Premier League – Bosnia and Herzegovina (League Review)

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BH Telecom Premier League, as it is called due to sponsorship reasons, is the top football division in Bosnia and Herzegovina, founded in 2000.


In Bosnia, football was introduced during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1908 the first ball was brought to the city on the river Neretva, Mostar. Till World War I many clubs were founded in various cities (Mostar, Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Zenica, Bihać). In that year first competitions were held. At the time of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia a lot more clubs were founded and number of football players was increasing quickly. After the World War II Bosnia and Herzegovina football association was founded as a part of the Yugoslavia football association. Bosnian clubs were playing at different levels; the best were of course members of one of the best European leagues – Yugoslav First League. Sarajevo (1965/66 and 1984/85) and Željezničar (1971/72) were Yugoslav league champions, Velež from Mostar (1981, 1985) and Borac from Banja Luka (1987) were Yugoslav cup champions. 900 different clubs were part of Bosnia and Herzegovina football association. The biggest success in Europe achieved Željezničar who played in the semifinal of Uefa Cup in 1985 where they were unluckily defeated against Hungarian club Videoton. The first leg finished 3:1 for Videoton but in the second leg Željezničar was leading 2:0 3 minutes before the final whistle. Unfortunately for them, they conceded the goal in 87th minute and they were relegated.


Nowhere in Balkan the Balkan (or the Yugoslav) war influenced the country football as it did in Bosnia and Herzegovina. History is well known. In the Bosnian territory there are three nations, Bosnians, Croats and Serbs. The tensions between them emerged in the 1990s and the war in Bosnia between Bosnia and Yugoslavia lasted from 1992 to 1995. Of course during that time football league was not held and even afterwards Bosnian football had a lot of problems.

In 1992 Bosnia and Herzegovina football association declared its secession from Yugoslavia football association and applied to be part of FIFA and UEFA. Because of the war Bosnia and Herzegovina football association became full part of this two football organizations as late as 1998 when Bosnian clubs got the right to play in European competitions. Between 1994 and 1998 there was football competition but in 1994 just clubs that were not in war zone were allowed to compete and until 1998 just clubs that were in control of the Bosnia and Herzegovina army competed. In the period of transition Bosnian league was organized as playoff competition where clubs from Bosnia and Herzegovina football association (mostly Bosnians) and clubs from Herzeg Bosna (mostly Croats) were taking part. The champion was decided after a play-off between Bosnian and Bosnian Croat clubs. The first winner in season 1997/98 was Željezničar who defeated Sarajevo (1:0). Season after the playoff was not played, but in season 1999/00 clubs from all Federation of Bosnia were taking part excluding Republika Srpska (mostly Serbians). In 2000, a national league started for the first time, with Serbian clubs refusing to take part in the first two league seasons, eventually joining in 2002 when the league was officially named Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Country: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Confederation: UEFA

Founded: 2000
Number of teams: 16
Level on the pyramid: 1
Domestic cup: Bosnia and Herzegovina Cup
International Cup: UEFA Champions League (2nd qualifying round), UEFA Europa League (1st qualifying round)
Current champions: Sarajevo
Uefa Ranking: 38
Transfer window: 1st January – 31st January and 8th  June – 3rd August
Number of players: 413
Foreign players: 103
Average age: 24.6 years


Mladost DK
Rudar Prijedor
Široki Brijeg


The current champion in Bosnia is Sarajevo. It is one of the most legendary clubs in the country. They are playing on the biggest stadium in the country – Asim Ferhatović Hase or as is it mostly known Koševo. For the last two years the owner of the club was a very rich Malaysian businessman and investor Vincent Tan who is also the owner of a famous football club Cardiff City. Tan promised to increase the budget of Sarajevo and to bring the best Bosnian players to the club. He did just that and last year Sarajevo became the Bosnian champion for the second time (if we look just the seasons of Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina from season 2000/01) in their history. The first title Sarajevo won in season 2007. In the last years the best club was Sarajevo’s fierce city rival Željezničar who has 5 titles (from 2000), which is the most in Bosnia. More titles than Sarajevo has Zrinjski (3) and the rest of the winners were Široki Brijeg (2 times), Borac, Leotar and Modriča.

Sarajevo has without a doubt the most talented squad in Bosnia, their biggest star is the most expensive player in the league Leon Benko, lethal Croatian scorer who is currently the best scorer in season 2015/16 (10 goals in 15 matches). But even though they have the most expensive squad Sarajevo is not first on the league table after 15 rounds. Exactly at the half of the new season the leader is Široki Brijeg with 31 points, Sloboda is second with also 31 points, third is Zrinjski with 30 points, fourth Sarajevo with 28 and fifth Radnik with also 28 points.

This season is the last at this format. 16 clubs playing in 30 rounds and the club with the most points after 30 rounds win. From next season (2016/17) there will be just 12 clubs in Bosnia Premier League. That means that 6 bottom clubs in this season will be relegated.

The season of Premier League begins in third week of July and ends in the second week of May. From start of December until the end of February is the winter break without any games played. The Champions qualify for UEFA Champions league Second Qualifying Round, while the teams who finished 2nd and 3rd and the winner of Bosnian Cup qualify for the UEFA Europa League First Qualifying Round. And as it was mentioned before because of the format changes 6 teams will be relegated in the end of this season.


Sarajevo derby

The biggest game in Bosnia is the Sarajevo Derby between Željezničar and Sarajevo, the two biggest and most popular clubs in Bosnia, during which fans usually create a competitive atmosphere with big flags, paper rolls, scarfs and loud chanting. It is not uncommon to see members of the same family on opposite sides, not speaking to each other on the day of the derby, with opposing fans engaging in mutual provocations at the end of the match, eagerly awaiting the next confrontation although, in recent years, this has led to clashes between some younger fans.


Most foreigners from Serbia

Like the clubs in other Balkan countries, Bosnian clubs are trying to survive. Recession hit the clubs hard; almost every club is drowning in debts. This kind of situation forced clubs to give chance to young Bosnian footballers from their academies. At the moment there are 103 foreign players playing in Premier League almost the half (48) from Serbia, 31 from Croatia and 6 from Montenegro. Bosnian league is not that respected in the Europe. Just 38 place in Uefa ranking says it all.


Edin Džeko unappreciated

Edin Džeko is one of the most appreciated strikers in Europe. Bosnian national team captain is one of the best strikers in the world. He is scoring for Roma and in the past he played for Manchester City and Wolfsburg among others. But when he was starting his career he was unappreciated. Džeko began his career at Željezničar, playing as a midfielder between 2003 and 2005, but with little success playing in that position. He was widely regarded as too tall, and with poor technical abilities. Džeko’s coach at the time though, Jiří Plíšek, saw his potential and when Plíšek returned home to the Czech Republic, he advised FK Teplice to buy him. Željezničar accepted a bid of just €25,000 for Džeko, one of Željezničar’s directors saying years later: “We thought we won the lottery”. Well, they were wrong.


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