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.