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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 07:18 GMT 08:18 UK
Bilic's vision
By Mandeep Sanghera

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic took a football sabbatical and searched out two of the game's top managers in Arsenal's Arsene Wenger and former Italy and Juventus boss Marcello Lippi in a bid to learn the finer arts of his profession.

Croatia manager Slaven Bilic
Bilic is familiar to English fans after spells at West Ham and Everton

He is now trying to inspire a revival in his national team's fortunes and, in order to do so, has also enlisted the help of Croatia's golden generation of footballers, who finished third at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Bilic was part of the sublime, skilful and solid ensemble of eight years ago and has sought out several of his team-mates since taking over as national team boss after the World Cup in July, which followed a spell in charge of his nation's under-21 squad.

"It is obvious that we did a good job for the under-21s otherwise the Croatian Football Association would not have appointed me," Bilic told BBC Sport ahead of the Euro 2008 qualifier against England on Wednesday.

"When I took over I just wanted to make my team so I took Aljosa Asanovic, Marjan Mrmic - as a goalkeeping coach - and Robert Prosinecki from that generation and we also had another couple of them taking over the under-21s.

"It is a better way because we can understand the players more as we are almost the same generation and you can still keep your authority."

Croatia's team that won the third-place play-off against Holland at the 1998 world Cup in France
Bilic is in the top row, third from the left, in the Croatia team at France 98

The journey that former West Ham and Everton centre-back Bilic has taken to his present role has almost been a pilgrimage from which he has emerged with a clearer and more focused vision for his team.

He underwent coaching courses after being forced to end his playing career in 2000 because of a hip injury and another journey began when he left his role as manager of Hadjuk Split.

"I was at Hadjuk Split for a year and then I quit because I wanted to take some time to go abroad to watch the fashions of good managers," explained the 38-year-old.

"I was in Juventus with Marcello Lippi and Arsenal with Arsene Wenger.

"I wanted to go to the managers that I respect the most to see their ways of training and talk to them about their philosophy.

"It only proved to me that my way of thinking was good and I took a couple of months to think about things and then said to myself that I was going to try it and would try very hard.

We respect England like everyone else but that does not mean we are afraid of them

Slaven Bilic

"Since then it has all gone well."

Bilic believes England will give his side their biggest test on home soil when the two nations meet this week.

"It is by far the biggest game for Croatia," added Bilic. "We used to have teams like Italy and Sweden in past qualification groups but we have never had such a great opponent that is coming to Croatia.

"There is a lot of excitement in Croatia. England are one of the best teams in Europe and in the qualification groups we have never had as a big a game as this against Croatia.

"We respect England like everyone else but that does not mean we are afraid of them."

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