Derventa, Corluka and his family fled to Croatia when he was six to escape a Serb onslaught that was to burn down the family house.
His father, Jozo, has subsequently returned to rebuild the home while Corluka has spent time and money back in Derventa helping to rebuild the village church.
Pointing to a wristband depicting several catholic figures, Corluka said: 'My faith is very important to me and, although my family are now Croat citizens living in Zagreb, our home village is important to us.
| Hurting England: Corluka holds off Peter Crouch at Wembley |
'The people there are proud and it has been important to go back and rebuild what we had. I have helped with some donations for the church but have also been back in recent years to help physically with the rebuilding process.
'The church is important in the village. The village would not be complete without it. I admit that I don't remember much about what happened when I was younger, but I have been told about it.
'I had a hard life as a child. I have seen and heard some bad things but it has just made me stronger.
'Me and my family have had to fight for everything that we have ever had and I still have that attitude. It has played a big part in helping me deal with life and my profession.'
Life off the field currently includes a City centre apartment for himself and his girlfriend - he has her initials tattooed on his right hand - while on the field he believes further improvement will come in the New Year.
The fact that he has played in every League game for City this season says everything for the way in which he has settled in England, something not all of manager Eriksson's foreign signings have managed to do.
Corluka said: 'My great advantage is that I am calm. I am not afraid to play my football and never will be. That comes from my background as well.
'It helps me and I am helped at this club by the fact that the coach is the same.
'We try to attack and play the ball on the grass, not just kick it forward like some teams do.'
Understandably, Corluka, nicknamed 'Charlie' at City, reflects on Croatia's 3-2 victory over England at Wembley last month as one of the best nights of his young career.
Tonight he can help City reach a milestone of their own - a first semi-final in any competition for 26 years - and he is not immune to the fact that his club's eternally optimistic fans are talking already about a possible trip to Wembley for the final.
Eriksson will field a strong team on Tuesday, including the fit-again Brazilian Elano, as he looks for side to win a 10th consecutive home game and reach the last four.
Corluka said: 'I know all about this club and what a final would mean to City fans. Last season was poor here but as soon as I arrived I could tell we had a good team. There are some better teams than us, but not many.
'We may not end up fighting for the Champions League but there is no reason why we can't aim for the UEFA Cup - and if I can go back to Wembley again I would be proud again. Just as proud as last time!'
Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/sport/football.html?in_article_id=503107&in_page_id=1779 Formatted for CROWN by Marko Puljiæ
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