Petar Segrt: Well-travelled Dreamer Making Tajikistan Football History

Petar Segrt: Well-travelled dreamer making Tajikistan football history

Doha, (APP - UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 23rd Jan, 2024) Petar Segrt reached into his jacket pocket with a grin and pulled out a smashed pair of glasses -- victims of his Tajikistan team's celebrations after a historic 2-1 Asian Cup win over Lebanon.

"These players!" said the colourful 57-year-old Croat, who had just led the tournament debutants into the knockout rounds in Qatar.

"This is now the second time that they kill my glasses, these crazy players. Every time when they score or something they jump on me, I don't know why."

With his rakish facial hair and flowing but receded grey locks, Segrt has something of the Albert Einstein about him.

Exuberance, a tactile nature and a connection with players fighting against the odds have been key weapons in his arsenal during an itinerant coaching career which has seen him manage Maldives and Afghanistan.

That came after an early career mainly managing clubs in Austria, via stints with clubs in Indonesia and as technical director of Georgia.

The world's 106th-ranked team, Tajikistan is also the poorest of the former Soviet republics and a landlocked nation with a population of less than 10 million.

"This is football. Every one of us has a dream," Segrt said after making history with the team he took over two years ago.

A dreamer's optimism is another key Segrt trait.

While in Kabul, he appeared on tv with some of his players and declared: "My dream is... one day to go to the Asian Cup or why not Afghanistan go to a World Cup? Who says that it's not possible?"

He did not achieve those lofty goals during his 2015-17 tenure but conditions were hardly ideal.

One night in the capital he "heard a bomb go off and then gunfire" after militants attacked a guesthouse attached to the Spanish embassy, leading to a frantic search for players who had been near the scene.

No one from the team was hurt, but it was not the first brush with conflict in Segrt's career.

He was leading the Georgia team as technical director in 2008 when war broke out with Russia over the southern Caucasus.

Refusing to leave, Segrt ended up addressing a patriotic rally and insisted on carrying on, taking the team to play -- and win -- a friendly in Wales.

"No one from Russia believed it was possible to bring 18 players with us from a war-torn country," he told reporters at the time.

"This game showed Russia that you can bomb us and you can send tanks into our country, but you will never stop our people."