Forty-six days. Thirteen matches. Nine victories and only one defeat. Those are the numbers. Here’s another way to put it: we’re in the Champions League and joint-top in the domestic competition.
“It’s really hard to describe the feeling of satisfaction that the recent success has brought to the club. The head coach and the coaching staff have pulled off a tremendous achievement. And they’ve done it despite the fact that we lost three key players (Vršič, Novaković, Defendi) and one important member of the first team (Sallalich) before the season. The team needs time to gel and we were expecting a drop. But in this case, there was practically none. We have found ourselves in a position every club wants to be in. After a month and a half and only 46 competitive days, this would still be a phenomenal season even if it ended today,” is how Zlatko Zahovič described the amazing purple summer.
The team has reached the European elite for the third time and is top of the league. Add to this a host of good performances and individual achievements, with the young players making a name for themselves and new players being called up to their national teams.
“The first team squad has gained more depth. There’s Kramarič, Ahmedi, Kolmanič, Ogrinc and Hotić. These boys are taking on the responsibility and the key roles. They’ve broken the ice and I expect even more from them in the future. NK Maribor is a club which has to develop the players and the team and achieve good results at every level. All this is hard work. But the coaching staff have pulled it off magnificently. We must not forget that we’ve also manage to develop two new foreign international players, Marwan Kabha and Valon Ahmedi. This is something that normally doesn’t happen in Slovenia. They were not members of their national teams when they arrived. They became that by playing well in the purple shirt. That’s also something we can be really proud of.”
Although the week leading up to the derby took a lot out of the players, both physically and mentally, we can be proud of the team’s performance.
“The derby demonstrated that we have a number of players in our team, who can take on the most difficult roles. Kramarič shouldered a lot of the responsibility. Mešanović laboured through the 90 minutes and is getting better with each match. It’s not easy to adapt to a new environment, but the boy possesses the right character and quality. We played very confidently. The score could have been different. We had two great opportunities, whereas our keeper remained untested. Mentally and physically, we were at a very high level.”
Dream summer anticipates a good autumn.
“We can be really proud of this group of people. We are looking into the future with great optimism, despite there still being many tough matches ahead. Although we’ve not suffered any drops yet, they are bound to come. But that’s why we’re here. We want to be in a position where we are playing two games a week. We want to be as well-prepared as we can be. Being physically and mentally well-prepared, resting, eating properly and also relaxing when the times call for it. The boys are doing everything right. They’ve seen what the right path is. Football has been good to them, although that’s not always the case, no matter how much work you put in. But we believe in what we are doing. We have to keep our feet on the ground and be optimistic and confident. There’s nothing without confidence. And the only way to attain it is by slotting every piece of the puzzle in its place. Let’s not forget that Maribor plays three seasons in one. The first phase ends at the end of the European qualifiers, the second ends with the winter break and the third ends at the end of May. It’s hard, but we consider it a privilege. We want to be on top and we want to be among the sporting elite, which is something Maribor has been a part of for years.”