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Explosion of foreign players in Croatian football first division

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HNK Šibenik’s recent signing of India international Sandesh Jhingan means this season 134 foreigners from 43 countries will be playing in the Croatian first division (HNL).

The players have come not only from Europe, but from all over the world, including Iran, Chile, Burkina Faso, Senegal, South Korea, Congo, Wales and now for the first time in 30 seasons India. 

The largest amount of imported players, 20, have come from neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Albania is next with 11 players followed by Colombia which has 9 players in the Croatian first division this season. HNK Šibenik, which now has a Colombian owner, has the most Colombian players in the league (6). 

Lokomotiva has the most foreigners, as many as 22, followed by Rijeka with 17 and Šibenik with 15. Hrvatski Dragovoljac has the fewest foreigners, only five among its 35 players.

This season foreign players make up 39.4% of the total players in the 10 first division clubs, which is a massive increase from just a few years ago, daily Vecernji list reported. 

A large increase in the number of foreigners in the HNL occurred after the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In the season that preceded the World Cup, there were only 77 foreigners.

“Silver in Russia turned everything upside down, obviously attracting many foreigners who became aware that Croatia is a great springboard for bigger and stronger European leagues. Unfortunately, in that inflation of foreigners, domestic young players suffer the most, who find it very difficult to develop and mature in senior competition,” Vecernji list wrote.

The number of foreigners in the 2nd HNL is also growing from year to year. This season there are as many as 69 of them, the previous season there were 62, and the season before that 53.

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The author of the article questions whether the second division needs so many foreigners, considering Croatia is renowned for producing talented players, and comes to the conclusion that it probably does not.  

“But it is easier to buy a ‘ready-made’ foreigner than to invest in a youth drive and create new players. And that is why the Croatian Football Federation should step in with its mechanisms, because the number of foreigners must be reduced. And not that because of these numerous foreigners, more and more domestic players are lost in the transition from juniors to seniors.”

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