Nowotny capture signals new era for Dynamo

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The Independent Online

Some clubs, it seems, just cannot live without controversy. Dynamo Zagreb, having hosted the first confrontation of a major European war when fans clashed in 1990 and enjoyed the favour of Franjo Tudjman, Croatia's first president, have a turbulent history.

However, recent investment has led to hopes they can establish themselves among Europe's top clubs. The former Germany international Jens Nowotny was signed on a three-year contract worth £1.5m - a sum unheard of previously in Croatian football - and they went on to secure today's Champions' League qualifying tie with a thoroughly emphatic 9-3 aggregate victory over the Lithuanian side Ekranes.

Everything was going rather too smoothly. Enter Dynamo's vice-president, the ebullient and eccentric Zlatko Mamic, who, for reasons best known to himself, celebrated with a Nazi salute. When journalists asked him about the incident, it is alleged he attacked them.

Such feistiness is characteristic. Three years ago, after Mamic had a planning application to build two office blocks in Zagreb rejected, he set about the director of Zagreb Institute for City Planning and the Protection of the Environment, Miljenko Mesic, with the crutches he was using following a knee operation. Mesic hit back, breaking his hand on Mamic's skull.

Mamic is, though, a man who gets things done, and was heavily involved in thrashing out Nowotny's contract. Thanks to sponsorship secured by Milan Bandic, the present mayor, this is the strongest Dynamo side since independence, the five league back-to-back titles they won in the late Nineties being sullied by the club's associations with Tudjman.

Perhaps, as Dynamo's staunchest fans insist, his involvement went no further than changing the club's name to Croatia Zagreb, but it is most certainly true that Tudjman "advised" Primorac to lose a game 6-0 to Dynamo in 1994. The modern Dynamo is moving out of his shadow, with Josip Kuze - a noted gambler who once staked his house as collateral - forging an attacking team based around the 21-year-old midfielder Luka Modric and the naturalised Brazilian forward Eduardo da Silva. There are even plans to develop their Maksimir Stadium.

One thing will always remain: the bronze memorial to fans killed in the war with Serbia. They are perhaps calmer now than in 1990, when they rioted with their Red Star Belgrade counterparts in what many see as the beginning of that conflict, but Arsenal will not find Zagreb an easy place to get a result.