How can the domestic league be improved?

The Jako football is used domesticallyOne of the biggest hurdles holding back Macedonian football is the pathetic state of the domestic league.

There is a strong correlation between a quality domestic league and a quality national team. Obviously, Macedonia will never be a top tier league, but can it move into the middle tier (ala Croatia and Slovenia) or is it destined to be a bottom tier league?

Some changes were introduced prior to this season. The league was cut from 12 teams to 10, but has that had an effect? I guess it remains to be seen, but that was a positive first step since Macedonia does not have the talent pool to support more teams than that. With a population of just over 2 million, of which a very small percentage are footballers, it is not realistic to have a league with more than 10 teams. I understand that can lead to some boredom with teams playing each other more frequently, but it is the right model. Countries like Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia all have ten teams in their top divisions as well.

Teams aside, one of the biggest issues separating those countries from Macedonia is infrastructure. The majority of pitches in Macedonia are in appalling conditions. The same can be said about the locker rooms and stands. It offers no atmosphere for players and/or fans to enjoy themselves playing the beautiful game. Even the pitch in the main stadium in Skopje is in rough shape right now. Basically, during the winter period, no team appears capable of taking care of a pitch. There is a lot of mud, leading to awful games that are painful to watch.

A possible solution could be turning most pitches to be artificial? That eliminates most maintenance costs since teams have proven to be uncapable of sustaining a natural grass surface during the winter period. There is a long winter break in Macedonia, but the pitches look terrible just before that break and also after the season resumes. That can be seen in the current state of the pitches.

What is obvious is that Macedonia will have a difficult time improving in football if its domestic league remains a joke. There is literally no fan interest in games. The attendance is brutal as most of the people that go to games are fan groups. Attendance by the general public is non-existent, the only exception to that being Shkendija who sees respectable crowds at home. As we all know, it’s difficult for players to sustain interest and rely on adrenalin in games with no atmosphere.

Another huge problem is player development. It’s gotten to a point where if a player is 21 years old and still stuck in the Macedonian league, his odds of turning into something are miniscule. There is a lack of understanding about the importance of nutrition and the impact that plays on the player. There is an old saying, “you can’t eat ajvar and be serious about playing football for a living.” There are certain foods to avoid to build up the stamina and fitness to play at a high level for 90 minutes week in and week out.

Some positive news out of the domestic league is that Vardar and Shkendija appear to have stable ownership situations that are investing in the team. Rabotnichki, on the other hand, focuses on youth development and they have been successful with that model. Many of their young players have made transfers abroad with that strategy of forcing youngsters. Renova also has a stable sponsor in the company with the same name, but they don’t spend much money on the football team. Meanwhile, the other six top division teams lack financial stability that make it tough for their players. Furthermore, players don’t have much protection when it comes to unpaid wages since a players union is not present in the domestic scene.

All of those reasons mentioned above make it very difficult for Macedonian teams to attract quality foreign players. The media went into a frenzy when Mohammadou Idrissou (Shkendija) and Senijad Ibričić (Vardar) signed in the winter, but the fact is that both players are way past their prime. Macedonia was a last resort option for both guys, and neither has been that impressive so far.

What are your thoughts on this issue? What are some steps that can be taken to improve the domestic league? Let us know in the comments section below.

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