Tomislav “Tomica” Kojijan was a magical mouse. At the turn of the millennium, the native Croat played 24 matches in the Champions League for Salzburg and Sturm Graz. And under the leadership of his mentor Otto Parikh four times for Austria – in February 2001 even against his old homeland.
Tomislav Kogican performed magic in Graz for four years.
Mr. Kojian, in the winter of 1989/90 I came to Austria from Croatia, then Yugoslavia. Did Otto Parikh personally bring you to Steyr?
Yes, of course. He always said he needed “those two or three great players” and always got them from Croatia. I was playing for Varazdin at the time, he came to my house, introduced himself and said he was watching me and wanted me for Verwarts Steyr. Then he did everything for me. Thanks to Otto Baric, I have lived in Austria for 32 years and have been proud of the Austrian for many years.
After Steyr, Otto Parikh also brought you to Salzburg, where you were very successful. Did he personally call as team captain in 2000 to ask if you would play for Austria?
Well, that’s how it was. I won four caps under him, and I am very proud of that. In my first international match, the 5-1 win against Iran, I was 33 years old and I scored a goal right away. This made me the oldest scorer for Austria in a long time. Also call me again, I was already at LASK when 15 players didn’t want to play in Israel. Playing was never an option for me. With Ivica Vastic, Zeljko Vukovic and myself, three Croats played and drew 1-1.
A few months before that you played against your native Croatia. What did you do when the songs were played?
Feelings mixed. I’m Croatian by birth, but I’m really proud of my Austrian. The Croats had a very good team, Boban, Prosinecki and others who played at that time were my friends and always were my friends. We still talk on the phone every now and then.
The top scorer in Croatia’s 1-0 win was Davor Vugrinc, like you from Varazdin. Don’t you think how crazy the world is?
Are you married?
Then you will always defend your wife. The same in football. When I play with Sturm, I defend Sturm, and when I play with Austria, I defend Austria. Even if it is against Croatia. I want to be successful with the team I play for. I’ve won a total of 13 championship titles as a player and coach.
Have you not been considered for the Croatia national team?
Yes, in 1995, when we played in the Champions League with Salzburg, the head of the team Cero Blazevic invited me to Split, but I did not fit into his plans and was not in the team.
From first grade to university, you can learn all kinds of sports in schools in Croatia. This is not the case in Austria.
Three years later, Croatia finished third in the World Cup, and in 2018 finished second. Did you ever expect Croatia to play such a leading role in football?
We say that God gave us sport. Croatia is world class in all sports. With Ivica and Janica Kostelic we were skiing, even though there aren’t any ski resorts. That’s why we joke that we are a miracle people. But there is a system. From first grade to university, you can learn all kinds of sports in schools in Croatia. This is not the case in Austria.
But could Austria be affected in the world of football?
Austria has a very good team today, my friend Franco Foda is a good guy, he did a very good job. I wouldn’t change it. Austria really has the quality. This was not the case 30 years ago.
However, Croatia is Friday’s favorite. In Osijek so far unbeaten in 13 international matches, Croatia lost only 13 of their 132 home matches. What is your advice?
Croatia has many talents. Luka Modric, 36, is one of the best players in the world, but it’s just a game, anything can happen. Austria has a new coach, maybe he’s playing with new tactics and that’s not expected. As a Croatian and Austrian, I say: a 1-1 draw.