SLAVISA JOKANOVIC has played in one World Cup and is now working where the next one will be staged.
So when the former Fulham boss claims Qatar 2022 will be the “best ever” he is worth listening to – even if few share his prediction outside the Gulf state or Fifa HQ.
3 Slavisa Jokanovic is confident the World Cup in Qatar will be a success, helped by shorter travel timesCredit: Reuters
Jokanovic, who reached the last 16 of France ‘98 with Yugoslavia, is currently in charge of Al-Gharafa in the Qatar Stars League.
And from his first-hand experience, he reckons the World Cup in three years’ time will be a huge hit, despite issues with the climate and crowds at the recent World Athletics Championships in Doha.
Jokanovic, 51, told SunSport: “We have played four games in air-conditioned stadiums and the temperature was perfect for playing football, even when outside was still so hot.
“The temperature will be better in November or December when the World Cup is played anyway, but the technology is incredible.
“I have also visited the completed Al Janoub Stadium, which will be used in the World Cup, and I was blown away when I arrived.
“There is still a lot of construction going on and it will be a while before everything is finished.
“But it is progressing at a fast pace and I have no doubt everything will all be ready in time.
“Qatar is a great place already but it will improve a lot in the next three years.
“I am here, I know these people and they are making huge improvements.
“Qatar will be completely transformed and it will be like a brand-new country.
“My opinion is that what is in front of us will be really huge.
“I am not here for betting, I am just here for my point of view and observation – but I believe it will be the best World Cup ever.”
“It will not be like World Cups played in countries where you require long travelling times. I know the struggle that comes with travelling from one place to the other and how that can affect mental and physical strength.”
Part of why Jokanovic makes that claim is that he believes a winter World Cup should mean players are at their physical peak.
He also thinks the compact nature of the tournament will benefit teams, with the largest distance between stadiums just 35 miles – the equivalent of travelling from Old Trafford to Anfield.
Jokanovic said: “With the World Cup being played in those months, it means the top players will be in a great condition and not burn-out after a long season.
“There is also the fact that everything is very close.
“It will not be like World Cups played in countries where you require long travelling times.
“For the first time, teams will have the same accommodation throughout the tournament.
“So players can spend more time resting and training rather than travelling.
"I have played in two major tournaments and I know the struggle that comes with travelling from one place to the other and how that can affect mental and physical strength.”
Jokanovic admits the Qatari climate came as the biggest culture shock when he took charge of Al-Gharafa in June.
He said: “When you arrive in the country, the first thing you notice is the impact of the weather.
“It is so hot you have to stay indoors, not go on the beach!
“But soon the temperature will drop and it will be a better temperature for working and living.
“Some of my friends explain to me it’s like Chicago, where in winter you have to stay inside waiting for better weather.
“Here, you must be inside in summer waiting for it to be colder!
“My team trains outside but we normally work at night times. It is still not especially fresh but it is OK for practice.
“We just need to adapt ourselves to the conditions. This is our job.
“I have managed all around the world – Thailand, Bulgaria, Israel – and you just have to adapt.”
The World Athletics Championships was blighted by empty seats – sparking fears Qatar 2022 could suffer the same problem.
But while domestic football in Qatar is not well attended, Jokanovic does not think it will be an issue at the World Cup.
He admitted: “That is probably the biggest challenge in the league at the moment.
“Qatari people are not in the habit of coming to the stadiums to watch. It is not like leagues in Europe.
“But in the World Cup, people from all over the world will be visiting and I am sure the stadiums will be full.
“The Club World Cup in Doha in December will be a good test.”
Jokanovic has won three, drawn two and lost one of his opening six games with Al-Gharafa.
They are fifth in the 12-team league, which was won last season by Al-Sadd, who Barcelona legend Xavi played for now and now managers.
Jokanovic said: “Compared to the Premier League and other top European leagues, Qatar is so far behind.
“But they want to push, learn and improve and they expect this World Cup is going to help that, with talented players starting to arrive.”
3 Jokanovic signed a two-year deal with Al-Gharafa but is hopeful of returning to the Premier LeagueCredit: https://twitter.com/ALGHARAFACLUB
Jokanovic has signed a two-year contract with Al-Gharafa but would love to return to England one day.
He won promotion with Fulham in 2018 but was sacked last November with the club bottom of the Premier League after only one win from their first 12 games.
Jokanovic, who also got Watford to the top flight in 2015, said: “I am enjoying my work here and enjoying my life in this country.
“But working in England was a great experience for me and, in the future, I expect I will have another opportunity to work in the Premier League or Championship.
“I am the only coach outside of Britain to win two promotions to the Premier League.
“The best place to work as a manager is in England. We will see what happens in the future.”
Jokanovic has no bitterness about his sacking at Craven Cottage, even though the change of manager made no difference to their fate last season.
He said: “We know in this business what can happen after a few bad weeks.
“They made the step like lots of other clubs do to try and find a solution.
“I made some mistakes, Fulham made some mistakes, but life moves forward. I do not look back.”
3 The Serb brought Scott Parker into the coaching set-up and was confidence he would be appointed managerCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Jokanovic was replaced by Claudio Ranieri, who was also axed by Fulham in February.
Former England midfielder Scott Parker then took caretaker charge and although he could not stop relegation, he was handed the permanent reins in May.
The Cottagers are currently seventh in the Championship under Parker, who Jokanovic brought into his backroom staff in July 2018.
And Jokanovic said: “Scott was my choice to come in as a coach.
“I had a conversation with him and said, ‘Come with me and you will be the manager after me’.
“He is at the beginning of his coaching career but he is a very good coach and a very good lad.
“I believe he is following some of the work we did and I expect him to be successful.
“He has enough quality to bring Fulham back to the Premier League.
“They have brought in some interesting players and they will be one of the favourites to come back up.
“I hope they will be successful this season and they go back to the Premier League. I wish them all the best.”
Jokanovic’s other old English club, Watford, are winless and bottom of the Premier League.
Owner Gino Pozzo axed Javi Gracia last month and brought in Quique Sanchez Flores, whose first stint with the Hornets came when he replaced Jokanovic in 2015.
Jokanovic added: “I cannot be surprised. This is what the owner does and it has brought him some success.
“He is not a guy who waits – he looks for some shock therapy or a quick fix.
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“But he is not complicated to work for. I had the freedom to do my job and was given all the tools.
“I learned many things working with Gino Pozzo and I cannot say a bad word about him.
“I expect Watford to be safe but the league is hard and when you do not start well, normally you will suffer all season.”