EXCLUSIVE | Mario Vrančić Interview: “Croatia can go all the way.”

Mario Vrančić is a midfielder with top flight Croatian side Rijeka who won the title in 2019, the last of seven titles won by the club. The 33-year-old, famous for his free-kicks, was born in Slavonski Brod in Eastern Croatia and emerged from Mainz’s academy before joining Borussia Dortmund’s under 23 side in the 2010/11 season. He then joined Paderborn where he played three seasons before, in 2015, the talented midfielder transferred to German second tier club Darmstadt, where he notched up 45 matches, scoring six goals. The 33-year-old played for Norwich City in the Championship before gaining promotion to the Premier League. The midfielder played 123 matches and scored 15 goals with the Carrow Road-based club before joining Stoke City where he played 30 matches, scoring three goals, in the 20/21 season.

Ben McFadyean: It’s a pleasure today to have the chance to talk over the career of a player who has scored some of the best free-kicks I’ve ever seen, a former player of some great clubs in England and in Germany, Mario Vrančić, how are you?

Mario Vrančić: Very well. I have read some of your interviews and you write well, thanks for having me.

BM: First let’s talk about your career in 2011/12 you joined the then German champions, in fact, it was the last time Borussia Dortmund won the title. You grew up as a BVB fan what was that like playing for your childhood team?

MV: Honestly, I was actually struggling quite a bit in my early years as a pro, and the opportunity to move to BVB came as a surprise, I was with Mainz 05 at a winter training camp when the deal was struck and, during the same training camp, I simply moved from one hotel to the other and changed into a different strip. I grew up watching mostly BVB among Bundesliga teams and it was exciting to have the chance to come to Dortmund, it was the next step in my career for sure. Within a few weeks [then-coach Jürgen] Klopp called me up to join the first team for training and there I was, 20 and training with legends like Dede or [Mats] Hummels, that was just amazing. Even if it was the under 23, and just one season, I have to say I have good memories.

BM: You’ve won two titles with Norwich City, but you also won promotion with Paderborn as well, what’s the highlight of your career for you?

MV: It’s hard to say what meant most to me because I think, even if you get promoted with a Sunday League team, it’s just the best feeling. You’re just happy, you’re proud, but I would say the highlight for me was probably getting promoted with Norwich, the first time in 2018/19, it was unreal, it was a big, big promotion for the city and the club.

BM: Do you have a special memory in terms of games you played in Norwich?

MV: I have many amazing memories. If I have to pick one game, and in this game, unfortunately, I was injured. It was the win over Manchester City at home in the Premier League in 2019, the atmosphere at the stadium when we went 3-2 up, was unbelievable. I’ve never witnessed anything like that. Although I was injured, it was unreal. Unforgettable.

BM: Talking about great strikers, do you have a great friendship with Timo Pukki? Your celebrations together at City were epic.

MV: Pukki is awesome, yes, we are good friends that’s for sure and yes – he won us a few points almost on his own. A great guy.

BM: One of the things I have heard you say is that ‘you make other players look better’ what did you mean by that?

MV: I would say I make strikers improve because of my game, on the basis of the passes and crosses where I’m strong and my assists. A lot of players look forward to playing with me, that is what I mean by helping to improve players.

BM: You have the most astonishing ability from free kicks, a really good left foot. I guess you practice that a lot, right?

MV: I do, people love to talk about my left foot but I can also play with my right foot, but you’re right, I practice them a lot. And, yeah, that is one of my strengths. Definitely.

BM: Let us talk about your future Mario, you played with Terrence Boyd at Borussia Dortmund II, could you imagine yourself playing in the MLS? Or would Japan or China be more likely?

MV: It’s hard to say at the moment, I am happy at Rijeka, but if I needed to pick one it would be the MLS for sure. We all know the money is good in China but I am attracted to the league in the US, there are none better when it comes to sports marketing and I like the country. I have a former teammate, Georg Heitz who I played with at Mainz, who’s now the sporting director at Chicago Fire, like Bastian Schweinsteiger, ‘Fire’ would be great, especially playing alongside Xherdan Shaqiri. I have seen quite a few videos, there is a great passion in Chicago for football, it’s a club I could see myself playing for but you never know how things develop.

BM: I’ve noticed that you love the number eight. Does it have a special meaning for you?

MV: It’s just my favourite number. To be honest. So yeah, if possible, I will always keep the number eight.

BM: Let’s talk about Daniel Farke for a moment, Farke got Norwich promoted twice, what’s magic about the ‘Gladbach coach?

MV: He has great technical ability but is also a very humble, yet has a strong personality. I feel what he created at Norwich on such a small budget was so impressive. I learned a lot with him, I improved as a player, that’s also something very important to me. I would describe Daniel as one of the most demanding managers I’ve ever worked with. The training was hard. He was very demanding but in a good way. Not always, but mostly, Farke had the right game plan, he’s a natural in terms of coaching. You know in a very tight game the subs can make a difference and can contribute a lot and Daniel had a very good feeling of which players could come off the bench and make a difference, that was one of his strengths. I think Farke is a very good manager.

BM: Finally what are the qualities of German players that make the difference would you say?

MV: Primarily the discipline, the German ethic includes hard work and discipline. You know, always you can rely on German players and I also think German players are almost always totally committed, and it shows. Bundesliga fans love to see that kind of commitment. An ethic of hard work and discipline, those are the qualities of a team that make the difference.

BM: Looking ahead to the semi-final of the World Cup, Croatia are in the Semifinal, how good are they and how far can they go in your view?

MV: Very good. If you ask me Croatia can go all the way, and, if you asked me to predict I believe they will on Sunday too.

BM: Thank you, Mario, best of luck for the remainder of the season.

GWFN | Ben McFadyean

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