5 Hottest Teenage Prospects from Croatia

Aleksandar Holiga@@AlexHoligaFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2014

5 Hottest Teenage Prospects from Croatia

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    Croatia somehow never ceases to produce amazing young football talents who attract the attention of major European clubs. So who are the next wonderkids from this tiny nation marked in scouts’ notebooks?

    This summer, three Croatian teenagers have already made big moves.

    Alen Halilovic, the highly touted 18-year-old, joined Barcelona and is currently training with the first-team squad, although he’s this season expected to hone his skills in the Catalan giants’ B team. His former Dinamo Zagreb team-mate Robert Muric left for Ajax, a club famous for developing young talent.

    Mario Pasalic was signed by Chelsea and immediately loaned to Elche in Spain. The former Hajduk Split player is a year older than the former two and, unlike them, had already become a key player for his club before moving abroad.

    There’s always talk of the danger of moving “too early.” Recent years have seen many hot prospects failing to live up to their potential after making a career leap to a wealthier team in a bigger league.

    But the matter of fact is that top clubs only want teenagers from a league like Croatia’s.

    In 2008, Luka Modric moved from Dinamo to Tottenham Hotspur two months before his 23rd birthday. That sort of deal is very unlikely to happen these days. The age of recruitment has dropped significantly and clubs are regularly forced to fight temptations from big-name suitors before their most talented players can leave their true mark on the pitch.

    If they wait for too long, the interest for the player might decline, as well as the sums on offer, or the youngster might not make a very successful transition to senior football. The transfer business is all about timing, particularly in a small country with a poor domestic league standard.

    Croatia’s MAXtv Prva Liga is already in full swing and a few teenagers have been making waves since the competition started four weeks ago. The following pages examine the most promising among them.

Nikola Vlasic

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    Club: Hajduk Split 

    Age: 16 

    Position: Attacking midfielder/winger/second striker

    Since scoring on his debut as the youngest player in club history, in a Europa League qualifier against Dundalk in Ireland, this kid has become irreplaceable in the squad. And he’s two months shy of his 17th birthday.

    Nikola Vlasic possesses amazing ball-handling skills and impressive tactical intelligence, but what really sets him apart is his athleticism and stamina, which is unmatched among his peers. Little wonder, given he has had the unique privilege of working individually with a renowned fitness expert ever since he was four—his father, Josko, is a former decathlete who previously made Nikola’s sister a world champion high jumper.

Marko Pjaca

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    Club: Dinamo Zagreb 

    Age: 19 

    Position: Winger/attacking midfielder

    Strong and skilled, Marko Pjaca is the kind of player who is suitable for any position behind the striker and could develop into a classy attacking playmaker.

    Pjaca has represented his country in every age group from U17s to U21s, typically as the youngest member of the squad. This summer, he transferred from Lokomotiva Zagreb to Dinamo and has already recorded two goals and three assists in seven appearances.

Marko Rog

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    Club: RNK Split 

    Age: 19 

    Position: Attacking midfielder

    He came out of nowhere. More precisely, he came from the third-division side NK Varazdin, previously one of the more successful clubs in Croatia before they went bankrupt in 2012 and degraded to amateur status.

    RNK Split discovered Marko Rog and brought him into their squad this summer, just before the player’s 19th birthday. Almost instantly, he became a starter and impressed with his technique on the ball, work rate and vision. He has recorded one goal and two assists in his seven appearances so far, but basic stats only tell a tiny part of the story: Rog is a joy to watch and has been instrumental in his club’s unexpected European success.

Ante Coric

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    Club: Dinamo Zagreb 

    Age: 17 

    Position: Attacking midfielder

    Having spent four years in Red Bull Salzburg’s youth academy, Zagreb-born Ante Coric was brought to Dinamo last year. The Croatian champions paid almost a million euros to bring back the talented youngster to his homeland.

    He might well be worth of that kind of money, and though he’s only just starting to make his way into the first-team squad, his kind of talent is impossible to miss. Coric has that something special in him and is set to follow the path of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Alen Halilovic.

Andrija Balic

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    Club: Hajduk Split 

    Age: 17  

    Position: Central midfielder

    The long-haired, slick-moving kid has been part of every Croatia youth team from U14 to U18 and this year signed a professional contract with Hajduk Split. He has magical first touch and spatial intelligence, looking destined to become a leader on the pitch.

    The club understands that Andrija Balic, unlike his Hajduk and Croatia team-mate Nikola Vlasic, has to be nurtured very carefully, so they have been rationing his appearances and slowly introducing him to the team. But if this kid continues to develop the way he has so far, he could turn into a midfield genius very soon.