1. FC Union Berlin have appointed Nenad Bjelica as head coach of their men's professional team. The 52-year-old Croatian football coach holds a UEFA Pro Licence and was most recently under contract with Turkish Süper Lig club Trabzonspor.
His coaching career began in 2007/08, when he led the Austrian FC Kärnten team as player-coach from September until the end of the season. His time at Kärnten was then followed by a move to Austria Lustenau before, in the summer of 2010, Bjelica took over Wolfsberger AC, who were in the third division at the time. He had led them to the Austrian Bundesliga within three years.
Bjelica then took over further foreign stations including Austria Wien - who made it into the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the summer of 2013 -, the Italian side Spezia Calcio and Poland’s Lech Poznan before he returned home to coach Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb from 2018 to 2020.
In Zagreb he became a league champion and cup winner, reached the knockout phase of the UEFA Europa League and won the Croatian Super Cup.
In the summer of 2020, Bjelica's path as a coach led him back to the club where his career as a player had begun, NK Osijek. His two seasons at his home-town club ended with second and third place finishes in the table. This was followed by a move to Trabzonspor in Turkey.
Bjelica, however, can also look back on a successful career as a centre-back, starting with NK Osijek. After two years as a professional, he moved to Spain in the summer of 1992, where he played for Albacete Balompié, Real Betis and UD Las Palmas. In 2000, he returned to Osijek, where he was voted Croatia's Footballer of the Year following an outstanding season.
Then, in January 2001, he moved to the then Bundesliga club 1. FC Kaiserslautern, with whom he reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals. In 2004, Bjelica moved to Austria, where he first played for Admira Wacker Mödling and later for FC Kärnten.
After 433 competitive matches for seven different clubs and nine international appearances for Croatia, he ended his career as a professional footballer in 2008.
"In Nenad Bjelica, we have gained an experienced coach who has worked successfully in various countries,” said Union president, Dirk Zingler. “He has a clear idea of how he wants to lead the team and what kind of football they should play. We are entrusting him with the task of leading them to renewed success. I wish Nenad and the entire team a good start to their work together."
"Union are a very well-managed club in one of the top leagues in Europe,” said Bjelica of his move to Berlin, meanwhile. “My task is to lead the team out of a difficult phase and bring out its strengths again. I'm looking forward to this challenge. I want to see well-organised, active and dominant football, and players who are prepared to take on responsibility. We will work on this together from now on."
Oliver Ruhnert, Union’s director of men’s professional football, is also very happy with the Croatian’s appointment. "I am convinced that Nenad Bjelica, with his many years of experience as a player and coach, is a good fit for our team. We will do everything we can to improve the sporting situation and successfully master the job of staying in the league. I look forward to working with him.”
He continued with words of praise for his predecessor. “I would also like to thank Marco Grote, who has worked very well with the team in recent days and is now returning to the U19s."
Bjelica will be supported at 1. FC Union Berlin by his assistant coach Danijel Jumic. Marie-Louise Eta will also remain assistant coach of the professional men's team until Sebastian Bönig returns.