Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Soccerphile World Cup Blog

Soccerphile World Cup Blog

Davor Suker & Dino Pokrovac

Ozren Podnar reports on an unresolved enigma

Six weeks after the event, the police in Croatia still say they have no clue as to who murdered the well-known players' agent Dino Pokrovac in Zagreb.

Pokrovac, who managed the career of, among others, Niko Kranjcar, was executed in an obvious mafia-style killingon June 11th in the stairway of his residential building and the assassin was obviously a consummate pro as he did not leave any traces.

Three weeks later another event stunned the Croatian public when Dinamo Zagreb's coach Josip Kuze had his car burned in front of a popular Zagreb cafe. A year before his death, Pokrovac also had a car, a shiny Mercedes, burned and blown up, which the police interpreted as a mafia warning.

The two events may have something in common since Kuze was one of Pokrovac's chief debtors, as this soccer agent apparently used to do a lot more than mediate in players' transfers. Kuze called him "a usurer" who had lent him money under extremely unfavourable conditions, which in the end cost Dinamo's coach an apartment in Zagreb and a part of the ownership of his house. Kuze says he resorted to Pokrovac because he had no choice as he had incurred huge gambling debts.

Same procedure, different perpetrators?

However, those who threatened and ultimately killed Pokrovac may not be the same people who warned Kuze in early July, and the Croatian press speculates that the perpetrators of Kuze's car burning may have been Pokrovac's pals, angry because of the coach's accusations against the former players' agent. The police on the other hand have no clue as to who has Kuze in their sights.

The people who mediate in players' transfers clearly belong to the elite of Croatian society, as far as their financial power and their social influence is concerned.

The sales of highly respected Croatian footballers abroad (hundreds of whom ply their trade outside of their homeland) involves such high commissions that a couple of transfers guarantee a lucky agent a wealth beyond the reach of 95% of ordinary Croatians.

Pokrovac's coup, albeit certainly not his biggest deal, was the mediation in the transfer of Niko Kranjcar from Dinamo Zagreb to Hajduk Split for 1.8 million euros - a huge sum for the modest Croatian market.

When he was killed, dozens of local players and coaches, including the national team coach Zlatko Kranjcar (Niko's father) expressed their dismay and sorrow at their friend and associate's death.

His funeral was attended by some 1200 people at the Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb, including high profile footballing personalities and several equally prominent individuals with police records.

Suker may continue Pokrovac's work

Among those present at the funeral was Pokrovac's partner in his transfer dealings, the great Davor Suker himself, not hiding his tears at the death of a close friend. Suker, one of the most lethal goal poachers of the nineties, was in London when Pokrovac was killed and when he returned he hardly made any comments to the press.

"I am shocked, my condolences to Dino's family," was all that the former Gunner and Hammer said to the media. He was also interviewed by the police, along with hundreds of other Pokrovac's friends, partners, clients and alleged debtors.

"The police investigation included more than 200 people, many of them from the world of sport," said a police spokesman on the day Suker visited a police precinct, not in the status of a suspect, though.

Suker's activities after his retirement in 2003 have been mostly related to his Football Academy in Zagreb, with branches elsewhere in Croatia, but he also used his many contacts acquired during his 20-year long career to try his hand as a soccer agent. It is thought, according to the Slobodna Dalmacija daily, that the Golden Boot winner from the 1998 World Cup will continue Pokrovac's work with players, which include former international Mato Neretljak with Korea's Samsung, Srdjan Andric from Panathinaikos, Daniel Hrman and Almir Turkovic from Hajduk and several other distinguished Croatian footballers.

The public does know very much about Suker's post-footballing career as he rarely volunteers news about himself and the press in Croatia doesn't really persecute celebrities as the English tabloids do. Here's a country where Paul Gascoigne or David Beckham would enjoy peace and quiet among meek and friendly reporters who obediently back away from controversy.


When Sukerman ruled the world

Croatia never had someone like him, not even in the times of the ex-Yugoslavia. The left-footed wizard Davor Suker debuted at 16 in the Yugoslav First Division with Osijek and at 21 he was the League's top scorer with 18 goals. A member of the 1987 Youth World Cup winning side in Chile, he was transfered to Dinamo Zagreb, where he notched 34 league goals in two seasons.

He debuted in the fledgling Croatian national team in 1990 against Romania, but he also appeared in two games for Yugoslavia in 1991, a few months before the start of the Croatian Independence War. When the war stopped all sporting activity in Croatia, Suker moved to Sevilla, where he spent five years and become a real crowd favourite - even ahead of Diego Maradona in 1992/93 when the two played together.

Nicknamed "Sukerman", he was transferred to Real Madrid where he spent another three famous years, collecting a League championship and a Champions League medal, among other honours.

His excellent goals tally in the Spanish League was surpassed by that in the Croatian shirt, as he went on to score 45 international goals in 69 full internationals!

He was at his best at the 1998 World Cup in France where he scored six goals in seven games to lead the chequered shirts to a magnificent third place, the best that any South Slav nation, including the former Yugoslavia itself, ever managed.

He was named by Pele among the top 125 greatest living footballers in March 2004. In the same year, he was voted the best Croatian player in the last 50 years in the UEFA-promoted poll to celebrate UEFA's 50th aniversary.

Davor Suker Factfile

Name: Davor Suker

Birthdate: January 1, 1968

Birthplace: Osijek (CRO)

Club career:

1983-89 NK Osijek

1989-91 Dinamo Zagreb

1991-96 Sevilla

1996-99 Real Madrid

1999-00 Arsenal

2000-01 West Ham

2001-03 M√ľnchen 1860

International career:

Croatia 69 appearances, 45 goals

Yugoslavia 2 appearances, 1 goal


Yugoslav League top scorer 1988/89

Spanish League 1996/97

Spanish Supercup 1997

Champions League 1998

Intercontinental Cup 1998

UEFA Cup finals 2000

World Cup bronze medal 1998

World Cup top scorer 1998

European Silver Ball 1998

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