When the HNS announced that the Croatian league Championship would be increased to 16 teams it appeared there was more critics, but plaudits. HRV Soccer examines whether the idea ultimately was a success or a failure.
For years the Croatian leagues two up and two down system, sometimes involving a play off has seen many sides descend into mediocrity after only half way through the season as they find themselves too far detached from Europa Liga qualification and too far clear to be relegated. This season however has been different with Cibalia, Hajduk, Osijek, Slaven Belupo and Karlovac considering second place in their grasp.
With increased relegation spots, Inter Zapresic, Medimurje, Zadar, Medimurje, Zagreb, Istra and Varteks meanwhile have been fighting for their lives. Such increased level of competition and relevant matches can therefore only benefit the Croatian league. One arguement to counter such claims would suggest that the number of sides gathered at the bottom of the table points to a divide in class. Consideration the size of the each Croatian club it would be questionable whether there is a divide between one and another season in season out.
However it would appear something has worked due to increasing the teams for this season. Two reasons would be NK Karlovac and Lokomotiva Zagreb. Karlovac have been nothing short of outstanding under coach Igor Pamic. Previously Karlovac had never experienced top flight football, but their status this year has never been in doubt. Whether they can remain a force is questionable, but it is clear that this group of players are comfortably a top six side.
Lokomotiva on the other hand are a entirely different thing. Lokomotiva arguably were the main beneficiaries of increasing the league, but are potentially a new power house in Croatian football. Again whether this is healthy for the countries domestic league is up for debate as Lokomotiva are in fact a branch of Dinamo Zagreb which produces talent and gives experience for young players for Dinamo's future. This is a major thing for development of young Croatian talents that belong to the Croatian Champions. However it also aids Dinamo's strong hold. Dinamo are also able to control Lokomotiva by adding too or taking away key players from their roster as they please. It is clear whilst Lokomotiva exist Dinamo's revival in Rijeka, Split, Sibenik, Cibalia, Koprivnica and Varazdin will experience a hard time picking up points.
The success of Lokomotiva encouraged Hajduk to set up their own feeder club in NK Mosor. The club has much to do to reach the level of Lokomotiva and Hajduk do not currently have the financial power to back them.
Over time it could be argued it is not good to keep a League of sixteen sides as the country does not have 16 teams of such strength. However the idea to open the trap door to drop out sides who are not progressive is a positive step and something which HNS was clearly justified in doing. Such ideas wakes up dormant sides who can happily settle for finishing second or third from bottom and keep their top flight status.
It is probably also not a good idea to continually promoted big numbers of HNL2 sides, many of whom are badly organised and do not possess satisfactory stadia. The HNS has to constantly be on there guard having allowed conditions to slip whereby Zadar's ex Croatia Under 21 player Hjorve Custic lost his life due to a collision with a brick wall during a match with Cibalia. Such an example also points to another debate over such smaller sides like Zadar and Medimurje who over time are progressing, but should not be allowed special top flight status which the 16 Liga idea offers them.
In conclusion it would appear that the Liga 16 has positive and negative effects. It has not decreased competitiveness, despite Dinamo's comfortable position at the top of the league which alludes more to their overwhelming financial income recieved on player sales of some of the Europes finest talents. The income recieved for Dinamo is such that even teams in A standard European leagues would love to see. The HNS however would ideally prefer if Dinamo focused more on ploughing some of their finances into other Croatian sides, rather than going abroad or to their links within Zapresic and Lokomotiva. Due to lack of player sales Rijeka and Varteks particularly have become a pale shadow of their former self which has damaged their competiveness in the Croatian league. Dinamo has also been found to be skimping in recent years in their pursuit of players from Osijek and Sibenik.
Hajduk Split meanwhile are guilty of hoarding a crazy amount of Croatian talents who could also be helping other Croatian teams. Hajduk's transfer policy has led to nearly 20 Croatian footballers being starved of first team action which does little to help Croatian football.