Thursday, 30 May 2013


It is hard to know what to make of the Croatian domestic league season just past.  As with Varazdin, Karlovac, Sibenik and to a less extent Medimurje and Croatia Sesvete in previous years more teams seem to be falling by the wayside for financial reasons and thus forfeiting their ability to compete.  NK Zagreb having sold Ivan Krstanovic, Vedran Celjak and Matteo Pavlovic for decent sums, have less excuse for the dismal season. However Cibalia have impressed in recent seasons and are certainly a victim of financial hardship.  Their team containing the likes of Dino Kresinger, Ivica Baraban, Zjelko Malcic, Davor Bagaric, Josip Milardovic and Marijian Antolovic is unlikely to have struggled as badly. Tomislav Mazalovic, Dario Zuparic and Mladen Bartolovic have still shone this season and may move to bigger clubs, but on the whole its now a rebuilding process for Cibalia, in what is going to be a increasingly competitive HNL2.

It is hard to know where to look when laying the blame for NK Zagreb's blight. This is no longer the club which ended Dinamo and Hajduk's domination of the Croatian league under Zlatko Kranjcar over 10 years ago.  The last time the club appeared to be going the right way was when Ivo Susak was appointed three seasons ago.  However president Drazen Medic felt the need to interfere and change coaches and its been downhill from that point on.  A series of disappointing signings have left the club with what is a HNL2 standard side, but is nevertheless one capable of getting promoted.  Most disappointing has been the clubs forward line which turned to a winger Besart Abdurahimi in desperation towards the end of the season.  He is at least an asset, but Medic needs a proven goalscorer to get this team back up.  With Davor Vugrinec and Mladen Bartolovic's contracts up at Slaven Belupo and Cibalia respectively these are such players as Zagreb will need.

NK Zagreb's mismanagement is not too far a case that has been happening with Hajduk Split and this season the club has suffered finishing in fourth place.  Should Zagreb's Abdurahimi end up with Dinamo Zagreb to be loaned out for the benefit of Lokomotiva or Inter Zapresic it will be symbollic of what is happening in the Croatian league and most notably Hajduk Split.  A number of talents have been swiped from under Hajduk's noses most notably from what was Hajduk's closest neighbours Sibenik.  Mehmed Alispahic, Arijan Ademi both would have appeared obvious Hajduk Split signings, but were taken by Dinamo, along with Krstanovic who was suited down to the ground to Hajduk.  If truth be told Hajduk have struggled to get their hands on many of HNL1's best talents in recent years. Thankfully this season this has given some of their own young players a chance which has seen Mijo Caktas and Franko Andriajsevic shine.  The club however has been forced to chuck away Ante Vukusic, Anas Sharbini and Josip Radosevic too soon just to be able to afford to keep running.  Vukusic is currently in limbo with games in Pescara, although a season in Serie B may well do him good.  Sharbini meanwhile is back in Rijeka picked up on a free transfer however sold him for over 1 million Euro's to Hajduk.  It would appear on the face of it the same may be about to occur with Marijan Maloca for whom another in HNL1 would not do him great harm.

The teams forward line has had to be recreating entirely with Vukusic, Ivan Lendric and Ahmad Sharbini all having left. Anton Maglica has started to find his feet despite injury problems, whilst Ivan Vukovic has been the teams best attacker. Jack Kouassi and Antonio Jakolis could prove decent squad players, but the teams really needs an experienced forward.  Mate Bilic would certainly be a gain for this club having proven himself in Spanish football and at a much higher level.  As a free agent and with a decent season with Sporting Gijon behind him this would be the right time to bring in their former forward.

Some quality wide players may also be in order for Hajduk. Filip Ozobic and Sven Tino Susic have done nothing much this season.  The club however would struggle to afford talents such as Ante Rebic of RNK Split and Inter Zapresic's Mislav Orsic.  A gamble that would have little to lose would be to bring back Drago Gabric, who is not the same since his car crash in Turkey, but under the right rehabilitation is cheap enough to be worth it.

The teams to have stole a march on Hajduk this season are HNK Rijeka, RNK Split and Lokomotiva Zagreb.  Whilst the likes of Cibalia, Zagreb and Osijek have fallen on hard times HNK Rijeka have invested heavily and are surveying the cost now the season is over. Third place is not bad.  However some of the clubs big signings not working out. Drago Gabric - who was not properly rehabilitated at the point of transfer and Belgian Andrea Mutombo has not scored a goal. Pole Lukas Mierzejewski was also not required. Mato Neretljak at 34 is also passed his best, but still played his part this season. Why these players were signed to two year contracts without proving themselves first is a financial mistake. Much better has been the signing of the leagues outstanding striker Leon Benko, again a miss by Hajduk Split, as well as midfielder Josip Brezovec and Ivor Weitzer.  Danijel Cesarec, Goran Mujanovic and Dario Knezevic have also played decent roles this season.  Mehmed Alispahic and Vedran Jugovic still have something to prove, especially with the returning Zoran Krzvic and Anas Sharbini providing more of a potential wow factor that the investors are looking for. Jugovic has more of a defensive role to player however now Damir Kreilach has joined Union Berlin.  It is essential for Rijeka to hold onto Benko, however a new forward is needed to learn from his experienced as well as 30 year old Cesarec.

Rijeka have talent spotted at Osijek, just as they did with Slaven Belupo last season.  Belupo will be keen to close the door on Rijeka having made their big sale in the form of Igor Bubnjic to Udinese for over 1 million Euro's.  Belupo however acted in the second half of the season as if they had nothing to play for and this is something Ivan Katilinic will quickly want to change in the summer.  After excellant performances in 2012 little was heard of Mateas Delic, Dejan Glavica and co in the next six months.  Borislav Filipovic, Mario Baric and Igor Jugovic will leave, but Mario Jelavic and Enes Novincic will need to do more next season.  In truth Katilinic needs to make signings.  If ex Croatia striker Davor Vugrinec, now 38 is to leave the club needs a new goalscorer.  Krunoslav Lovrek, Ahmad Sharbini, Bojan Vrucina and the rejuvenated Dario Zahora (8 goals for promoted Ergotelis) is the type of player they need.  Belupo will also need a centre back and midfield players to ensure they challenge Hajduk, Rijeka, RNK Split, Lokomotiva and Dinamo much stronger next season.

All eyes will be on Osijek in the new season.  This is a team that has had no choice, but to throw open the door to youth and may be the fall guys in 2014 purely due to finances.  Under the stewardship of one of HNL1 best coaches Stanko Mrsic Osijek had a strong start to the season.  However in 2013 they shown signs of suffering the same fete as Cibalia, Sibenik and Karlovac with all their strong players refusing to sign new contracts.  Ivan Ibriks, Tomislav Sorsa, Ivan Milicevic, Vedran Jugovic, Zoran Krzvic, Marko Leskovic are part of the exodus from the Gradski Vrt.  Dragan Blatnjak has also not signed on for a second season, but this could be as he wishes to return to NK Zadar where he spent a successful early career.  The clubs bright prospect Antonio Perosevic remains for next season as could come to fore despite what appears a hard couple of years ahead for the club. Its unlikely Osijek have enough quality standard youth players to cope with the number of their experienced squad departing.  Its to be seen if Osijek bring in experience to help their younger players or end up being reduced to assembling a HNL2 level group. Free agents Valentin Babic, Jurica Vranjes, Mato Neretljak and Goran Ljubojevic are all former Osijek men that can do a job in helping the side avoid relegation.

Zadar did well to stay in HNL1 this season and will be looking for more of the same. A lot of the current squad can hold their head high this season, including Stipe Perica who at 17 is a excellant prospect after netting 7 goals. Zadar will also be doing what they can to convince Jurica Buljat to stay. Istra 1961 also got the best out of what they had although will not be pleased to see 10 goal top scorer Goran Roce leave or midfielder Mislav Andrejlkovic. Istra will be in the hunt for another goalscorer to partner Sandi Krizman.

At the top of the league Dinamo Zagreb seem to have a squad that is swelling and even with sending half of it to Lokomotiva is proving too strong for the rest of the sides in Croatia.  The arrival of Chilean striker Junior Fernandes means Dinamo now have far too many strikers.  Fatos Bequiraj, Ante Rukavina, Ivan Krstanovic and Duje Cop has been more than enough to ensure another HNL1 title.  However it is clearly not good enough to compete in the Champions League or Europa Liga.  Dinamo's solution to buy foriegn players have is not satisfying to see. Bequiraj is the main man to suffer.  Having impressed everyone in 2013 by bagging 16 goals as the leagues highest scorer, the Kosovan Albanian striker has lost his way this time out falling behind Cop and latterly Krstanovic from whom Dinamo could not really ask more.  Cop was a free transfer from RNK Split and has scored 9 times.  Rukavina, also may have to go away to a new club as was a expensive buy from Panathanaikos.  Many feel the 24 year old still can have a role to play and Dinamo may well regret tearing up his contract.  Should RNK Split get the money they want for Ante Rebic, they could have the finances to offer Rukavina a deal.

In the midfield is where Dinamo are strongest with Zvonko Pamic and Said Huseljinovic finding their feet in the latter part of the season to add to Ivan Tomecak, Sammir, Alen Halilovic, Luis Ibanez, Marcelo Brozovic, Jerko Leko, Nikola Pokrivac and Arjan Ademi in that area.  Sammir appears to want out, but the player is likely to lose out more than the club with Halilovic waiting to take his place not only at club, but also international level.  Sammir would appear wise to stay put and prove himself until a bid comes along.  In central defence Josip Simunic is passed his best but has another year, so the club really needs a signing for this position.  Tin Jedvaj is a talent, but is only 17.  Many would appreciate Renato Kelic or Hjorve Cale in this area.  Ideally Dinamo need a big signing in centre back. Should Sammir go Dinamo intend to call back Domagoj Antolic. Meanwhile the club has no answer at present what to do with Andrej Kramaric who has had a strong season at Lokomotiva.  Mario Situm is expected to stay with the Loko's as his season has been disrupted by injury.  Its unlikely he will be partnered by Kramaric for a second season, as Kramaric is wanted by clubs around Europe.  Dino Spehar is likely to be next to head down to Lokomotiva. If Dinamo do any further transfer business it will only involve Sime Vrsaljko who is wanted by Bayer Leverkusen, but with the defence already in bits Zdravko Mamic want not take the money for now.  This is because Tonel, Igor Biscan and Domagoj Vida have all left in the last 12 months but were not replaced.