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Always at the max

Olic: I aim to keep my place in the team

The sun beat down unrelentingly from the azure blue Italian sky, and the temperature at the stadium in Arco nudged 40 degrees in the late morning. Every movement meant another bead of sweat, and those who could do so made for the shade.

Ivica Olic appeared completely unaffected, tirelessly covering every blade of grass on the reduced size field where the senior players were engaged in a game of five-a-side. To cap it all, the Croat netted two excellent goals. “With this coach, every training session is like a match, and he wants to see the maximum at all times,” said Olic, “but in any case, I never have a problem with training.”

That attitude largely explains why Olic slowly but surely emerged as the first-choice centre-forward at Bayern last term. The Croat made 29 Bundesliga appearances, scoring eleven goals and laying on another six. He was even more potent in the Champions League, where he netted seven times in ten games, including a hat-trick in the 3-0 semi-final return leg victory away to Lyon. However, his status as a crowd hero was ultimately sealed by his never-say-die attitude and willingness to run and chase right to the end.

At the start of last season, very few people –coach Van Gaal among them – really believed Olic would become a regular at FCB. He arrived on a free transfer from Hamburg, but was up against formidable competition: new signing Mario Gomez, top scorer of the previous two seasons Luca Toni, Germany fixture Miroslav Klose, and rising star Thomas Müller.

From no-name to regular

“I was an outsider from the start, striker number four or five – but by the end, I was number one,” the player now reflects. In the closing stages of the campaign, Van Gaal tended to favour just one out-and-out striker, and nearly all the time, that was Olic: “He worked his way into the team.”

Nowadays, the coach is one of Olic’s biggest fans. “I love players like him, who always give it everything and are always up for it,” he confided to, “Ivica is always sharp.” Van Gaal believes the 30-year-old “can perfectly well have as good a season as the last one.” And this time round, Olic has the advantage of completing the pre-season programme right from the start.

A star in Croatia

The player also feels he is psychologically a step further on than last year. “The coach knows me, and knows what I can do,” said Olic, “my aim is to keep my regular place in the team.” To ensure that, he is giving his all in every minute of every training session, and running until he is fit to drop, from the first minute until the last.

“He always gives it 100 percent,” said Olic’s fellow-countryman Danijel Pranjic “he’s a big star in Croatia.” That may be the case, but Olic is also a realist: “I can only keep playing the way I did last year if my fitness is optimal.”