How an absentee American businessman is killing a Croatian club

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michael glover - istra 2015
Duško Marušić/Pixsell
Michael Glover purchased top-flight side Istra in 2015, but a lack of investment and lack of interest has seen the team struggle to stay afloat

Christmas. It's the most wonderful time of the year. This is true for lots of people all around the world, but it would not have been the case for the players of Croatian club Istra if league rivals Dinamo Zagreb did not come to their rescue.

Dinamo are the most successful club in Croatian football, having won 18 of the 26 national titles since the country gained independence. Istra have never finished higher than sixth, and this season find themselves just above the relegation zone thanks to an uninterested American owner who has not paid the players since the beginning of the current campaign.

Istra's financial plight meant that the players had no money to buy presents for their children at Christmas until Dinamo's own players stepped in and collected money for them. The entire country was aware of the situation as Dinamo stepped in to hand over much-needed cash, but it was just the latest shocking setback for Istra, who have long been abandoned by businessman Michael Glover.

"Players are thrown out of their apartments because they do not have rent, some do not have 50 kuna (£6) in their pockets," goalkeeper Marijan Coric told 24Sata in December.

"How do I get to games and stay focused? How to get in the mindset for the match? Come on, tell me. Just a bunch of promises, nothing else. But I do not have the will to play football. So how can we play when the players do not know where they will be sleeping after each game?"

Glover became co-owner of the club in 2015, when his company Round Midnight Investments LLC bought the majority shareholding in the team from its previous Russian investors. Immediately, it was announced that Istra would receive investments in infrastructure and that their aim was to get the team into the Europa League and Champions League.

In his initial address, the businessman outlined his plans and looked to allay the fears of the club's fans: "From my experience, Croats are generally a skeptical people. When they see a foreign investor the first question is generally 'why are you here' and the second question is 'what do you want from us?' This skepticism has its roots in the history of the country and a sensitivity to having been taken advantage of both by fellow Croats and foreign investors."

The Croats were right to be skeptical about the foreign investor, with the club setting the record for the most games without victory in the 2015-16 season, only staying in the top flight thanks to a penalty win in the promotion-relegation playoff with Sibenik.

A final position of sixth in the following campaign was an improvement, but saw many players leave the club due to the fact their salaries went unpaid for months. At the start of this season, just seven or eight players turned up for training camp - which itself was delayed and began less than a week before the first competitive game.

The rules in Croatia mean that a player has to have not been paid for more than three months before their contract can be terminated, so many went six or eight weeks into arrears before they were paid and the cycle started again.

Tomislav Štrkalj Cibalia Istra 07112017

To ensure the club could compete in the 2017-18 Croatian First Football League season, other teams from the league like Lokomotiva and Osijek loaned players to Istra for free, with a couple more joining on loan from Turkish side Genclerbirligi.

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Defender Ivan Zgrablic returned to the club on a free transfer from Cibalia in January, and on his arrival stated "I know I will not get any money here." The 26-year-old was determined to help Istra and following the scoreless draw with his former club was involved in a protest alongside the fan group 'Demons', which eventually turned into a brawl, resulting in Zgrablic's arrest. He found himself imprisoned for two nights before being released on Sunday morning.

The city of Pula has also weighed in behind the beleaguered club, with Istra's players claiming that fans would not welcome Glover and that a witch-hunt could ensue if he ever comes back to the Mediterranean tourist spot.

"He would not dare to come here," on-loan midfielder Aljosa Vojnovic told Goal . "If fans get information that he is in Pula, they would be looking for him in the city, and he would never appear again."