Amir Alagic: The Bosnian-Australian manager targeting a job down under
We're all aware of some of the Aussie managers who are currently plying their trade overseas: Postecoglou, Muscat, Hutchinson, and Brady, to name a few. But there's another man with Australian roots who has been building his managerial career across the globe for decades.
Bosnian-Australian manager Amir Alagic has a unique CV and footballing journey that can only be seen through an incredibly extensive and diverse lens. At one point, he was an assistant coach at Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. Yet, his most recent role was coaching the Sri Lanka national team.
Having left that post at the end of June, the 62-year-old is enjoying time away from the game. But it has not stopped him from exploring his next move, with a mindful eye on a return to Australia and the A-League Men.
We spoke to Alagic to discuss his career, why he wants to return to Australia, his coaching philosophy, and the time he spent at FIFA with legendary manager Arsene Wenger.
Alagic is a dual national for both Australia and Bosnia Herzegovina. He was born in the city of Tuzla and first left the country two years into the Bosnian War. Alagic and his entire family first escaped to Germany and were granted entry to Australia after 18 months.
Upon arriving in Australia in late 1995, at 35, he had a two-season stint with Victorian side Dandenong Thunder. A year later, he transitioned into his first managerial role with the Thunder, coaching and playing for another two years until 1998.
In June 1998, Alagic and his family gained Australian citizenship. Despite his residency, it seems somewhat peculiar to call Alagic part Australian. He arrived in the country later in his life and, more importantly, has spent little time down under. But like so many who fled their home countries during the breakup of Yugoslavia, he found comfort in Australia's freedom from such an awful situation in his homeland.
“I feel a strong connection with Australia as it gave me an opportunity to stabilize my life and dignity,” Alagic told Front Page Football recently.
Despite his love for Australia, after leaving Dandenong in 1998, Alagic’s career took a drastic turn. He would spend the rest of his managerial career abroad, building a CV and level of experience across multiple countries and continents. Those continents, or regions, include Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and North America.
“So far, I have worked in 17 countries across five continents. I speak English, German, and Bosnian,” Alagic said.
“During my career, I have led three national teams (Bosnia U19, Brunei, and Sri Lanka) and coached in several prominent leagues such as the German Bundesliga.”
As Alagic touched on, one of the most significant roles he has taken on throughout his career was working as an assistant coach at Werder Bremen in 2007.
“My time at Werder Bremen was a learning peak in my career,” he said.
“Working with world-class players such as Miroslav Klose, Per Mertesacker, Torsten Frings, Diego, Hugo Almeida, and Coach Thomas Schaaf was an extraordinary learning experience and a lifetime opportunity.”
Alagic (left) with Brazilian star Diego (right) during his time as an assistant coach of German Bundesliga side Werder Bremen. (New Radiant SC Twitter)
That role was 15 years ago, though, and in recent times Alagic has taken his exploits into Asia and the Middle East. He has worked in Australia, China, Kuwait, Oman, India, Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, and Sri Lanka.
Alagic’s most recent role was in Sri Lanka, though. There, he attempted to build a more competitive national team in a dual role as the manager and national technical director from February 2020 to June 2022.
He was proud to achieve some success on and off the pitch, particularly with the country’s football program being so far behind the rest of South Asia when he was appointed.
“As the technical director, I created numerous key files such as the master plan, national curriculum, youth strategy, men and women football strategy, coaching system strategy, and Sri Lankan Football’s DNA,” he said.
Alagic created several key documents as technical director of Sri Lanka, which included the master plan for the country's football strategy. (Daily News)
“I achieved approvals for the FIFA TDS (Talent Development Scheme) project, FIFA Leadership program, AFC Grassroots Bronze level, and the AFC B-License Course. All of this during the pandemic.
“As a national coach, I improved Sri Lanka’s FIFA ranking after a decade of free fall. I began bringing in overseas players with Sri Lankan heritage to strengthen the national team but still did not have enough support from the government.
“A few results stand out. We barely lost against Lebanon 2-3 (Lebanon 92, Sri Lanka 206 on the FIFA rankings at the time), drew 0-0 against India (104 FIFA), won 2-1 against Bangladesh (183 FIFA) with ten men, and drew 4-4 against the Maldives after we were 0-4 down (155 FIFA).
“We won a silver medal at the 4-Nation tournament held in Sri Lanka in November 2021, the first medal for the national team since 1995.
“In addition to the results, I can say that the greatest achievement was turning the players from losers to winners after losing almost all international matches in the last 15 years.”
There’s no doubt Alagic made major progress on and off the pitch. Local media highly praised the result against Lebanon in FIFA World Cup qualifying. It was the first time in its history that the team scored in the qualification stage.
To an extent, he also delivered several new initiatives for the country to develop a proper football structure.
Yet, he claims that Football Sri Lanka’s management was a persistent issue, and they were resistant to making fundamental changes. It was one of reasons why he eventually left the role in June, besides the struggling economy and political turmoil in Sri Lanka in 2022.
“I recently left Sri Lanka due to unrest. Since the beginning of COVID, I went through quite a hard time. In saying this, the entire environment prevented me from achieving my planned targets in full,” Alagic said.
“Almost all the attention, money, and support from the government and media were directed towards cricket. When I arrived, football was literally at the bottom.
“The situation with any national team is clearly defined. There is a professional league, competitive players, coaching and backroom staff, committed management, appropriate infrastructure, [a] national curriculum, a clear plan forward, and a winning mentality.
“Nothing was in place: no proper football structure, plan, clear long-term vision, youth development program, professional league. Everything was politically motivated.
“For most, playing football has been an improvised affair without the basic infrastructure some other regions enjoy. The country needed sustained investment to raise the quality of the game.
“I reiterated these findings to management, but they were reluctant to accept reality. So, instead of focusing on the team and players, I had to focus on creating a fundamental technical structure to deliver on and off the field.
“As the technical director, I was surrounded by amateur staff in every department. All of this combined with lazy people at the federation having no drive for hard work, dedication, competitiveness, and a desire to win.
“It (the unrest) was largely because of the incompetent management, surrounded with yes-men in every department. The quality of the local players was low, with a losing team spirit. Most of them were amateurs working elsewhere.
“So, I started with this environment. Thanks to my dedication, commitment, and hard work, I produced positive results in both roles.”
Alagic became frustrated with Football Sri Lanka's resistance to change during his time leading the country's football team. (GoalNepal)
One legendary figure in world football certainly thought Alagic did a great job with Sri Lanka. In his role as national technical director, Alagic thought it was necessary to be in contact with FIFA Global Football Development Chief Arsene Wenger.
Upon being approved for the FIFA Talent Development Scheme project, FIFA Leadership program, AFC Grassroots Bronze level, and the AFC B-License Course, Alagic was personally endorsed by Wenger for his achievements.
He is grateful for Wenger's time in helping him develop a strategic plan for Sri Lankan football, despite his vision never genuinely taking shape in the country.
“At the beginning of my tenure, I realized that Sri Lankan football needed international exposure to reduce the corruptive system and to increase financial resources,” Alagic said.
“A logical strategy was to approach FIFA and Arsene Wenger. I had several opportunities to meet him online to discuss global and regional football issues.
“My suggestions were to organize a FIFA Mini World Cup for countries like Sri Lanka and to create a South Asia Technical Group. That region has over two billion people with huge potential.
“He recognized that and gladly accepted both, sending me his book, signed, with an endorsement enclosed. However, I am afraid everything stopped after I left the role.”
Bouncing ideas off one of the greatest minds the sport has ever seen was a fantastic experience for Alagic.
“You can imagine how proud I am after such an experience working with a world legend, especially after getting his book signed,” he said.
“It also proved my credentials as a coach from the highest possible level. He is also a great gentleman who shared his knowledge and experience.”
Being endorsed by Wenger is undoubtedly one of the finest moments in Alagic’s football career. In terms of his best moments as a manager, Alagic picked up silverware when he was in charge of DPMM FC, playing in the Brunei Premier League. He led the club to a league and cup double in 2004. He also came close to adding a trophy with New Radiant in the Maldives, where the team finished as runners-up in the Charity Cup.
Alagic’s nomadic career across the globe means he also holds many coaching licenses and diplomas in different countries and confederations. Alagic holds a UEFA Pro License, Australian Level-2, Certificate for Football Fitness, and a German B License. He also boasts a FIFA certificate for the technical director role.
Such qualifications have led him to be involved in several high-profile technical projects, whilst he has various strings to his managerial bow.
“As a Technical Director, I managed in five countries (club and national level) and was involved in various technical projects organized by FIFA and the AFC,” Alagic said.
“As a coach, I specialize in football tactics, individual training, performance analysis, and team management.
“I have an accomplished career, winning trophies and awards across the globe at [a] club and national level. I also wrote several coaching manuals, technical documents, and videos for individual training.
“My football motto is simple - do your best to be proud of.”
Alagic’s experience has been cultivated through jumping ship from job to job across 17 countries for the past 26 years. One of the most prolonged spells he had in the managerial hot seat was with Sri Lanka, staying on for almost two and a half years.
Alagic led Sri Lanka in his dual role as manager and national technical director for two and a half years. (Football Sri Lanka Media)
Although he has grown as a coach and person, there are question marks over the number of short stints he has had as a manager. But Alagic claims that it is vital for coaches to protect themselves and their reputation by leaving unfavourable situations.
“In my profession, it is better to leave sooner rather than later. If a coach is a part of failure, his reputation is ruined,” he said.
“I am a pure professional, sometimes a perfectionist. Many times I had employers promising more beyond reality. After a few weeks, it became obvious that I had to be responsible for something wrong created by upper management.
“It was always a red line for me as a coach. Such a policy has been proven right during my career. Football is a very serious business, and I have to protect myself. A coach is always exposed the most to public criticism.”
Alagic is keen to continue his whirlwind journey, though; his next move might be back to where it started all those years ago. With all his experience coaching and implementing technical football strategy, particularly in Europe and Asia, Alagic is ready to return to Australia.
“Although not present in Australia for some time, I follow all happenings of the game down under,” he said.
“The A-League Men looks much more organized now with great infrastructure. We (Australia) also qualified to play in Qatar too. All of these things are enough for me to consider a return.
“I have a few contacts and believe there will be more soon. There is not any offer, though. But I hope to get one in future.
“I feel the time has come to go back home. I am at the peak of my career and can offer a lot in various fields to the Australian football fraternity.
“I am sure many clubs, even Football Australia, will have an interest in hiring an internationally experienced and educated coach. I miss Melbourne and Australia.”
As the saying goes, home is where the heart is, and for Alagic, his second home is the one he has his sights on.
Only time will tell whether A-League Men clubs will take a chance on this highly educated, experienced, and passionate football manager.
To read more articles about Australia's links to football overseas, click here.