A Little Story about Football and the President of the State

Many were convinced that the court simply could not convict him. However, that is exactly what happened. Zdravko Mamić, the owner of Croatian football, was sentenced on a long-term prison term on Wednesday, June 6, at noon. He probably knew for the court decision and therefore he travelled to a neighbouring state, Bosnia and Herzegovina, just a day before, where, during his prayer in Medjugorje (pilgrimage centre), he announced to the Croatian public that his answer to the verdict would be terrifying and shocking. He said that he would say much more than anyone could think.

The reasons for the conviction are not what is the most interesting, nor the connection between two great football players Luka Modrić and Dejan Lovren with the indictment, even less the discomfort of the European football federation. I want to answer only one question: why the non-enforceable conviction of Zdravko Mamić has become so important an issue of Croatian politics.

It would be too little if we would be satisfied with the answer that Mamić kept not only notes on agreements with a lot of players whom he sold in richer football environments or even the most prestigious European clubs, but also evidence of such and different conversations with individuals who received or maybe even today receive important Croatian state decisions. That is why it would be tempting and probably interesting to describe Mamić’s contacts, meetings and various forms of assistance to Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović. And that would be too little and almost superficial.
I have to go back.

On May 26, 1960, Zdravko Mamić was less than a year old, there was one of those football matches that completely exceeded its competitive intention. The teams of Belgrade Partizan and Zagreb Dinamo were playing. The problem was that Partizan had to win, as a club formed after the model of Moscow CSKA, had to win. Similar to CSKA being in a possession of the command of the Soviet army, Partizan was within the power of the General and General Staff of the Yugoslav Army.

Legendary Dražen Jerković played for Dinamo then, and gave Partizan more goals than the referee, otherwise the Yugoslav army officer, could annul. Dinamo won, the players received a prestigious trophy at the end of the game, and Jerković, the team’s captain, had to say a few words. He thanked and added everything that was needed at such a celebration. Then, probably at the very end, a fatal thing happened. He said that he would take the acquired trophy to beloved Zagreb, a cradle of Croatian football. During that time, that sentence was too much. The stadium went numb, the Croatian public celebrated it. The president of Dinamo football club, Ivan Šibl, had to resign in all his political positions, Jozo Šentija, director of the Zagreb radio who directly broadcasted the speech, was dismissed.

The plot did not end there. The president of the Yugoslav football club Partizan was a fan of football, a regular visitor of weekly games, General Franjo Tuđman, who at that time returned to Zagreb for taking over his new position. Dinamo fans hated him. he was a symbol of Partisan and referee guilt.
Not completely literally, because he was still a child, but the rise of Zdravko Mamić started right then.

When Franjo Tuđman came to power in the 1990s, he became Croatian president and immediately wanted to change the name of the football club Dinamo. The formal reason was that the name Dinamo connects Zagreb with the East European capitals and Moscow, which cannot be freed from the succession of communism. Dinamo was first renamed to the Croatian Academic Sports Club Građanski, soon afterwards to the football club Croatia. Tuđman calmed down his unpleasant memories of the sixties. To completely free from them, he invited coach Miroslav Blažević from France to Zagreb, who, during the cold years, delivered the tickets for Zagreb’s Dinamo games to him. Tuđman had two goals. Firstly, that the club Croatia become the most recognizable promotional symbol of the Republic of Croatia among the political and economic European elite, and the other, to become a permanent member of the most prestigious European League, the Champions League.

For all these plans, money was needed, a lot, a lot of money. Insurance companies, state-owned companies and banks, also state and city budget of Zagreb, opened wide. At the same time, democratic resistance strengthened. First of fans, who wanted to have back the name of Dinamo, and also the democratic public. Tuđman’s answers were angry. The sixties and memories of them were not forgotten. That is why he said that the return of the name Dinamo would mean surrender to the nostalgia of Bolshevism and the demands of all those social groups that want the return of Communism and Yugoslavia.

Around that time, Zdravko Mamić came to the club, and he knew exactly where his place was in that octopus and a mixture of money, politics and secret services, which took care that Croatia was always a national champion at least “at home”.

When Tuđman was already sick, his trustee and then president of the football club Croatia, Zlatko Canjuga, informed the leadership of the ruling party that the deadly ill president of the country told him that Croatia could be renamed to Dinamo. Canjuga was convinced that this would bring him and the party the necessary voters in the new parliamentary elections.

Mamić, who participated in this operation, became the sports director of the club, a boss of rich club treasury, a guardian of financial transactions and a seller of the best Croatian players. Shortly afterwards, the decisive vote of the Croatian Football Association. His power grew tremendously. State politicians and governments changed, he stayed, and every time they came to him for voting assistance. He was a personal friend and dear guest of Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Precisely she, then the president of the state, on February 5, 2016, informed the head of Croatian secret services Dragan Lozančića that he no longer enjoyed her trust and demanded his resignation. The reason for her apparent anger was fear. Fear was associated with Mamić. The State Prosecutor informed the President that he was her donor, the benefactor and organizer of her birthday party and various other lunches and dinners, the target of interception and other steps of the secret service, that Lozančić did not want to warn her about interception and that her chats with Mamić were part of extensive documentation.

Zdravko Mamić will obviously live in Herzegovina for next several years and occasionally inform the Croatian public about the contents of his confidential notes.

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