When Cedevita Zagreb announced this summer that Bozidar Maljkovic would be the new head coach, it was big news. Not only because Maljkovic would be the highest paid Basketball coach in Croatian history (€ 500.000 net) but also because he was the first Serbian coach to lead a top-team in Croatia after the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 90’s.
It was even bigger news when Maljkovic suddenly left the club earlier this week.
Nobody knows why.
Officially, Maljkovic has not even terminated his two-year contract with the club. No letter was sent by registered mail, no legal protocol was followed, and there is no official communication whatsoever to the club. Maljkovic simply packed his bags and took off.
His agent called the club to tell them that Maljkovic was not coming back. That’s it.
Since then, Bozidar Maljkovic has not given any press conference, interview, or any other type of official statement. Cedevita has been trying to contact him numerous times since his departure but he doesn’t pick up the phone and doesn’t respond to any other means of communication.
Kresimir Novosel, the GM of Cedevita says: “We have not received any official notification of the contract termination, so as far we know he simply has not showed up at the latest practices and games and will be fined for that.”
Sports Director Matej Mamic even goes one step further: “We have a two year contract with Bozidar Maljkovic, he can’t just walk away like that. We may consider claiming damages for breach of contract.”
With the silence of Maljkovic, the media in the former Yugoslavia have launched the wildest speculations. One of the most commonly heard theories is that Maljkovic’s departure may have been politically motivated.
Last week the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague (the Netherlands) overturned the convictions of two Croatian generals for committing war crimes during the 1990’s break-up of Yugoslavia. Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac had already been sentenced to 24 and 18 years behind bars respectively for crimes against humanity and war crimes relating to a 1995 attack on Serbian civilians and the ethnic cleansing of 250.000 Serbs from Croatia. The appeals chamber now overturned these guilty verdicts and set the two generals free. This was broadcasted live on Croatian TV and lead to an eruption of euphoria in the whole country, like if the World Cup in Football had just been won, but in Serbia there was outrage. Tensions rose and a virtual war was fought out on the internet between Serbs and Croats.
Some media suggest that as a Serb, Maljkovic didn’t feel comfortable anymore in Croatia after this. Maybe he and his family received threats? Unconfirmed reports from Croatian media “T Portal” say that his wife was recently threatened in public in downtown Zagreb.
There is also a rumor that one of the players of Cedevita, Marko Tomas, had celebrated the ICTY overruling all night and arrived drunk at morning practice in which he also openly saluted the two Croatian generals.
Sports Director Matej Mamic denies this: “If that was true, then would have been the first one to punish Tomas”.
If Maljkovic’s departure was not politically motivated, then maybe his decision had something to do with the results of his team? Cedevita has big ambitions in both the Adriatic League and the Euroleague and a lot of money has been invested into the team. That is no secret.
Yes, it is true that Cedevita already lost three games in the Adriatic league against teams who were considered total outsiders, but they also won six games. There was never any panic within the club management because they knew that when you put together a new team, you need some time to get used to each other. However, while the management of the club may have stayed calm Maljkovic himself was very upset by the losses. Especially with the attitude of the players, who in his eyes were not ready to go the extra mile and were a bunch of overpaid playboys.
Reports from the Cedevita locker room suggest that Maljkovic’s last game against Szolnok from Hungary was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maljkovic was apparently so upset with his players that he gave them an unprecedented verbal beat-down during half-time and wasn’t any calmer at the end of the game either, despite the victory of his team (91-86).
Legendary Croatian ex-NBA player Dino Radja played for Bozidar Maljkovic when Jugoplastika Split won the Euroleague three times in a row and he knows the Serbian coach very well. Radja has his own theory: “When Maljkovic coached us in Split, everything was perfect. On the court and off the court. Maljkovic had many friends in and around the club. People of his own generation. In Cedevita he had none of that. The management of the club is younger than he is, a different generation. Emil Tedeschi, owner of “Atlantic Grupa” and the main sponsor of Cedevita, was always on the road and never available for Maljkovic to talk to. Maljkovic had no social infrastructure in Zagreb and felt isolated.”
As long as Maljkovic keeps his silence we will never know the real reason why he left the club. Maybe it was a combination of the above factors, or maybe it was something completely else?
The question is now what Cedevita will do? Will they leave things like they are, or will there be a legal follow up of this?