Jerko Leko is a former football player who had a successful club and national team career. He played for Dinamo Zagreb, Dynamo Kyiv, Monaco, Bucaspor and Lokomotiva. In his club career, he won 13 trophies, and for the Croatian national football team he collected 59 appearances.
Jerk’s club is Dinamo, and the city is Zagreb. That’s where he started his playing career.
After Dinamo Zagreb, Jerko continues his career in Ukrainian Dynamo Kyiv.
As he himself says, if he had someone with whom he would do mental preparation during that period, he might have found it easier to overcome the obstacles he had in his career.
– You talk to your friends, but you don’t have someone to guide you. If you have someone to guide you, you make fewer mistakes. So he continues:
– Some things can help you not to use 70% of your potential, but to reach 100% of your potential.
After Dynamo Kyev, Jerko moved to Monaco, France in 2006. The transfer, which was so long awaited, got stuck in the legal details of the contract. After it was finally realized, with a lot of sacrifices on Jerko’s part, another hurdle came.
The situation in Monaco at the time was such that, in his position as the last midfielder, Jerko was only the fourth coach’s option. Jerko then said at the club that they were giving him a chance to show what he knows and can do in the first ten games, so let them send him on if he is not satisfied. Soon, Jerko shows what he knows and can do, becoming a standard first team player, who has since spent four years at one of the most successful French clubs.
The importance of the psychological moment, he realized more deeply, at the 2008 European Football Championship. It was a great Croatian national team, led by Slaven Bilić. Turkey stood in Croatia’s way in the quarterfinals. Croatia lost that game on penalties, and Jerko did not enter the game because the replacement failed in time.
Although he was collected in those moments and was not carried away by euphoria, he says that it was an important psychological moment for the whole team because Croatia lost the game to an objectively weaker team. The main goal in Jerko’s career was to play for the Croatian national team. He succeeded in that. The planned continuity in the club was followed by the same continuity in the national team.
Asked if he regrets something in his football career, Jerko says:
– I always went with one belief in my abilities, which is good. Now, perhaps, I would go more with reason. Maybe after Monaco I could stay even longer in Europe. Maybe play another season in the Premier League, where I was in demand, or in the Italian Serie A, where they appreciate experienced players. On the other hand, I would not return to Dinamo Zagreb in 2011, where I had a top period with entering the Champions League. In 2012, my child was born, so it was a beautiful time for me.
On this topic, Jerko continues and quotes his former teammate, Ante Rukavina, who ended his career with him at Lokomotiva:
– You always do as much as you deserve.
Jerko started building a career as a football coach right after a successful football career. His first step was Lokomotiva U19, then there were the first teams of Hrvatski dragovoljac and Lokomotiva. He is now the coach of the first team of NK Jarun.
When asked what is his motivation to become a coach after his football career, Jerko answers:
– Love for football.
As a player, he knew how to go to indoor soccer with friends right after the game.
– I’m not saying it’s smart, but I’ve almost always done it, as a player, so even today I do it as a coach. That’s how my former juniors, Kačavenda and Šimić, who I trained at Lokomotiva do. That’s why I think they shall make a career. They put their love of football ahead of their fear of injury. Of course, success depends on a number of elements such as: happiness, genetics, training and complexity of the mind, but the main motivation must be a love of football, concludes Jerko.
The inner state is something we can control, while the outer things we cannot control. So it is in football. We can’t know the outcome of the match in advance, but we can know how we will feel about it. Often that good feeling inside also generates a good result.
– My former coach, Krunoslav Jurčić, said: when you are not sure about the performance – go back to the sources. I do not have rituals like some, but I have my own ways to calm down, when I feel restless.
– In my opinion, just as the fitness part is important, so is the mind. You have to connect the two. I think that today as a coach, and I thought so as a professional footballer. Even when you are injured, if you are calm in your head, you will be simple and useful to the team, Jerko concludes.
He cites an interesting example of leading a team in the example of his former Brazilian coach Ricardo, who coached him in Monaco. He says that he never had conversations with the players from the first eleven. He talked only with reservations.
– I learned a lot from him. He didn’t say a word to me from the first five games (laughs). And everyone was happy with him, the atmosphere was good.
– Normally, you don’t need to talk so much with a player who plays. It is important to maintain the homogeneity of the team and enable every player to be satisfied and not to keep him in the dark, Jerko emphasizes.
Regarding the preparations for the spring part of the season, the Second Croatian Football League, Jerko says:
– My intention is to talk to each player individually, at least for ten minutes. I pay a lot of attention to that for the sake of humanity, which should not be neglected.
In coaching, it is important to be honest and fair with your players.
– If I tell a player that he will play a game, then I stick to the agreement, Jerko continues:
– The external result is important, but it is not the most important, especially in the younger categories. The most important thing is to make decisions that have a higher goal, says Jerko. So he concludes:
– I knew how to consciously risk a match for a higher goal – to make the team happy. When a coach doesn’t build good relationships with players and doesn’t have a healthy relationship, things fall apart faster. It’s the same thing when you have no knowledge. You can improvise something or play for luck, but the right knowledge always comes out as a key element in the coaching job, but also in life in general.