The State of Bosnian Club Football
May 21, 2019
Most Championships: HSK Zrinjski, 6
Last 5 Winners: FK Sarajevo (18/19), HSK Zrinjski (17/18, 16/17, 15/16, 14/15),
UEFA Ranking: 40th
Highest Ranked Club: HSK Zrinjski, 207th
Interview with Bosnian football writer Saša Ibrulj
Since the Europa League was rebranded, no Bosnian side has ever made a Champions League or Europa League group stage. What is the current state of Bosnian football?
I think we are one out of only 14 European countries that never had a team in a CL or EL group stage. And I guess that speaks volumes about the current state of our domestic football.
It may sound illogical, but things looked better just after the war – people were very enthusiastic about the game, and most of the players went through the Yugoslav football system that was well organized. However, Bosnian football kept living in that system from the 80s and never made a proper step forward. This is why the club football lags behind most of the European countries in every segment, including the youth development, the coaching, the infrastructure and all the things that at the end lead to the lack of quality.
Of course, there is a question of money, Bosnian clubs are very poor, but I think the biggest problem is the lack of system and organization – basically, everything is just a big improvisation or if you like to call it organized chaos.
There is no one dominant side in Bosnian football. Is this a help or a hindrance?
It is hard to say since we never had a team that would be a dominant side. However, I believe that this is a help or could be used as a help – the league is more interesting, the teams are more or less even, and that could be used as a brand for the league.
What would be seen as a successful year in Europe for Bosnian fans?
Nowadays getting to the Europa League play-offs and avoiding being heavily beaten by some top league side is considered to be a huge success for Bosnian clubs. Getting into the group stage of EL would be seen as an epic success.
Is there any money in Bosnian football?
No, not at all. Weird Bosnian laws do not allow privately owned clubs, so most work in a sort of limbo between being controlled by one or few people, but financed by local government, sponsors or by selling players.
There are de facto private clubs, like FK Sarajevo, the team that was funded and controlled by Vincent Tan before he “sold” his “controlling rights” to Vietnamese businessman. But the amounts of money invested in domestic football are far from significant. Clubs rarely buy players or pay transfer fees.
Do most of the country get behind the Bosnian sides playing in Europe, or is there a lot of tribalism still apparent?
Well, it depends. Bosnia is a very complex society, profoundly affected by the war and ethnic divisions. I would say that if any Bosnian club advances in later stages of European competitions, most of the people will back him for the fact that this would be seen as the progress of Bosnian football in general.
How is the EL viewed in general by Bosnian football fans?
As most, Bosnians do see Europa league as worse out of two European competitions, but this is from a neutral football fan perspective. If we talk about the clubs and their fans getting into Europa League is seen as the dream, most of them being well aware that the Champions League is for the big boys.
How do you think the Europa League 2 will affect Bosnian EL performances and what has been the reaction to the formation of the competition in Bosnia?
Most were satisfied and happy, hoping that this could be a chance to see a Bosnian club progressing to the later stages of European competitions. Everyone is aware that this will be third-tier football and that the quality of the game will be low in European terms, but most don’t care about that. People here want to see their clubs playing in European competitions.
In reality, this would be just another way of looking at the things through the pink glasses, but they desperately want the chance to put on those pink glasses and pretend to enjoy.
What would you like to see UEFA do to level the playing field more for small European sides?
That would take a lot of time to discuss because many things must be improved. For example, they need to get more involved in the youth development process; we want smaller nations to learn how to fish, not just to have a fish for dinner.
But many things should be improved, and I am afraid that they decided it is easier for them to create EL 2 and give these nations a third tier competition that would give them a false sense of importance while the big boys have the big stage just for themselves.
Interview with Bosnian football writer Saša Ibrulj
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Author: Tom Mortimer
Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created HungarianFootball.com and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer, Goal.com, among many others.