Miloš Marković –
Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb (35,000)
Dinamo Zagreb Champions League Preview Club Details
Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb secured their eleventh consecutive title with two rounds to spare in the Croatian top flight last season. The last time a team managed to break Dinamo’s monopoly over the HNL Prva was when Hajduk Split won the title in 2005.
It was thanks to the incredible home record that Dinamo Zagreb got their chance to be crowned champions once again last term. The club has been ruthless at the Stadion Maksimir, as Dinamo have won 16 of their last 18 home games, amassing the total of 50 points in the process, 11 more than second placed Rijeka.
Arguably the greatest club in Croatian history and one of the most prominent clubs in the region, Dinamo Zagreb boast a long-standing production line of youth players that has kept supplying the first team with inexhaustible football talent since 1945. GNK Dinamo are renowned for their dedicated work with youth players, and for nurturing the top talent of the country, providing Europe with quality players that habitually go out to make prominent careers across the continent.
The first youth set-up at the club was established in the post World War II Yugoslavia, with former Građanski goalkeeper Maks Mihelčić being awarded the honour to take control of the junior team in 1945.
In 2001 Hrvoje Braović was appointed to modernize the youth levels of the club. Braović reorganized the academy, and ensured that every singly youth team had individual coaches. Braović also made significant structural changes to the way players were scouted, and since his reforms Dinamo have become one of the best youth development clubs on the planet.
As per usual last year’s team included several highly talented players. Marko Pjaca, Marko Rog and Josip Brekalo are now at Juventus, Napoli and VfL Wolfsburg respectively. But wunderkinds Ante Ćorić and Filip Benković remained with the club. All of the above mentioned players are expected to continue the stride down the familiar path of Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić and Alen Halilović, who have all emerged from Dinamo’s youth academy.
Ante Ćorić is definitely the most prominent player, as Europe’s top clubs—including Premier League giants Manchester City and Arsenal—were chasing the 19-year-old midfielder. Dinamo Zagreb’s Champions League participation—their fourth since 2010—will be a great opportunity for Croatian talents to present themselves to the European public once again.
Know your oligarch:
Although Dinamo Zagreb is a registered, as a corporate personhood—an organisation which is under no legal obligations to pay income taxes—the Croatian giants have for years been ruled by the notorious Zdravko Mamić, who had been claimed to have silently privatised Dinamo by shifting its ownership structure to unlawful public limited citizens’ association.
Exempt from tax obligation by constitutional law, Dinamo Zagreb allowed the executive president Zdravko Mamić to drain transfer money, as he signed lucrative deals with players he represented himself, as an agent. Years of suspected irregularities resulted in Zdravko Mamić’s arrest in 2015, when Mamić was arrested along with five other people—including his brother Zoran Mamić—for tax evasion, bribery and embezzlement. Mamić resigned from his executive role at the Croatian giants in 2016, but his ties with the club go deep beyond the surface, as the notorious executive is still believed to hold great influence over football dealings both at Dinamo Zagreb, but also at the Croatian Football Federation (HNS).
Dinamo Zagreb reached the group stages of the UEFA Champions League after a 3-2 aggregate playoff triumph over FC Red Bull Salzburg and have been drawn against the Serie A champion Juventus Turin, the French club Olympique Lyon and Europa League winners Sevilla from Spain.
— GNK Dinamo (@gnkdinamo) August 26, 2016
Heavily reinforced after their fifth Serie A title in the row, the Old Lady are keen to make a step further in their European escapades, and will be considered firm favourites to top the Group H. La Liga side Sevilla have gone through a major summer overhaul with trophy-laden manager Unai Emery now at Paris Saint-German, and with a couple of key-players from last season also out of the club. New boss Jorge Sampaoli has been challenged to pick up the pieces and will surely need some time to make his team as competitive again, but Rojiblancos are the force to be reckoned with. Lyon return to UEFA Champions League looking to pull a surprise in this evenly distributed group, but Bruno Génésio’s side will need all the luck in the world to get past Juventus and Sevilla in order to claim their spot in the knockout stage.
What to expect:
For the first time since 2015, Dinamo Zagreb will once again have the full support of their faithful fans, who return to the Stadion Maksimir after a two-year boycott because of Zdravko Mamić rule over the club. Packed stands of the Stadion Maksimir will undoubtedly be a huge motivation for Dinamo’s young squad, who will be hoping to repeat the 2015-16 heroics when they fought bravely to secure a 2-1 victory over Premier League giants Arsenal. For most of their Champions League history Dinamo have been a punching bag for their group rivals. This is unlikely to change this year, as Dinamo Zagreb will once again use their UEFA Champions League participation primarily to promote youth, which can then be sold of with a profit later on.
Futbolgrad Prediction: 4th
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A holder of Master’s degree in English language and literature, Miloš Marković worked as the Editor-in-Chief at Sportske.net. He now contributes to various outlets as a freelance journalist including the excellent homepage Baraž. Passionate about English language and football, Miloš Marković is also a huge Premier League fan. You can find him on Twitter under @milosemarkovicu.