This is a great piece on Fulham’s new Croatian by the always readable Jonathan Wilson.
Fulham’s new signing is the second son in his family and if he had been the first he almost certainly wouldn’t have become a footballer. It’s said that at an early age his elder brother Josip looked the better player, but his father distrusted sport as a profession and insisted on him gaining an education. Josip went on to work as a mechanic with his father in the Audi factory in Neuenhof, the Swiss town where Mladen grew up.
Interestingly for tactical nerds like myself, Wilson credits Slaven Bilic’s shift away from the rather regimented 3-4-1-2 system employed by his predecessors as giving Petric the right to roam. The national team coach, who agonised for hours reportedly over whether to take the 31 year-old to these European Championships, raves about Petric:
He’s strong in the air and he has a great feeling for the game,” Bilic said. “He’s patient, strong on the ball and a very modern player. He’s not a classic finisher, but he knows how to score and that’s what’s important.”
Those who hadn’t really encountered Petric before he scored that stunning free-kick at the Cottage, which for a long while looked like the sucker punch that had ruined the club’s biggest night, won’t appreciate his versatility. He was only converted into a forward when he moved into German football as he spent most of his three years with FC Basel as a midfielder. It is entirely possible that Martin Jol might consider him the perfect replacement for Danny Murphy as a deep-lying playmaker, although I’d prefer Pajtim Kasami – who certainly didn’t shirk a challenge during the Europa League run – to be given a go in that role. Wilson points out that the Basel fans dubbed Petric ‘Supertechniker’ (which loosely translates as the super technician).
As with anyone who’s had it hard, Petric knows the value of hard work. It’s earned him a hell of a living. His international fame – and a spot in the mind of every Croatian, English football fan and Fulham supporter. That’s before he’s even pulled on a black and white shirt.