Written By: Andrew R.
With the start of the 23/24 HNL season around the corner, clubs across the league have actively been signing new players for their upcoming campaigns. Today, we will go through all the moves made so far in June by each club, examining each club’s approach to a dogfight of a season in Croatia.
After winning their 24th league title, Dinamo seem intent on keeping a title-winning side intact despite rumors swirling around quite a few of their top players. Dinamo are looking to bolster their squad on the defensive end, with both signings supporting the center-back department. Dinamo’s first signing was Mauro Perković from Istra, a 20-year-old purchased for only 2M euros. Perković was loaned to Dinamo for the second half of the season, recording one assist in 8 appearances for the club. He made 17 appearances for Istra in the first half of the season and was a crucial part of Istra’s backline. Perković is also a member of Croatia’s U-21 squad and can potentially be an essential youngster for Dinamo this campaign. Dinamo’s second singing was Paris FC’s Maxime Bernauer, a 25-year-old French center-back who recorded 35 league appearances for the French side last season in Ligue 2. Bernauer was signed for a fee of 1.2M euros, a seemingly good deal for the caliber player Dinamo is receiving. Bernauer boasts an 86% pass success rate, winning 57% of his duels and averaging 71 touches per match. These stats show that Bernauer is a defender who can handle himself well on the ball and be reliable while playing from the back.
After winning last season’s Croatian Cup and finishing second in the HNL, Ivan Leko and his Hajduk side will have tons of momentum going into their next campaign. Despite only bringing in two players so far, Hajduk are looking to strengthen themselves with top-level players from all across Europe. First, let’s talk about Zvonimir Šarlija, a Croatian-born center-back who arrived at Poljud on a free transfer and back into the HNL, where he previously played for his hometown club Slaven Belupo in Koprivnica. Šarlija arrived from Greek side Panathinaikos, where he had 21 league appearances this season. Šarlija excels at creating momentum from long balls out of the back and bringing a solid 90% successful pass rate to the table. Hajduk’s other big signing is from EFL Championship side Sunderland – striker Leon Dajaku. Dajaku has 10 appearances in the Championship this season before being loaned out to Swiss club St. Gallen, where he made an additional 12 appearances in the Super League. Hajduk fans might be questioning what type of player they are receiving in Dajaku, as he scored 0 goals for both clubs this season. However, Hajduk fans should not be deterred from the signing yet, as he recorded four goals and three assists in League One in the season prior when the Black Cats were promoted back to the Championship. This signing is a wild card, as Dajaku may boost their season or ride the bench all year long.
After finally completing their brand-new stadium and selling a large chunk of their squad to afford harsh bills and player fees, Osijek manager Stjepan Tomas is presented with the challenge of rebuilding his squad while remaining in the top four. Tomas has a complex task ahead of him, as the Kohorta have high expectations for the club after a few rough seasons. Tomas’ approach has been to bring in players who played under him during his time at Sheriff Tiraspol. Those players include Renan Guedes, a Brazilian right-back, and Stefanos Evangelou, a Greek center-back. Guedes played six European matches last season for his previous side. Four appearances came in the Europa League and the remaining two were in Conference League action. Guedes’ European experience will be invaluable to the Bijelo-Plavi next season as they look to qualify for the Conference League and fight for a domestic league title. However, Evangelou’s background may seem a bit more sketchy at first glance. After making only four appearances in the Moldovan Super Liga last season, many Osijek fans question if Evangelou will be match-fit before the season kicks off. On another note, Osijek also brought in Oleksandr Drambayev, a 22-year-old left-back from Ukraine on loan from his parent club, Shakhtar Donetsk. The season prior, the Ukrainian youngster performed very well on loan for Zulte Waregem in the Belgian Pro League. He recorded a goal and an assist last season and has the Osijek faithful hopeful that he can dominate the left side of the pitch.
After falling short last season due to woeful results throughout their entire campaign, Rijeka hit the transfer market hard this summer. As of now, they are looking prepared to reverse last season’s results and get back to where they feel they belong. Despite rumors that star player Matija Frigan is leaving the club, Rijeka remain focused on the upcoming season and have made some significant moves. Rijeka started by buying two players from two Bundesliga clubs’ second teams. These players were Franjo Ivanović from Augsburg II and Marco Pasalić from Dortmund II. Marco Pasalić is the more notable of the two Bundesliga signings as he had previously represented our Vatreni at the U-17 level and later the U-21 squad. With Frigan being his teammate on the U-21 squad, Rijeka fans can look forward to possible chemistry built between the players if the youngster chooses to stay at Rijeka. Outside the Bundesliga, Rijeka strengthened themselves with a class signing of Marijan Čabraja from Scottish Premiership side Hibernian. While at Hibernian, Čabraja had 26 appearances across all competitions and will bring needed experience to Rijeka’s backline. Last season alone, Čabraja clocked 1,764 minutes playing for the Scottish side. His experience in a demanding Scottish league will transfer well to a similarly competitive environment at Rijeka. Lastly, two new midfielders will also arrive at Rujevica. Those players are Slovenian Dejan Petrović and Croatian Niko Janković. Petrović arrived at Rijeka’s camp from Austrian club Rapid Vienna, while Janković came from fellow HNL competitor Dinamo. With strength in multiple positions, it will be up to Sergej Jakirović to see what he can do with his new talent.
NK Lokomotiva Zagreb
After a subpar season finishing 7th place in the HNL and seeing Sandro Kulenović head back to Dinamo, the Lokosi needed to get their train back on track, and that is just what they did. Signing the most players so far this window, Lokomotiva are looking to improve with both veteran and young players for their next campaign in the HNL. After bringing in Croatian veteran Marin Leovac, a former Vatreni player with five caps and an HNL legend with 125 league appearances, Lokomotiva will bring skill and experience into their squad on the left side of the pitch. However, that is not the only defensive signing from the Lokosi – Ilija Mašić, a Bosnian center-back from Široki Brijeg who played lights-out football in the Bosnian league. Mašić recorded 31 appearances, three goals, one assist, and a giant tally of 4,036 minutes total in three seasons for Brijeg. Minutes like that show signs that Lokomotiva might have a reliable player on their hands. The Lokosi also brought in 18 year-old goalkeeper, Luka Savotić, from NK Jarun in the 1.NL. He played 16 games for the second-tier side and had four clean sheets. The Lokosi, however, did not ignore the attacking side of their game either, bringing in Montenegrin striker Ivan Bulatović, who made 33 appearances for Arsenal and netted six goals for the club as they reached a 3rd place finish. Another player is 18-year-old Macedonian attacking midfielder Feta Fetai of the Macedonian U-18 team. He recorded 13 league appearances at his old club, Rabotnicki, while having three caps for the U-18 Macedonia squad. Lastly, Lokomotiva picked up Dinamo Zagreb U-19 left winger Viktor Kanižaj on a free transfer. These signings could pay off for the Lokosi as they push back to their standard mid-table finishes.
NK Istra Pula
Last season, Istra rallied for an impressive 5th-place finish under manager Gonzalo Garcia, but with his departure, it will be up to Mislav Karoglan to replicate last season’s success. Despite losing key players from Garcia’s Istra side, Karoglan and the Istra board have brought in new players to combat the players leaving Aldo Drosina this summer. Istra introduced three new midfielders into their camp: Sebastian Nebyla from DAC in Slovakia, Unai Naviera from Athletic Bilbao, and Ivan Ćalušić from HNL competitor Hajduk Split. These players all arrived in Pula on free transfers. The most promising of the three midfielders lies in the Slovak, Sebastian Nebyla, who had five goals and one assist for DAC last season as they reached a second-place finish. Istra are also looking to build on their wide play by bringing in two wingers. Irfan Ramić, a Bosnian-born right winger of 18 years of age, joined Istra from FK Sarajevo, where he played 13 games for FK Sarajevo’s U-19 side and scored one goal in those 13 appearances. The other winger, the most random transfer so far in the HNL, is 24-year-old, Chovanie Amatkarijo, from Sint Maarten. He played for Swedish side Ostersunds in the Swedish second division and was able to find the net four times in his 12 appearances for the club. After declaring his allegiance to Sint Maarten, Amatkarijo scored and had two assists in his debut against Bonaire.
The Farmaceuti have been relatively active on the defensive side of the ball this window, bringing in three new center-backs this June. The first of the center-back trio is Luka Racic, a 24-year-old who formerly played for the Danish U-20 and U-19 teams. He left Sonderjyske in the Danish second tier with 28 games played and two goals. The next center-back is Bujar Pllana from Kosovo, who was an impressive asset to FC Prishtina last season. Coming in with 26 games played in the IPKO Superliga and scoring four times while having an assist to his name, Pllana is an athlete that Slaven will utilize on their backline next season. Lastly, the Farmaceuti will be excited to welcome back Vinko Medjimorec, a homegrown talent born in the Koprivnica area. Last season he played in the Cypriot first tier for Akritas in the second half of the season but on loan. During the first half of the season, Medjimorec played for fellow Cypriot club Karmiotissa. Medjimorec had 32 league appearances across both clubs this season and scored once. The Farmaceuti talent should have Slaven fans happy to have him back, as he could be vital in this new trio of center-backs arriving in Koprivnica.
Last season Gorica pulled off the unexpected – surviving the drop to the 1.NL when no one believed they would. Despite this remarkable achievement, Gorica have been quiet this window, only bringing in one reinforcement. The Goričani have brought in a Dutch winger, Sven Blummel, this summer from Dutch second-division club MVV Maastricht. Blummel is considered a talented play-maker and brings high intensity and pressing to any side that he plays for. In his last season with MVV Maastricht, he scored four goals and had six assists. Gorica fans can look forward to a well-rounded attacking player joining their ranks.
Rudeš have bounced back to the HNL for the first time since the 18/19 season but have been relatively inactive this summer. After landing Vatreni legend Robert Prosinečki as their manager, many assumed Rudeš would begin making some serious moves. However, they have only introduced two new players into the first team. Riad Masala of Bosnia and Vilim Kruslin from Croatia were promoted from Rudeš’s U-19 team to the first team. After almost losing the 1.NL title to Slavonian side Vukovar, Rudeš fans can wonder if these call-ups will be enough to keep them up in a competitive Croatian First Division.
Varaždin are the only side in this window to not bring any players into their squad. This approach is bold, as complacency can sometimes lead clubs down a slippery slope. However, another reason for their silence may be that they are patiently waiting for the right move to arise.
A fun season awaits. Who do you see lifting the trophy next year?