Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina
One of the youngest national competitions in Europe, the Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Premijer Liga) has been organized the way we know it today only since 2002, no matter if football in this troubled part of the Bal-kans has been played since the early 20th century. The league is not free of problems, but the very fact that the country has one top tier that includes clubs from all territories, is a success in itself.
Country: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Organizer: Football Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina
In 1992, with Bosnia and Herzegovina declaring its independence from Yugoslavia and the war breaking out, football in the country was put in the fridge, inevitably. Some teams did play games, but they were friendly ones, and held (most of those) abroad, in countries with large Bosnian and Croatian communities.
Once the violence subsided, it was time for politics to deprive BiH of a truly national league. Teams from Herzegovina competed in their own championship, same as the teams from Republika Srpska, and of course Bosnia.
In 2000, finally, “Premijer liga Bosne i Hercegovine”, the Premier League of BiH was established, with the Herzegovina-based teams convinced to participate, knowing very well that UEFA and FIFA were not going to recognize officially any other football federation than the one based in Sarajevo, which was already a full UEFA member since 1998.
Still, the league was “incomplete”, since for two seasons it didn't feature any teams from Republika Srpska, the territory where Bosnian-Serbs form the majority of the population.
In 2002, the time had come for them to get convinced that there was no other way for their teams to play officially recognized football, and of course hope to participate in UEFA international competitions.
The Sarajevo-based football federation that organizes the league, experimented for years with the number of participants, before deciding to downscale the competition, in terms of teams taking part, hoping to boost its competitiveness, by limiting the number of teams to 12, which feels rather appropriate for a country of BiH's size and population.
As for Sarajevo and Željezničar, they remain big, but nowadays they have… company, since Zrinjski, a club from Mostar, have risen to BiH's football elite as well, looking like they have arrived there to stay.
Interestingly, the only player who has scored more than 100 goals in the league, is a relatively unknown Brazilian midfielder, named Wagner Santos Lago. Born in 1978 in Ilhéus, a coastal town north of Rio de Janeiro, he moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the age of 25, to play for (defunct since 2009) HŠK Posušje, After three seasons there, he signed at NK Široki Brijeg, ending up spending more than a decade wearing their jersey.
Wagner Santos Lago is also the only one to have played more than 300 games in BiH's Premier League, mostly because it's remarkably uncommon for any player, let alone a foreigner, to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina for so long. The vast majority of above average players spend a couple of seasons in a BiH team, before looking elsewhere, abroad, for a better contract.
The league and the country in general are in desperate need of improved infrastructure, attendances could be much bigger, other problems could be dealt with as well to improve the appeal of the league, but no matter what, people in the country still love their teams, football is the undisputed king of sports in BiH, and the Premier League can only see better days, as long as the overall environment in the country -economically- keeps improving.
Teams with most titles
Statistics of all clubs that have won the top league more than once, concerning the period 2000-2020.
By Dimitris Basias