The role of caretaker coach can be a thankless task, taking the reins of a club usually on the decline and keeping the seat warm until the arrival of a bigger name. Ante Miše seems not to have read the job specification, however. Since being installed as interim HNK Hajduk Split boss at the end of October he has taken a team third in the Croatian Prva Liga and blighted by inconsistency to top spot after a record-equalling winning run.
The 41-year-old Miše arrived at the Poljud Stadium last summer to gain his first taste of coaching at a top-flight club as assistant to Goran Vučević. His posting was short-lived and when Vučević resigned at the end of October after a 1-0 loss to lowly NK Zadar left Hajduk with just one win in four games, Miše was promoted to the hot seat. He made an immediate impact, reviving flagging spirit and dragging the team back into title reckoning as they collected a maximum 18 points before the winter break.
The rest did not spoil Hajduk's momentum as they returned to action with a 2-0 victory against titleholders NK Dinamo Zagreb, lifting them above their opponents to the top of the table. That was win No7 and the side went on to claim nine, equalling the club record set by Nenad Gračan's charges in 2001, before Miše suffered his first dropped points since taking over at the helm, drawing 1-1 with HNK Cibalia. "Winning is so nice, but I wasn't thinking about any records, it was always just about how to win our next match," said Miše. "I'm glad the preoccupation with records is finished now."
The story of Miše is perhaps only just beginning. Since calling time on his career as a midfielder – for Hajduk and BV Vitesse among others – in 2005 he has been coaching in the lower reaches of Croatian football. After that apprenticeship he has enjoyed a heady rise over the past six months, and would still have that 100 per cent record had Cibalia not registered in the closing stages on Sunday. "We dominated the whole match, but didn't finish them off," said the man capped seven times by Croatia. "Still, we are still top of the table and I am not completely unsatisfied with a draw."
Nor, perhaps, are Dinamo, whose expected waltz to a fourth successive title has proved anything but graceful. Marijan Vlak paid the price, stepping down at the start of the month to make room for a new coach, Krunoslav Jurčić. "My perfect Dinamo would be a combination of Arsenal and Liverpool," said the 39-year-old, who will not be able to call on the experience of Boško Balaban and Tomislav Šokota after both had their contracts terminated. "We have to speed up our passing and be much more attractive to watch." He has enjoyed a positive start, with back-to-back wins, but has some way to go to match Miše, even if their clubs are level on points at the top of the Prva Liga.