HNK Hajduk Split have made a dream start to their centenary season, racing to the top of the Croatian First League and into the UEFA Europa League play-offs.
It was 13 February 1911 that a group of students from Split founded Hajduk in a pub in Prague, and 100 years later there is positivity ebbing from every pore of the club. Although attentions are firmly fixed on imminent domestic and European duties, Hajduk are also looking forward to a celebratory friendly against FC Barcelona next summer.
"We established good relations with FC Barcelona and we are ready to bring them to Split for a friendly match to celebrate 100 years of Hajduk Split," explained club chairman Joško Svaguša. "It would be wonderful to play against Barcelona's superstars next summer, but we want to host them as Croatian champions," added star forward Senijad Ibričić. "It's one of the reasons that I renewed my contract with Hajduk."
To achieve Ibričić's aim, Hajduk will have to end NK Dinamo Zagreb's five-year monopoly on the Croatian title. The early omens are good, however, with three wins and a draw taking them to the summit four games into the new campaign. Throw in the upcoming play-off against FC Unirea Urziceni, which is all that stands between Hajduk and the UEFA Europa League group stage, and coach Stanko Poklepović's excitement is understandable.
"I expect another fantastic atmosphere in our stadium and I hope we can achieve a result that leaves us with a chance in the second leg in Romania," said Poklepović. "Unirea are difficult opponents and they will be more careful after we knocked out their compatriots [FC Dinamo Bucureşti in the third qualifying round]. But our current play is giving me optimism that we can do very well on Thursday."
Ten goals for and none against in their past three fixtures suggest that Poklepović's confidence is well-placed. It is a buoyancy evident throughout the club, right up to Svaguša. "Around 30,000 fans are the best confirmation that we are going in the right direction," he said. "I hope we will keep on this path in the future. There is equality at every level within this club – everyone working here lives for the club and together we are strong."