Senior Sports Editor
ZDRAVKO LOGARUSIC’s success story, and the taming of Jose Mourinho, have combined to cast some glowing light, through the dark cloud of corruption and turmoil, enveloping Croatian football.
It has been a March of the long knives, in Croatia, with some of the game’s most influential figures having been sent to jail, in a high-profile embezzlement, and tax fraud case, involving about US$33 million.
And, amid all this chaos, Loga’s success, in helping the Warriors qualify for the 2021 AFCON finals, and the story of how a Croatian club dumped Mourinho’s Tottenham from the UEFA Europa League, have provided a rainbow of light.
Dinamo Zagreb were back in North London last night, for a UEFA Europa League quarter-final showdown against Arsenal, just weeks after eliminating Spurs.
The irony, though, is that Dinamo, themselves, are at the heart of the chaos, and controversy, which exploded in Croatian football, last month.
Their coach, Zoran Mamic, was forced to quit his job, just days after facing Spurs, before being sent to jail.
His brother Zdravko, who was a former executive director at the same club, fled to neighbouring Bosnia, also had his six-and-half year sentence confirmed by the Supreme Court.
Former Dinamo director, Damir Vrbanovic, who rose through the ladder to become the head of the Croatia Football Federation, was handed a three-year prison sentence.
Vrbanovic was one of the three officials, of the Croatian Football Federation, who signed Logarusic’s UEFA Europa PRO Licence.
It’s a coaching badge, which was brought into the spotlight this week, amid reports questioning its authenticity, which first emerged in our sister newspaper, the Chronicle.
However, the CFF quashed all those concerns when, they told The Herald, through their head of communications, Tomislav Pacak, there was nothing wrong with Loga’s badge.
The CFF, just like other football controlling bodies around the world, are the issuing authority, when it comes to these coaching badges.
“Good to hear from you, we’re happy to see your team performing well with our coach Zdravko Logarusic,’’ Pacak responded, in an email, to questions from The Herald.
“We hereby confirm that Mr Logarusic earned his UEFA Pro Licence in 2013 at the Croatian Football Federation Football Academy and his current badge (identification card) is valid until 30 June 2021.
“So, from our side, there is absolutely nothing suspicious about his licence.’’
However, while it is clear Loga has a legitimate coaching badge and ZIFA, indeed, made their background checks, before appointing the coach, it’s the murky world of the CFF, which casts a shadow on everything that comes from their offices.
It’s hard for everyone to swallow, what comes from the CFF, as above board, in an era where:
l In March, 2014, a court in the capital, Zagreb, sentenced former CFF vice-president, Zeljko Siric, a former international referee who earned a FIFA badge in 1996, to a four-year jail term.
l Siric was found guilty of taking a 30 000 euro bribe for “fair refereeing’’ at a time when he held the position of the head of the Croatian Referees Commission, a very important arm of the CFF.
l He had been arrested, three years earlier, after a conversation with Hrvoje Males, the former president of one of the country’s top clubs, Hajduk Split, where he was secretly recorded asking for a bribe, in return for “fair refereeing’’ in the club’s matches.
l The conviction led authorities in Croatia to ban Siric for eight years, from working in the country’s football environment, and also cast some light on the underhand dealings, which continue to stalk their domestic game.
l In September 2015, the country’s star midfielder, Luca Modric, told the Croatian public prosecutor’s office, and the Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime, that Zdravko Mamic, who was then the Dinamo president and vice-president of the CFF, misappropriated, at least, seven million euros, from his move to Tottenham in 2008.
l However, Modric later changed his story, and absolved Zdravko Mamic of any wrong doing, in the case, leading the Real Madrid midfielder to be charged of perjury, for which he was cleared, after helping lead his country to second place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals.
l At the 2016 Euros, Croatian fans threw flares onto the field, during their national team’s match against the Czech Republic, as a form of protest, as they claimed their national team had been hijacked by a national football governing body, which was corrupt, and was under the control of some dark forces.
l In April 2017, Croatia’s anti-corruption authorities revealed they had charged three current and former officials from Dinamo, on charges of tax evasion and siphoning off profits from player transfers, involving an estimated US$33 million.
l Croatian media claimed, then that those charged were suspected of siphoning off, through some offshore companies, several millions in undeclared commission fees, from the sale of several Dinamo players, to foreign clubs scattered across Europe.
l In August, that same year, Zdravko Mamic was shot and wounded, in the leg, after being attacked by a two masked individuals, in the small town of Zidine, while he was visiting a local church, on the anniversary of his father’s death.
l Later, the same year, German TV WDR released a documentary, about the rise and fall of Zdravko Mamic, whom they described as the most powerful man in Croatian football, in which they said the case against him “provides insights into a criminal network in the country.’’
l In December, 2018, FIFA slapped the CFF with a 16 000 Swiss Franc (about US$17 320) fine, for the transfer of Nigerian player, Goodness Ohiremen Ayaji, outside of the Transfer Management System, in December the previous year, while top club, FC Rijeka were also hit with a US$10 800 fine.
l The Football Leaks documents obtained by German magazine, Der Spiegel, and shared with a number of influential news organisations around the world, and other partners in the European Investigative Collaborations network, revealed this was just the tip of an iceberg.
l Similar cases were also noted in the transfers of six other Nigerian teenage players, who all appeared to have been registered first by the CFF for FC Rijeka, between 2012 and 2016, even though documents showed their first registration had been with the Nigerian Football Federation.
l Some of these Nigerian players had moved to Croatia as minors, where they would wait until their 18th birthday, for them to receive their so-called “first registration” with FC Rijeka, whose owner is businessman, Damir Miskovic, one of the CFF vice-presidents, and honorary consul of Croatia to Nigeria.