IT looks like a return to the familiar pattern in Croatia for the past decade or more – Dinamo Zagreb on top and running away with the title.
Dinamo are 12 points clear at the top after 20 games and are one of the few teams across Europe that remain unbeaten – 15 wins and five draws with a goal count of 45-13.
Since 2005-06, Dinamo have won every league championship bar one and that was in 2016-17 when Rijeka clinched top spot. There’s no danger of that happening this season as Dinamo have bounced back under new coach Mario Cvitanović.
Cvitanović took over in the summer after Ivaylo Peter was sacked following Dinamo’s unsuccessful title defence. He was previously coach of Dinamo Zagreb II, who currently lead the second division in Croatia.
The same clubs are dominating the Croatian game with the top four once again Dinamo, Hajduk, Osijek and Rijeka. In the Cup, Dinamo and Rijeka will meet in the semi-final – a repeat of the final of 2016-17 – and Lokomotiva will play Hajduk.
Hajduk remain the best supported club with an average of close to 11,000 with Rijeka (4,800) and Dinamo (3,900) behind them. The overall average gate this season has risen to more than 2,700 which is up on the 2,500 generated in 2016-17. Croatia finally made it to World Cup 2018 with a play-off victory over Greece which should maintain interest in the domestic competition until the summer.
However, scandal still plagues Croatian football, notably the trail of former Dinamo CEO Zdravko Mamic, who was charged with illegally keeping a sizeable part of the transfer fee involving Luka Modric’s transfer to Tottenham Hotspur in 2008. Mamic was attacked and shot in the leg when he recently visited Bosnia. In August, coach Cvitanović was also assaulted when two unidentified men attacked him with baseball bats. The club sensed a conspiracy: “It is quite obvious that the violence towards people from our club is completely legalised.”
Dinamo have also been fined for over-use of pyrotechnics and accusations of racism at the club. On a positive note, Dinamo’s player demonstrated their charitable nature by financially helping the players of Istria, a club that has cash problems.
There are signs that Dinamo have bred some promising young players that are now being eyed by overseas clubs. Filip Benković, for example, a 20 year-old central defender, is being closely watched by Manchester United, while Tottenham are interested in attacking midfielder Ante Ćorić.
Dinamo should win back the title they lost last season and if their better players continue to improve, the money from transfer sales will enable them to stay ahead of the pack in domestic football.