Last year Croatia reached the Final of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. The team is presently 6th in the FiFA World Rankings. With a population of just over 4 million people and a land area less than two-thirds the size of Ireland, many asked why the Republic of Ireland could not also achieve these feats.
Those that watched the Republic of Ireland versus Gibraltar recently would probably admit the team is a very long way off reaching the World Cup Final. But if a country with a smaller population and area can do it why not us?
There are a number of differences between the two countries that make comparisons tricky. Firstly, Croatia has one dominant team sport - football. Ireland has four - Gaelic Games, rugby and football (or soccer).
The national league of Croatia, at first glance, is not too different to Ireland. A top division of 10 teams in both countries, coupled with low attendances at domestic games, means there are a number of similarities. What is different however is the composition of the teams.
Ireland is very much about growing indigenous talent. More than 90% of players in the League this season are from this island. This translates to just 58% in Croatia. EU players and non-EU (of which there are about 1 in 4) players constitute the remainder. In economic terms, Ireland does not tend to import talent. This is not the case across the vast majority of European leagues, Croatia included.
The export side is also interesting. For many years, Ireland benefited from favourable "terms of trade", and exported almost exclusively to the UK. From the 1940s to the 1990s, Irish players found homes at the best English clubs. However, since the mid-1990s the favourable trading conditions have vanished. Ireland has not adjusted however and we continue to export almost exclusively to a single market - England. Not necessarily to the Premier League anymore, but the Championship, League 1 and so on. A more productive route might be to do what almost all others in UEFA do - export to all countries.
A broadening of our horizons, both in import and export terms, is something we should all consider. It might be our first step to becoming more like Croatia.