Winter Transfer Window: Who’s Left on Rijeka’s Champion Team?

Daniela Rogulj

With most of Rijeka’s core off to start their careers at new clubs, who is left to lead the team after the Winter Transfer Window is complete?

Rijeka dominated Croatian football in 2017 and was fully deserving of their Croatian League and Cup titles. Rijeka coach Matjaz Kek’s footballers played some of the most beautiful and efficient football we’d seen in the country for a while, and Rujevica experienced an incredible euphoria all year long, reports on January 7, 2018. 

Wearing the title of Croatian champion and a participant of the Europa League group stage comes with its perks for the players – though Rijeka fans near and far cringe when the foreign club’s come knocking on Rijeka’s door. This bout of anxiety is what we like to call the ‘Winter Transfer Window.’ 

Rijeka, for example, has already entered 2018 with a lot of question marks. Only the crumbs remain from Rijeka’s championship team (Prskalo, Župarić, Elez, Zuta, Bradarić, Maleš and Gorgon), while Ristovski, Vešović, Mišić, Andrijašević, Bezjak and Gavranović have all said goodbye to Rujevica. Andrej Prskalo is no longer the big shot holding down the goal of the Croatian champion, Josip Elez is practically at the exit door, and Maleš, Župarić and Bradarić are all hoping for their international transfer. 

Matjaz Kek finds himself in an anything but comfortable situation today, and the Slovenian expert will be forced to rebuild Rijeka again. This time, Rujevica must be held up by the wings of other individuals, and Punčec, Mavrias, Pavičić, Puljić, Acosty are now considered key players in the starting eleven – a task that is never easy, especially when such crucial changes in play are done halfway through the season.

But how worried should Rijeka fans be? Believe it or not, something similar happened at Rujevica at the beginning of last season. Samardžić, Lešković, Močinić, Brezovec, Jugović, Kvržić (loan to the Šerif), Tomasov, Roshi, Bezjak and Balaj left Rijeka last summer – a crowd of seriously talented players. While they were rubbing their hands with glee at Maksimir, having everyone believe that Dinamo would have an easy road to the title of the champion, it was Rijeka and a batch of new players who convincingly led the club to their double crown.

Coach Matjaz Kek has already shown that he can build a team from scratch on several occasions, and Rijeka is far from being at the very beginning of the road. While it is true that Rijeka must build a new team, we must also remember that a large part of the existing playmakers is already familiar with the style and manner of Kek’s work. 

It’s hard to swallow the fact that the Croatian champion earned around 6.5 million euro on their key and best players (Andrijašević, Mišić, Ristovski, Vešović and Gavranović). For such class players, this price is considered far too low. Recall, 50% of the transfer money (worth 4.2 million euro) for Andrijašević went to Maksimir, Gavranović left Rijeka for free (and Pavičić arrived in return), Mišić went to Sporting for 3 million euro and Ristovski to the same club for 1.1 million euro. Meanwhile, Vešović has been heading towards Legia for modest 500,000 euro…

Rijeka could have been smarter and wiser in their transfer decisions, rather than selling off a brilliant generation of players for next to nothing. There are still the potential transfers of Elez, Bradarić and Župarić; and with the departure of these three, Rijeka’s cash box could be filled to the very top. To make this all worth it, the Croatian champion should collect at least 10 million euro from the final transfers, as everything else would be too big a sin for the club. 

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