Regional soccer league mulled in the Balkans

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Others say such a unified competition would bring fans back to the now near-empty stadiums, attract foreign sponsors and boost the quality of soccer.

“The joint Balkans league would lead to a higher quality of football, it would attract more interest with football fans and the financial gains for clubs would be bigger,” Dragan Dzajic, former Yugoslavia star winger and now Red Star Belgrade director, said. “That being said, I don’t think that it will happen in the near future. The prospect of fan violence is often used as an excuse for the people who are opposed to the idea of a joint competition. I myself am not sure as to which way it would go, but I can see that others do it with no problems. Take basketball, for example, it attracts huge crowds and is played indoors, that makes it even harder to organize when it comes to security.

Those who support the joint league say it would prevent the departure of stars to high-revenue clubs, such as Croatia’s Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Serbia’s Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) and Bosnia’s Edin Dzeko (Manchester City).

While the former Yugoslavia league produced powerhouses such as Red Star, which was European champion in 1991, the separate leagues have struggled. Dinamo Zagreb, now the most successful club in the region, was responsible for the region’s last Champions League win, 3-0 over Sturm Graz in 1999.

UEFA President Michael Platini in 2009 said he was neither for nor against the regional league concept. If UEFA approves a joint league, it could lead to direct Champions League and Europa League berths for its most successful clubs. That could become an obstacle, because each Balkan country seeks to have its own clubs in the major competitions.

“We cannot go back,” said Davor Suker, the former Real Madrid forward who is president of Croatia’s FA. “We all have our countries and we all want to be winners and have our teams play in Europe.”

Red Star fans, who vehemently oppose a joint Balkan competition because of their hatred for Croats, recently displayed a huge flag with a crossed out map of the former Yugoslavia, reading: “No to the Regional League.”

Dinamo Zagreb fans _ the Bad Blue Boys _ share the hatred, this time for the Serbs, and have a warning: “If someone wants another war, let’s have the league!” said Damir Kusic, a Dinamo fan.

___

Marko Drobnjakovic in Serbia and Darko Bandic in Croatia contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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