- A traditional club over time
- Dinamo, Mamić and mysterious intrigues
- Dinamo’s connection to Lokomotiva Zagreb
When looking at Croatian football, NK Lokomotiva Zagreb is probably not one of the clubs that first comes to mind. The reasons are obvious. For decades, Lokomotiva (founded in 1914) bumbled around in the lowest Croatian leagues; hardly any fans and an outdated stadium contributed to this. But since 2007, a lot has happened in Zagreb’s Kajzerica district. In cooperation with the big neighbor Dinamo Zagreb and especially the two brothers Zoran Mamić (coach at Dinamo until March 15, 2021) and Zdravko Mamić, president of the record champions until 2016, Lokosi managed to climb to second place in the league in 19/20 and played in the Champions League qualifikation round. But how did the small local Zagreb club, which has always been more than overshadowed by the national leader Dinamo Zagreb, manage such a meteoric rise? An analysis.
2. A traditional club over time
Like so many sports clubs, Lokomotiva went through a difficult period between 1914 and 1945. But with the renaming of the club to NK Lokomotiva Zagreb after the end of the Second World War, a new era began – the post-war period was the turning point into one of the most successful periods for the club. Thus Lokosi, as Lokomotiva is known in much of Croatia, went through the greatest successes of the last century in the late 1940s and the 1950s. In 1952, for example, Lokomotiva managed a sensational third place behind the power houses of the time, Hajduk Split and Red Star Belgrade. But after that, Lokomotiva went downhill. After relegation in 1957, they never returned to the top Yugoslav league.
A look at the chart shows that the so successful 2019/20 season was mainly able due to a strong offensive line. In that context, the three top scorers Tolic (11 goals), Uzuni (9 goals) and Kastrati (11 goals), who all left Lokosi in the summer of 2020, are particularly noteworthy. In the current season, it is primarily Tolic and Kastrati (both transferred to Dinamo Zagreb) who are missing, as they had a high impact especially due to their conversion rate of well over 30%. The fact that Lokosi has completely lost this offensive power in the current season is shown by the data on the chart, which in the current season are all (!) below the values of the previous season. Consequently, after the current 25 matches played in the league, they only scored 18 goals compared to 38 goals (also after 25 match days) in the previous season. In terms of attacking play, it is also noticeable that the right side has been used much less frequently this season. Kastrati was the all-important man here, creating 0.91 chances per game, playing 1.33 key passes (goal-scoring assists) and attempting almost 7 dribbles/game. With 7 assists he was the best in the team, though the stood at 13 expected assists; the sometimes weak chance conversion of his colleagues denied him more assists. It is therefore not surprising that Lokomotiva is currently in last place in the table and might face relegation in a few weeks.
Despite all this, the success of the last few years should not be forgotten! As can be seen from recent performances, despite the current difficult season, success has returned to Kajzerica since 2007. But the record of the last few years raises the question of how Lokosi managed to rise to Croatia’s Belle Etage with very limited resources, as the three promotions were already under questionable conditions.
3. Dinamo, Mamic and mysterious intrigues
There is probably no one in Croatian football with whom the current success of Lokomotiva Zagreb could be more closely associated than with the name Mamić. Those who deal with the club’s recent history must therefore inevitably also deal with Dinamo Zagreb and its former president, as the two clubs are closely linked. But let’s take it one step at a time. Zdravko Mamić’s dynamic in Croatian football took off in the early 1990s when he took a leading position at Dinamo Zagreb. Since the club had been in the hands of the city of Zagreb until then, Mamić wanted to privatise it, but this was not granted to him. Consequently, he moved on to various other Croatian clubs until he finally returned to his heart’s club in 2000.
But Mamić is far from only concerned with the club’s well-being; rather, he is regarded as an unscrupulous functionary who has always had a lot of dirt on him. In 2003, during his work at Dinamo, it became clear for the first time how power-obsessed Zdravko Mamić really is. His first act as the new president of the club (2003 – 2016) was to set up a completely new committee in line with his ideas, after he had dismissed the old one that had previously appointed him as president. In 2003, he also became vice-president of the Croatian Football Association, which further underpinned his ambition for power. Through his positions, he thus builds up a large network over the years, whereby his influence reaches not only into all corners of Croatian football, but also into national politics. But that is not all!
Zdravko Mamić is always supported by his younger brother Zoran, who was Dinamo’s sports director for many years (2007 – 2016) and even coach from 2013 until 2016. At the latest, this makes it clear how much the Mamiçs control what happens at Dinamo. The fact that both take advantage of their connections to enrich themselves became public in the course of several proceedings against the football officials. After both were arrested and remanded in custody in 2015, they were sentenced to several years in prison in 2018. The Mamićs are accused of owing Dinamo Zagreb and the Croatian tax authorities a sum of 130 million kuna (17 million euros). In a further trial, Zdravko Mamić is also suspected of having embezzled a sum of over 15 million euros in connection with player transfers! He is accused of having concluded private contracts with players over a period of years via the player agency ASA International Agency, which is run by his son, and which allegedly guaranteed him a part of the players’ salaries. But after the brothers appeal, they were released despite a great deal of incomprehension.
Zdravko Mamić then fled from the Croatian justice system to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he remains to this day in the pilgrimage site of Medugorje. Meanwhile, younger brother Zoran returned to Dinamo in 2019 after a three-year pause, where he took over the post of sports director and later again that of the coach. The fact that Zoran is granted this at all due to his past machinations is thanks to his older brother Zdravko, who continues to pull the strings behind the scenes at Dinamo despite his official role as a mere club advisor.
4. Dinamo’s connection to Lokomotiva Zagreb
Zdravko Mamić’s sympathy for traditional former Yugoslavian clubs is well known, as is evident from the example of NK Lokomotiva Zagreb. Despite his position as Dinamo president, he wants to further increase his influence on Croatian football. In the process, Dinamo took over its small neighbour from Kajzerica under Mamić’s rule in 2007. Although Lokomotiva seems unprofitable for a commitment due to the aspects already mentioned in the introduction (stadium, fans, sporting performance), Mamić sees his task as bringing a former Yugoslavian club with a great tradition back to life. But it quickly becomes clear that he is again pursuing mysterious machinations with this project. First of all, it is worth mentioning that his involvement has been essential for Lokomotiva to attract international attention, in addition to the presentable results at national level, through participation in the 2020/21 Champions League qualifiers against Rapid Wien (Lokomotiva was eliminated due to a 0:1 defeat). Nevertheless, Mamić’s basic intention of the takeover is to use Lokomotiva as a farm team for Dinamo and to enrich himself privately in this way (private contracts). As can be heard from Croatian sources, the cooperation is compared to the Red Bull empire and therefore met with great rejection among the country’s football fans. Mamić also does not invest in the infrastructure, uses his money only to improve the squad, which clearly underlines his financial intentions.
To demonstrate the bond, a quick look at the transfer flows between the two clubs is enough. Since the takeover in the 2007/08 season, there have been no less than 144 transfers from Dinamo to Lokomotiva! Involved in this process, however, is not only Dinamo’s first team, but also their second team and the U19. A look at the average age of the players at the time of transfer makes it clear that young players are primarily transferred to Lokomotiva in order to give them the playing time they need. Accordingly, players transfer to Lokomotiva at an average age of 21.36 years. However, it can be seen that the flows have decreased significantly since the 2017/18 season, which could be related to the verdict against the Mamićs – there is no substantiated evidence for this. On the left we have put together the top eleven Lokomotivas from recent years – all top players with the exception of Grbic moved directly to Dinamo. Uzuni, Budimir, Datkovic and Bartolec to other clubs.
In addition to an optimal training facility for Dinamo, the Croatian record champion also secures advantageous access to Lokomotiva’s talents with this cooperation. This is particularly evident in the examples of Lovro Majer, Marco Pjaca and Luka Ivanusec. The latter transferred to Lokomotiva’s U19s in the summer of 2015 before leaving the club for Dinamo in the 2019/20 season (transfer fee: €3 million euros). His performances show that his spell at Lokosi has paid off. Despite a low number of assists (0.19 expected assists per 90 minutes), he is one of the most active players in his team with 10 offensive duels and an average of 4.5 dribbles (58% successful) per game. A similar type of player is Lovro Majer, who also left Lokosi for Dinamo in 2018 after five years for €2.5 million euros. Despite recurring injuries, the advanced playmaker is a regular at Dinamo. The game stats of the 2020/21 season provide the reasons for this: With an average of 0.78 created goal-scoring opportunities, 1.28 key passes and 4.6 dribbles (55% successful) per game, Majer always causes trouble for the opponents. This is why it is not surprising that clubs such as Wolfsburg, Marseille and Florence have already expressed interest in the 23-year-old Croatian. Mention should also be made of Marko Pjaca (currently Genoa CFC), who also had his beginnings with Lokomotiva and Dinamo. However, Pjaca has hardly developed in the last three years, which is especially evident when looking at his market value development. While the 25-year-old had 7 dribbles per 90 minutes during his time at Schalke (60% successful), in 2020/21 he has only dribbled 4.8 times (56% successful). Pjaca is also currently only league average in the number of key passes per game.
The example of Ivo Grbic shows that the career path of a Lokosi player does not necessarily have to include Dinamo. The 25-year-old goalkeeper left Lokomotiva in 2020 for Altético Madrid, where he has not yet made an appearance. With regard to the current crisis at Lokomotiva, it should be noted that the defensive weakness (41 goals conceded in 25 league games) is directly related to Grbic’s departure. With 0.56 prevented goals (best in the league in 2019/20), 3.87 saves and 1.44 super saves per game, he was one of the strongest goalkeepers in the Croatian HNL.
The most famous former Lokomotiva player, however, is undoubtedly Marcelo Brozovic. The deep-lying playmaker, who made his way via Lokomotiva and Dinamo to Inter Milan, has had the most successful career of all the above-mentioned players in terms of market value. As an undisputed starter, Brozovic supplies his team especially with his good passing values (20.94 forward passes -> 5th best value of all Serie A ZMs) week in week out. At the same time, however, the example of Brozovic also demonstrates that despite a high talent density at Lokomotiva and Dinamo, only very few make it to a career at world class level.
Lokomotiva’s success in recent years is definitely closely linked to the commitment of Dinamo Zagreb and the Mamićs. Since the cooperation with the Croatian record champion, Lokosi have not only managed to return to the Croatian top flight; the club from Kajzerica has also drawn attention to itself in two cup finals and Champions League qualification. Despite all these successes, the cooperation leaves an insipid aftertaste due to the Mamićs’ role.
But especially in view of the latest developments, it will be exciting to see how the relationship between Dinamo and Lokomotiva will develop in the future. Only on Monday, 15.03.2021, the Croatian Supreme Court confirmed a multi-year imprisonment for Zoran Mamić, whereby he resigned from all his posts with immediate effect.
This means that Zdravko Mamić loses his strongest supporter and string-puller in Zagreb, which could have a fundamental impact on the future direction of Dinamo. It therefore remains to be seen whether and to what extent the current Dinamo president Mirko Barišić can and will break away from Mamić’s supremacy in the future. Meanwhile, it is also unclear what the future holds for Lokomotiva Zagreb. It seems conceivable that Dinamo will distance itself from its neighbour for the time being due to the current turbulence surrounding the club, as the two Mamić brothers, who have primarily profited from the cooperation, seem to be gradually losing the upper hand. As a relegation seems to be quite possible, it seems questionable whether Dinamo still sees any benefit in a continuation of the cooperation. The future will show.