Darko Rodic’s first season as manager of his hometown club, Hajduk Split has been one of learning for the young manager. He learned quickly that it would take time for him to truly develop his mentor-inspired tactic. Also, he found out right away that it would take his squad some time to learn his system and expectations.
The competitive match calendar started off rocky, with a premature exit from the Europa League at the hands of Norwegian side Haugesund. The board was not impressed, and even though Darko expressed frustration at the loss, deep down he was relieved. The Europa League qualifying rounds simply came far too early for his team. So with less fixture congestion he could have a full strength and healthy squad at his disposal for the upcoming domestic campaign.
Following is a video round up of how things went for Darko up to the winter break.
So as I mentioned in the video, Hajduk’s early season was broken into three distinct chapters.
Ignoring the loss to Haugesund, the early results were very good overall. The only blemishes were a draw against lowly Istra and a loss to rival Lokomotiva. This early success propelled Hajduk to the top of the league and garnered Darko a “Manager of the Month” award.
Then an unexpected dry spell hit Rodic’s side in the form of 5 straight draws. In the final four of these draws, Hajduk only managed a single goal. Darko was perplexed. How could a team that was scoring freely before suddenly not find the back of the net? They were still getting plenty of chances, but the end product was lacking.
Going back to the drawing board, and analyzing the matches, Rodic made a few simply tweaks to his system. He instructed his team to shorten the passing, but do so at a higher tempo.
These small changes proved fruitful. Going into the winter break, Hajduk Split started to truly dominate opponents and not a single point was dropped.
Winter came and Hajduk sat relatively comfortably atop the league. But after nearly two months off, would that form continue?
Hajduk came back from the break in full domination mode. They rode over opponents and continued to build their lead in the league table. Darko too had learned to stick to his footballing principals, but not be so dogmatic as to hand away victories. He wasn’t pragmatic, always pushing for another goal, but he managed his squad better and read his opponents better. The best example of this growth was how Hajduk dominated a much better Rijeka side in the two legs of the cup semifinal. But then late season drama hit Drako and Hajduk in full force.
As if out of nowhere, the winning stopped. Four straight losses, including an Eternal Derby loss and one against Rijeka, started to derail their almost certain title hopes. The massive slump had cost Hajduk the league lead. The manager many considered “untouchable” in the eyes of the board saw his status within the club start to crash. He had to do something. In a risky move, he gathered the team and gave a speech, no…a rallying cry that would have given Mel Gibson a run for his money in Braveheart.
This much needed morale boost gave them renewed hope and they began to steady the ship.
Rijeka had hit a slump of their own and thus, with only two league matches left, Hajduk only needed one more point to secure the title.
In a week known simply as the “Lokomotiva Days”, Darko Rodic’s side could not only win the title, but also win the cup. He could potentially deliver the club their first Croatian double since the 1994/95 season. But could Darko do it? Would his squad deliver on their early season promise or crumble under the pressure as they had just a few weeks earlier? More on that next time.