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National Teams > Men

Šime Vrsaljko says goodbye

It’s time...

26.08.2022.
It’s time...
photo by: Drago Sopta/HNS
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Longstanding Croatia international and essential member of the team that won the FIFA 2018 World Cup silver medal Šime Vrsaljko has decided to end his international career and to say his goodbyes to the national team in this open letter.

I don’t know if I have the words to describe the feeling of putting on the iconic checkered shirt, stepping out onto the pitch in front of Croatian supporters, putting your hand on your heart and singing the national anthem. Yes, you feel an immense burden and responsibility because for the next 90 minutes a whole nation stands behind you and they all want the same things that you do – victory, triumph, celebration. Even more immense, however, is the pride that you feel because it gets to be you – out of all of the young players who dream about this moment, you and your teammates have been extended the privilege of representing your country.

The emotions that come over you in that moment make it anything but easy to make the decision that you’ve played your last match for Croatia. To accept that it’s time to make space for the young players coming through, and to accept that you are no longer able to give what you had been able to just a few years ago. It’s no easy feat to process the fact that you’ll never put on that shirt again, that you won’t be hugging your teammates on the pitch when a goal is scored or a victory is reached, and that you’ll no longer get to put your arms around them in those last few moments before a match begins and wait for the captain to shout “Above all”, so that you can shout back with all your might:

“CROATIA!”

It’s not easy to say goodbye because to play for Croatia is to get to live out your childhood dreams.

But… I know it’s time. And I know this decision is one that I made out of respect for my national team, my teammates, my head coach. Because of that, I can live with it easier.

I can live with it easier because I know I gave it my all. At every training session, at every match, at every tournament. I regret nothing and I cherish every moment I spent with the national team. It might be easy here to think only of Russia and the summer of 2018, but during my years with the Croatian national team, I’ve lived through many ups and downs, and I’ve had my fair share of successes and failures. Every single one of those moments – whether it brought me tears of joy or tears of sadness – enriched me as a player and as a man. When I look back at all of them, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I can live with this decision easier because I made friends that I’ll have for the rest of my life. I can live with this decision easier because the national team is my second family – that won’t change one bit now, even though I’ll no longer be playing for the team.

Of course, I can also live with this decision easier because of Russia. The place where we got to make our absolute wildest dreams come true. During that month, we not only got to reach the World Cup final, we got to make our people laugh, feel proud, feel connected to one another. Those matches, those celebrations, and all those faces of all those people who came out to welcome us in Zagreb and in Zadar are sealed into my memory forever. It’s no secret that this silver medal cost me a pretty rough knee injury – but let me tell you, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Because at that moment, we were all living for that success. We were living for it in the locker room, and we knew you were living for it on the stands in Russia and on public squares, in bars, and in front of your TVs back home in Croatia.

And to the fans – your support, your passion, and your love for the national team have always given me that extra push and have helped me discover that last bit of strength in me in those moments where everything was at stake and I thought I had nothing left to give. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that.

It was a pleasure to have spent the past 11 years sharing a dressing room with great players and even greater human beings. Thank you to all of my teammates – I’d take you to battle with me anytime. We left our blood, sweat and tears on the pitch, but we also had so many good times together off of it. These memories will stay with me forever.

Those who know me also know that I identify as what we’d call a “local patriot”, and as such, I’d be remiss not to mention how much I loved sharing that dressing room with my fellow children of Zadar – Suba, Livi, and Luka. And when it comes to Luka, need I say more? What a privilege it is for all of us that we got to play with one of the best midfielders of all time! It’s an even more important privilege for me, however, that I get to call Luka my friend. I also want to mention Darijo Srna – it was an honor to learn from him, and to take his place in the team when he retired.

Dejan is a special story. It takes a great amount of luck to find people – especially people you work with – that are your kindred spirits, that you can call on just as easily during the best of times and the worst of times. Who would have thought that I’d get so much joy out of having him as my roommate for these eleven long years? :) Loki, you made my career as a Croatia international even more special – I look forward to the many years of friendship that we have ahead of us.

I also want to thank Slaven for giving me a chance and calling me up to the national team, as well as head coach Zlatko Dalić for his cooperation and for that unforgettable month in Russia. Thank you to all the other coaches and head coaches, too – I hope you know how much I valued your support, your advice, and all the effort that you put into making us all a better team both on the pitch and off of it.

Thank you to all the members of staff who took care of us for all these years – our medical staff, including Dr. Nemec, Dr. Bahtijarević, Dr. Janković, Dr. Vlahović, and all of our physical therapists, as well as Iva, Nikša, Tomo, Drago, and every other person from the Croatian FA that worked along us and helped us make our team a family. I also want to thank the leadership of the Croatian FA, former president Davor Šuker, and the tireless Mr. Srebrić. Thank you to current president Marijan Kustić for his excellent communication and understanding.

Thank you to the media that covered the Croatian national team and my career – you play an important role in keeping the story of the Vatreni alive. I hope that you’ll continue to cover the team in a constructive way and to contribute to its successes.

I want to extend special thanks to my parents and my brother, who supported me every step of the way. I can only hope that I can provide that same level of inspiration and support to my own children. My heart is full because I know that my grandfather Dido Šime is always looking down on me from above and that he’s so proud because I got to do everything that I dreamed of.

We have so many talented, hard-working, ambitious, and passionate players in the national team now, and I’m so happy that in their eyes I see the same drive, pride, and passion that I witnessed when I first set foot in the dressing room of the Vatreni as a young player. What I want to say most to all of them is this: I know we set the bar high in Russia, but don’t let that be a burden on your shoulders. If you always do your best, the fans will reward you, and so will the outcome. I’ll always be with you!

It’s not easy, but….

It’s time. 

Yours forever, 

Šime Vrsaljko

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