Davor Šuker: Croatia’s Golden Boy

Davor Šuker: Croatia’s Golden Boy

Player Profile: Davor Šuker

Date of Birth: 1/1/1968

Height: 1.83 m (6 ft 0 in)

Position: Striker

National Team: Yugoslavia / Croatia

International Caps: 2 / 69

International Goals: 1 / 45

Club Career

Davor Šuker is widely considered to be one of the best finishers of his generation and Croatia’s all-time top scorer is certainly one of the true footballing legends. Equipped with a divine first touch and extraordinary finishing skills, he became one of the first footballing heroes of independent Croatia, and an idol for thousands of children in war-ravaged Croatia. His great technical ability, his lethal finishing and his fearsome left foot earned him worldwide fame and recognition.

Šuker started his footballing career in his hometown club NK Osijek where he was brought by his teacher Lidija Vekić (grandmother of a Croatian tennis star Dona Vekić), whose husband worked there as a Head of the Youth Development. His talent was immediately recognized and it didn’t take him long to break through in the first team – he was 16 when he made his debut. After four seasons in Osijek and 40 goals in Yugoslavian top flight it was a time to move on. 1988/1989 Yugoslavian First League top-scorer was hot merchandise and it was a matter of time when he will change his place of residence.

Since Yugoslavian rules banned domestic players from moving abroad in such a young age, it was evident that he will end up in one of the top Yugoslavian clubs. Although he was in negotiation with Hajduk Split, he eventually moved to their arch rivals, Dinamo Zagreb, in 1989. He spent two seasons in the Croatian capital and managed to score 39 goals in all competitions. At the age of 24, forced by raging military conflicts in the country, he decided to finally leave his homeland and try his luck in one of the top European leagues – La Liga.

Enchanted by his great technical ability and lethal finishing skills, Sevilla captured him in 1991. 76 goals in more than 150 games in his Andalusian adventure earned him a status of a club icon. In his second season in Spain he even shared locker room with one of the ultimate football legends – Diego Armando Maradona. But Šuker nor Maradona were good enough to bring trophies to Andalusia, and after 5 years it was time for Davor to further his career. In 1996 he received a call that only a few players in the history dared to refuse – a call from Real Madrid.

Šuker wasn’t one of those exceptions who would refuse this call, and another sensational transfer was completed. He banged 49 goals in 106 apps for the Spanish giant, helping them to win four trophies in two years. It didn’t take him long to accommodate – he finished the 1996/97 season as the club’s top scorer, lifting his first two trophies – Spanish Super Cup and La Liga. In 1998, led by manager Jupp Heynckes, Šuker was a part of the team that won the UEFA Champions League, a trophy Real fans have been dreaming of for 32 years. The same year he added another trophy to his collection – the Intercontinental Cup.

As his Spanish episode came to an end, his career took a different rythm. He changed 3 clubs in 3 years, but still managed to make an impact. He moved to Arsenal in 1999, and although he spent only one season with the Gunners, facing fierce competition in attack, with Henry, Bergkamp, and Kanu vying for the place in the starting 11, he is still remembered for his extraordinary goals-to-starts ratio, with ten goals in fifteen starts for The Gunners. He spent another season in London, this time with West Ham, before moving to Germany to finish his magnificent career.

He went away quietly, in 2003 after a stint in 1860 Munich, where he scored 8 goals in 30 games. Even today a synonym for Croatian country in most remote parts of world, Šuker will certainly be remembered for a long time as a true football legend. His consistency in scoring goals over many seasons is certainly something that only the best could manage. His fierce left foot and goalscoring potential is fondly remembered by football fans all over the world, especially in Spain, England, and Croatia.

International Career

Davor Šuker started his international career playing for Yugoslavia on a youth level, and immediately made an impact. In the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship he was a runner-up to Marcel Witeczek for a Golden Shoe award with 6 goals, and a top scorer for champions Yugoslavia, where he played along several future superstars including Prosinečki, Boban, and Mijatović. In the penalty shootout in the final, he scored the second penalty.

After an unsuccessful campaign in 1988 Olympic games where Yugoslavia was eliminated in the group stage, he appeared in 1990 U-21 European Championship where he scored six goals winning the Golden Boot and also being named a player of the tournament.

He was included in the 22-team squad for the 1990 World Cup, but he failed to make a single appearance in the tournament. His first senior caps came in 1991, when he was invited by coach Ivica Osim to play in two games, against Turkey and Faroe Islands. He scored his only goal for Yugoslavian senior team in the latter.

Šuker appeared in the Croatian national team’s debut match in December of 1990, a friendly against Romania. This was a beginning of a turbulent period in Yugoslavia and one of the first acts of Croatian fight for independence. His second appearance for Croatia came in a friendly against Mexico in 1996, where he scored two goals in a 3-0 win.

He was a hero behind Croatia’s first qualification on the final stage of a major tournament – UEFA Euro in England in 1996. He scored fascinating 12 goals in 10 appearances in the qualifying stage, setting a that-time record. In Euro final stage, he scored three goals, including a well renowned lob against Peter Schmeichel, which was included in top 10 goals of the tournament by FourFourTwo magazine, along with his goal against Germany.

In 1998 Croatia made a World Cup debut and achieved a sensational success of winning a bronze medal. Šuker scored 5 goals in 9 matches in the qualifying stage, and went on to score 6 in 7 games in the final tournament, winning the Golden Shoe award. He scored in every game in the knockout phase, including an opener against France in the semi-finals, a match turned over by Lilian Thuram’s only two international goals ever.

In the third-place play-off, Šuker scored again – a winner against Netherlands in 2-1 victory. Apart from the Golden Shoe, he also won the Silver Ball, an award for the second-best player of the tournament, behind Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima.

In the next qualifying stage, for Euro 2000, Croatia failed to qualify but Šuker gave his contribution to keeping the hopes alive – in the penultimate match of the qualifying stage, against Ireland, he scored the winning goal. This meant that winning the final match would lead Croatia to the Euro finals. Unfortunately, a 2-2 draw against Yugoslavia denied Šuker a chance to shine on the international stage again. He did feature in Croatia’s 2002 World Cup squad, but only made a brief appearance in opening match defeat against Mexico, his last international game.

Šuker’s international career was something special. His goals lead a newly-established Croatian team to a stellar success in 1998, bringing him worldwide recognition and installing him as one of the symbols of Croatia. It is unfortunate that the war and unlucky campaign in Euro 2000 qualifiers prevented him to feature in more major international tournaments. Maybe he would have made history once again.

Where is Davor Šuker now?

After retiring as a player, Šuker founded Davor Šuker Soccer Academy, which turned out to be a great failure. Šuker failed to produce a single player and eventually gave up this career. He was more successful in the administrative field. He was elected in Croatian Football Association Assembly in 2010, and in 2012 he succeeded Vlatko Marković to become a president of Croatian FA, a title which he still holds today.

In the same year he was a part of Executive Board of FIFA Confederations Cup. Also, before being elected a president of the FA, he was elected to UEFA Football Commission in 2011.

Did you know? Interesting Facts about Davor Šuker

– His family moved to Osijek from Livno, Bosnia and Herzegovina, so he could take Bosnian nationality. Also, while playing in Arsenal, he acquired British nationality.

– He was never married, thus he was nicknamed The Eternal Bachelor. Despite that, he had a bunch of love affairs with attractive girls, including Ana Obregon and Iva Majoli.

– Fabio Capello had an interesting anecdote from his time at Real Madrid. Namely, there was a problem with Šuker and Mijatović refusing to pass the ball to young Raul. Fortunately, that was soon resolved and Raul was launched to the top.

– There was a lot of controversy regarding his connection with Croatian mafia – there are evidence of his friendship with some eminent members of the Zagreb underground.

– In 2004, Suker was recognised as Croatia’s ‘Golden Player’ at the UEFA Jubilee Awards.