Arsenal Transfer Rumors: Is 'Croatian Messi' on Arsene Wenger's Radar?

Rohan SubraSenior Analyst IOctober 16, 2012

KIEV, UKRAINE - OCTOBER 03:  Mateo Kovacic of GNK Dinamo Zagreb in action during the UEFA Champions League group stage match between FC Dynamo Kyiv and GNK Dinamo Zagreb at the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex on October 3, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Genya Savilov/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
EuroFootball/Getty Images

Evidence of Arsene Wenger's uncanny ability to spot supreme talent in young footballers can be manifested as a list consisting of Patrick Vieira, Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Nicolas Anelka and many others.

This reputation of his could be reinforced by Dinamo Zagreb attacking midfielder Mateo Kovacic, who has been called the "Croatian Messi." Though the origins of this nickname aren't certain, the 18-year-old is showing signs of promise, catching the eyes of big clubs.

Last year, reported that he was too expensive for Arsenal, but recently, a Give Me Football (GMF) article stated that the Gunners are interested in him.

Citing a Hungarian website, the GMF article stated:

"Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has taken a keen interest in the 18-year-old and believes he has what it takes to succeed at Emirates Stadium."

A Kovacic comparison Arsenal fans would be able to relate to is with Santi Cazorla. Like the Spaniard, Kovacic has very quick feet, the ability to wickedly change direction and a hugely important presence in the middle of the park, especially in a more advanced role.

Despite his speed, athleticism and great touch, one criticism of the youngster is that after a great run, his final ball can sometimes be slightly off. The positive to draw from that flaw in his game is that it's not a problem that is hard to be solved, like selfishness—it is an aspect of his skill set that will come with time as he gets older.

Not a lot of people follow the Croatian league in which Kovacic plays, but Dinamo Zagreb do play in the UEFA Champions League, in Group A, along with Dinamo Kyiv, FC Porto and, of course, money-splashing PSG.

Kovacic's senior career has been only at Dinamo Zagreb, but he was also in the youth academy at LASK Linz. He has not yet made an appearance for the Croatian first team and was not taken to the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine this year.

One of the lows of his short career so far was his leg break in 2009, which kept him out for a long time, perhaps stunting his development.

Nonetheless, at only 18 years of age, having made 51 total appearances for a good team like Zagreb is quite impressive. He even became the second youngest goal scorer in Champions League history, after scoring against Lyon last UCL season.

The big question is: How will he fit in at Arsenal? The answer is: he doesn't need to immediately.

While Dinamo have slapped an €18 million price tag (about £14.5 million) on him, it's better to buy him now while he is less expensive, rather than to see his price double before deciding to sign him. Plus, his growth as a player will be supervised by none other than Wenger, who is undeniably one of the best youth developers in football.

It's hard to see him get spots over Cazorla, Arteta or Wilshere right now, but in a few years, when those first two are over the hill, he will be peaking. In the meantime, he can get his match practice in less important fixtures, along with other stars.

Try to envision an attack composed of Mateo Kovacic, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thomas Eisfeld and Jack Wilshere (insert mean joke about all Arsenal stars leaving the Emirates). It really seems like a great scenario right now, but it will probably have to be sooner rather than later; why wait for a price tag that the Gunners may not be inclined to pay?

I think that Mateo Kovacic has great talent and that the best option is to buy him right now and continue to develop him in North London.

What do you think?

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