The Croatian First Football League or MAXtv Prva Liga as it is called after the general sponsors is the top football division in Croatia, founded in 1992.
The league was formed in 1991, following the breakup of Yugoslavia and dissolution of the Yugoslav First League. First season started in February 1992 and ended in June 1992 (12 teams competed in first season). Since its formation, the league went through many changes in its system and numbers of participating clubs. In the first three seasons, for example, a win was worth just two points. Currently, there are 10 teams participating in the league, but in the past there were seasons like 1993/94 when 18 teams played in the first league (record in Croatia) or seasons 1992/93 and 1994/95 when there were 16 or 1997/98 when there were 12. The last major change was in season 2013/14 when the number of teams was reduced from 12 to 10.
The season in Croatian First League starts in second week of July and ends in May, with a two month hiatus between December and February. Each club plays with all competitors four times, meaning there are 36 game weeks. The winner is the club who has most points after 36 game weeks. This season is jubilee 25th season since the league’s establishment. Currently, the Croatian First League is the best league according to UEFA Rankings for club competitions among leagues from former Yugoslavia (in 17th place, second, Serbian Superliga is in 27th place). The Winner of Maxtv Prva Liga will qualify for UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying round, the runner up will qualify for the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round and the third placed team will qualify for UEFA Europa League first qualifying round. The winner of the 2015/16 Croatian Football Cup will qualify for the Uefa Europa League Third qualifying round.
Interestingly, most of the clubs currently competing in the Croatian top level also had spells in the Yugoslav First League before Croatian clubs abandoned it in 1991. Seven clubs (Dinamo, Hajduk, Lokomotiva, Osijek, Rijeka, Split, Zagreb) playing in 2015/16 Croatian First League had appeared in the Yugoslav First League at some point between 1945 and 1991. The most successful were Hajduk with 9 Yugoslav titles and Dinamo with 4.
Number of teams: 10
Level on the pyramid: 1
Domestic cup: Croatian Cup
International Cup: UEFA Champions League (2nd qualifying round), UEFA Europa League (1st, 2nd and 3rd qualifying round)
Current champions: Dinamo
Uefa Ranking: 17
Transfer window: 18th January – 15th February and 15th June – 31st August
Number of players: 285
Foreign players: 81
Average age: 23.4 years
Dinamo is a current Croatian champion and by far the best team in Croatia from emancipation on. In 24 years Dinamo won amazing 17 titles, Hajduk won 6 and Zagreb grabbed one. It is interesting that there are still four of the 12 founding members of the league that have never been relegated. Two are obvious, Dinamo and Hajduk and remaining two are Rijeka and Osijek.
Dinamo as the most powerful force in the region
This season Dinamo continues with its tradition. After 12 game weeks they are in the first position but with just one point advantage over their fierce rivals Hajduk. Still Dinamo is by far the best team in the region. This year they qualified for the UEFA Champions League and are playing against Bayern München, Arsenal and Olympiakos in group F. After 2 game weeks Dinamo is in the third place with 3 points. They surprised big favourites Arsenal in the first game (2:1) and they lost with 0:5 against Bayern in Allianz Arena in the 2nd game week. In the qualifying rounds Dinamo beat Fola Esch (Luxemburg), Molde (Norway) and Skënderbeu (Albania). The others Croatian clubs did not have nearly as much success. Hajduk lost in the playoff for UEFA Europa League against Slovan Liberec (in first round they beat Sillamäe from Estonia, in the second round Koper from Slovenia and in the third Strømsgodset from Norway), Rijeka lost in the second qualifying round for UEFA Europa League against Scottish Aberdeen and Lokomotiva also lost in the second qualifying round for UEFA Europa League against Greece Paok (in the first round they beat Airbus from Wales).
Young supertalents and quality foreigners
The Croatian clubs are mostly relying on young Croatian players from their youth academies. Due to tough financial situation selling their biggest talents is one of the best ways to attract necessary money for operating. The best clubs were selling their players mainly to foreign clubs but in the recent years Dinamo evolved as the leading club in Croatia. And they did it by producing their own players and buying cheap from other Croatian clubs. Then they polished their players and sold them not for 1 million or 2 but for 5, 10, 15, even 20 million euros. In the season 2007/08 Dinamo sold Eduardo Da Silva to Arsenal (13.5 million euros) and Vedran Čorluka to Manchester City (13 million euros). A year later they sold Luka Modrić for a club record 21 million euros to Tottenham. Then in the season 2009/10 Lyon had payed Dinamo 8 million euros for Dejan Lovren. In the season 2010/11 Wolfsburg acquired services of Mario Mandžukić for 7 million euros. Three years ago Dinamo sold Mateo Kovačić to Inter for 11 million euros, a year later Tin Jedvaj to Roma and Šime Vrsaljko to Genoa for altogether 10 million euros. Last year Barcelona had payed 5 million for Alen Halilović and this year Celtic paid 7 million for Jozo Šimunović. And that was just part of Dinamo transfer sales.
But Croatian Champions are not just selling players. They are buying them as well. And every year they are buying more expensive and better players. For example this year they have payed 5 million euros (club record) for one of the biggest talents in Croatia Marko Rog. They have a lot of great foreigners too. Such as El Arbi Hillel Soudani who is an Algerian international, Angelo Henriquez who plays for Chile or goalkeeper Eduardo and midfielder Paulo Machado who were Portugal internationals. And that’s not all. They attracted Barcelona under 17 captain and Spain under 17 captain Dani Olmo. But none of these players is the best player of Dinamo. The best player of Blues (Dinamo’s nickname) and the best player in the league currently is Marko Pjaca (his value is 6.5 million euros). Marko is a Croatian international who is likely to leave after this season for a big sum.
Other teams in Croatia can not pay a lot of money for transfer fees so they are relying on their academies or they are attracting foreign free agents. There are 81 foreign players in the Croatian First League, 18 from Bosnia, 8 from Serbia, 7 from Albania, 6 from Macedonia, 5 from Brazil and Portugal, 4 from Slovenia and Montenegro, 3 from Australia and Ukraine etc.
The Eternal Derby
Like in Serbia there is also the Eternal Derby in Croatia. A game between Dinamo and Hajduk is in Croatia so much more than just a regular match. Tensions between Bad Blue Boys (fans of Dinamo) and Torcida (fans of Hajduk) are always high and even though Dinamo is by far the best team in Croatia in Eternal Derby everything is possible. For many years games between fierce rivals were accompanied with riots, but in last couple of years everything quieten down mainly because Bad Blue Boys boycotted Dinamo games. They and many other fans are disagreeing with the way their club is led by Zdravko Mamić. But that’s a whole other story.
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