Serbian-born coach, Bora Milutinovic, says he still has fond memories of leading the Super Eagles of Nigeria and four other countries to five different FIFA senior World Cups.
Aside from the Super Eagles whom Milutinovic, 72, took to the 1998 World Cup in France, he also managed Mexico, hosts of the 1986 edition, Costa Rica at Italia 1990, hosts of the 1994 World Cup, United States of America and China at the Korea/Japan World Cup in 2002.
While in charge of the Super Eagles at France 1998, Milutinovic guarded the team to a surprise 3-2 win against a Spanish team that had Real Madrid greats Fernando Hierro, Raul Gonzalez, Fernando Morientes, Barcelona goalkeeping icon, Andoni Zubizarreta and also Luis Enrique who recently stepped down as the Catalan manager.
The Super Eagles topped their group that also had Bulgaria and Paraguay, but crashed out in the round of 16 after losing 4-1 to Denmark.
Reminiscing on his experience of managing five different countries at five different World Cups, a record that is yet to be broken, Milutinovic revealed that he always thought of becoming a citizen wherever he coached.
"It’s called the world’s game for a reason and my World Cup record is more than a record to me," Milutinovic told FIFA.com.
"This is my life and my great honour as a human being.
"For me, it all blends together into one great honour and one great experience that I can never forget. From Mexico to China, my memories are so deep and meaningful. There were always differences between the jobs and the different countries. The problems that players faced in Costa Rica in 1990 were not the same as the players faced in 2002 in China or in Nigeria when I was there. But the beauty of football is that it is the same – in a very meaningful way – all over the world. The game, for me and in my heart, is the same no matter where you go.
"I’ve coached everywhere! Football is the same everywhere, but the challenges to the players are different from place to place and time to time. But this I can say: when you have them on the field and you are the coach – the eyes are the same and what they try to do is the same. In that way, football is football everywhere.
"The first job, whether it’s the USA or Mexico, is to get the team confident. First you have to get them to believe. This was difficult in places like USA and Mexico in those years, and Costa Rica and China too. It was my job to get the players to believe and when the players believed then they would play like they believed and the people in the country, in the stands, would believe too. It was all part of a process that began with instilling a sense of belief in players. This is the ultimate challenge of a national team coach.
"When I am coaching in a country I feel almost like I become a citizen of that country. This was the same in Mexico and Nigeria and even China. I look closely at the traits of the people and what moves them and I try to respond to these things. Football is a lot more than just a ball and 22 guys running around a pitch, especially, at the international level. It’s about dreams and pride and a lot of different and important factors.
"But for me, there is nothing like the World Cup. To bring a team to the ultimate – to that level – there’s no feeling like it in the world. Sometimes I think about it – I think about having brought so many teams to the World Cup, and just to have been involved in so many World Cups – and I can hardly even believe it. To me, it’s still a dream. It will always be a dream and I will always be grateful to have lived it."