Let’s begin a few years ago. In 2016 went bankrupt one of the most unbeliavable fairy tales in slovenian footbal. Football Club Zavrč, which originates from a very small town called Haloze, didn’t get the licence (a certificate, which allows you to play in First Division) to play in the highest league in Slovenia. The Club relegated into Second League and lost nearly all of the main sponsors and at the middle of the season went bankrupt. The next year similar happenned to FC Koper, one of the biggest clubs in Slovenia, in 2018 same happenned to their neighbours from Ankaran. Or let’s get backwards. In 2013 Nafta Lendava, in 2012 Primorje Ajdovščina, in 2011 Mura, etc. These are just a few examples, where Slovenian Football Association didn’t give a licence for playing in First Division to clubs, which cannot afford it, due to financial problems and big debts, either to Football Association or even to their players.
You will say that this is logical. We can understand that clubs that cannot afford to play in the best leagues where costs are extremely high, cannot participate in it. But what if we say that this situation is this often happenning only in Slovenia? This phenomena was seen in Europe in last five years only in Italy two times. In 2014 Parma didn’t get the licence for playing in Serie A because of the debt of 300.000 euros. (source: La Gazzetta Dello Sport) Parma was relegated in Serie D, which is fourth Italian Division. But at the end of the last season even worse happenned to Palermo, who had to close his doors.
I’m telling you this beacause it is nearly impossible to believe that in football, where money is circulating in enormous numbers, clubs still can’t afford to play in top divisions, although we are talking about a small country like Slovenia. However, the new economical crisis is approaching, the circulating of money will be limited and the same that happenned to Slovenian Football Clubs could happen to any Football Club in Europe and wider, including those clubs where money was never a problem.
Zavrč was in debt of 6000 euros, when Slovenian Football Association didn’t give him a licence. But this is a ‘’change’’ in comparison with Koper and Gorica. Football Club Koper, with Boris Popovič in charge, was relegated only into Fourth Slovenian Division (similar to Parma in Italy) because of debt of 3,6 million euros (source: Siol.net). Football Club Gorica had a little more than 2 million euros of debt but changed his administration and made some other quick changes in time, so that it was saved from going bankrupt. Our question, which is rising here, is why do have Slovenian Football Clubs such problems with finances?
The biggest amount of money clubs get from general sponsors and business partners, but these sum of money in Slovenia is relatively low. ”Times of Yugoslavia, when the money form sponsors was enough to ‘pay all the bills’, are gone,’’ says the new president of Football Club Gorica Hari Arčon. ”Problem in the Slovenian Football Area is, firstly, that this area is small, and secondly, that Clubs don’t get so much money from TV rights like clubs around the Europe. If we take the examples of our neighbours Austria and Hungary, we can include also Croatia, the money from TV rights are (in comparison with Slovenia) so high, that the minimal investment makes it enough for surviving of the club. This means that also the clubs, which are champions in Second Division, have a motive to come and play in First Division. But in Slovenia we don’t know this. Clubs don’t have enough sponsor money, because in Slovenia it is hardly to expect, that someone will finance football with all possible means.”
Because of this it is very typical in Slovenia, if we don’t include Maribor and Olimpija Lubljana, that clubs sell their best players to bigger clubs to survive. Is Slovenian Football so unatractive to foreign investors? ”In my opinion it’s not true,’’ says Pavel Pinni, one of the best coaches in Slovenian Football History, who won 3 consecutive Slovenian League titles and one Slovenian Cup title with Gorica. ‘’Slovenian Football Area should be attractive, because there are four Slovenian Clubs which at the end of the season qualify for Europe. In comparison with other smaller leagues, this is not so small number.’’ Secretary General of FC Aluminij, a club from another, for Slovenia typically, small town called Kidričevo Toni Pernat agrees with Pinni’s opinion and adds: ‘’Our Football Association made a big footstep forward in recognisability of Slovenian First Division. All the games are broadcasted on different TV Channels, but we can include also success of FC Maribor in Champions League.’’
Maybe it would be better for Slovenian Prva Liga if its football was marketed as a product. Slovenia is a country which played at the World Cup two times and one time at the European cup. Slovenia has FC Maribor which, as it is said above, has played three times in UEFA Champions League and three times in UEFA Europa League. Slovenian market is small, but for become more identifiable it should connect with some bigger market, so that the Football here would become more attractive and interesting. The best possible option would be a market of the top 5 leagues in Europe (English, Spanish, German, Italian and French), but which club in this leagues would be interested to connect with a club from Slovenian League, which is one of the worst leagues in Europe considering the quality of football? ”There’s a big difference to promote a club on a two million or sixty million market if we take the example of Italy’s Serie A,’’ adds Arčon. ‘’We cannot expect that the restitution will be in Slovenia as high as in other bigger countries, but on the area of marketing, there should be done something more in reference to our league.’’
There’s another problem present in Slovenia. Slovenian football lacks of the inner market. Two biggest clubs in Slovenia Maribor and Olimpija maybe should more attend in it. This means, that they should buy more players from Slovenian than other leagues, so that money remains in Slovenian area. This would definitely help Slovenian Clubs to survive.
What’s more, the presidents of Slovenian Football Clubs are not generally experienced in the field of Football Management so when it comes to finances they don’t have a clear vision for the future of the club. In most cases when they think that there’s enough money in the Club’s cash-register, they dream of a big investment that in the end can even destroy a club. Something similar hapenned to Gorica, a club with rich history and the second highest number of won trophies in Slovenia. Football Club Gorica was always at the top of Slovenian Football. Till the last season, it was the only club in Slovenia besides Maribor and Celje that didn’t relegate to lower league and always played in First Division. It’s hardly to believe that Gorica suddenly faced itself with a big debt on its shoulders. It’s financial management made a lot of mistakes, but also support of the environment was low, so that club wasn’t financially stable any more. This nearly led to bankrupt. ”In leading the club you must have visions, which is what the former financial management in charge with Robert Vrtovec didn’t have,’’ tells Arčon who is seen as a rescuer of Gorica. Nevertheless, he saved the club with the debt of 1.5 million euros.
At the end, we should address the Slovenian Football Association. Why don’t they help the clubs in need? Maybe because this is not following the European standards. And also, if Football Association helps one club, then it should be right, that it helps also the others. What’s more, we cannot expect from Slovenian Football Association thait it has that sum of money to help all the clubs in need.
It’s on the clubs to make decision whether to play in First Division or not. The decision to reject playing in First Slovenian Division is another phenomena, seen only in Slovenia. Roltek Dob and Aluminij are just two examples of the champions of Slovenian Second Division that refused to take part in Prva Liga. As we found out, playing in First Slovenian Division costs a lot, so Arčon advises that the clubs think about their approach, two, three and even more times. ‘’It is better to think more times than make a sudden decision which later shows as a big mistake.’’