Everything Real Madrid Fans Need to Know About Summer Signing Mateo Kovacic

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2015

Real Madrid's new player Croatian Mateo Kovacic thumbs up during his official presentation at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on August 19, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / DANI POZO        (Photo credit should read DANI POZO/AFP/Getty Images)
DANI POZO/Getty Images

We don't yet know how much football Mateo Kovacic will get this season, but what we do know is that he is keen to impress.

A little too keen, perhaps, as demonstrated by what happened at his presentation as a Real Madrid player.

He stood up to speak, flashed a nervous smile and said a line that he had learned, in advance of his move to Spain. "Bon dia a tots"—good day to all.

That would have been absolutely fine, if he were 600 kilometres north-east, in Barcelona.

But speaking Catalan in the Spanish capital, at his Real Madrid presentation no less, was quite a mistake to make, albeit one made in earnest.

The truth is that Kovacic had been expected to sign for Barcelona, not Real Madrid.

Ariedo Braida, on Barcelona's transfer committee, had confirmed that they liked the Croatian midfielder, per Sport.

All the noise was that Barcelona had been tracking him and would sooner or later pounce to bring in the youngster.

But Real Madrid acted swiftly and decisively to get him, sealing a deal extremely quickly, leaving little time for their archrivals to react.

Three or four days was all it took from making initial contact to the player putting pen to paper. It was a brutal operation, starkly different from the dilly-dallying over David De Gea and with an altogether more successful result.

Real Madrid's new player Croatian Mateo Kovacic (R) and Real Madrid's president Florentino Perez hold Kovacic's new jersey during his official presentation at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on August 19, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / DANI POZO        (Photo
DANI POZO/Getty Images

That makes it understandable that with thoughts of Barcelona swimming in his head, he said what he said. He'd probably watched a couple of previous presentation video clips to practise.

Kovacic's nerves were tangible at his presentation, and he even said afterward, as reported by Sport: "Madrid is the biggest club in the world and I hope I don’t let down the fans."

Madrid signing Kovacic will be a blow for Barcelona, with Alen Halilovic, a young Croatian on the Blaugrana books, saying his club should have moved for his compatriot.

"I don't know why Barça didn't sign Kovacic. He's really, really good. He's a player with a really bright future," he said, per Cadena SER (h/t Sport).

And Sport also reported Luka Modric's claim to Florentino Perez that Kovacic would be able to win the Ballon d'Or within two years.

That seems extremely unlikely, but there is no doubt that the midfielder is a talent worth paying attention to.

GIJON, SPAIN - AUGUST 23: Mateo Kovacic of Real Madrid duels for the ball with Sergio Alvarez of Real Sporting de Gijon during the La Liga match between Sporting Gijon and Real Madrid at Estadio El Molinon on August 23, 2015 in Gijon, Spain. (Photo by Jua
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

At €35 million, he didn't come cheap, but should he develop as projected, the price will be viewed as a bargain.

Madrid have signed a player whose best position is as a No. 8, deeper than the 10 but not deployed as a defensive midfielder, given his deficiencies in that side of the game.

That's not a position that Los Blancos use at the moment, instead opting for two players sitting at the base of the midfield, behind an attacking midfielder, two extremely attacking wide players and a striker.

However, given the way they dominate most matches at the Santiago Bernabeu, Kovacic playing in one of the defensive roles shouldn't be too tasking.

In fact, conscious that he will likely not be played in the No. 10 role, thanks to Gareth Bale currently occupying it, with James Rodriguez and Isco also angling for it, Kovacic said that his best position is this Madrid side would be defensive midfield, per Marca.

With 22 international caps already, Kovacic is destined to become a key player for his country, even if he may have to wait a while to break through at Madrid.

Croatia's midfilder Mateo Kovacic  listens to the national anthem before the Euro 2016 qualifying football match between Croatia and Italy at the Poljud stadium in Split on June 12, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / STRINGER        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKO
STRINGER/Getty Images

Toni Kroos and his friend Modric are the current first choices for the defensive roles, and he will have to wait until injury or suspension play their parts to get more than the odd appearance or cameo here and there.

Kovacic has progressed rapidly throughout his career. He was snapped up by Dinamo Zagreb at 14 and made his debut at 16, becoming the youngest-ever goalscorer in Croatia.

He moved to Inter Milan in January 2013, although his sharp development curve stumbled, failing to find the net until September 2014.

A precocious talent but not one who was a fixture in the side, given that he only started 26 league games last season for the Italian side.

Paolo Bandini wrote in the Guardian to explain that Kovacic's form was affected by the lack of continuity in the side, a problem that will affect him at Real Madrid. He said:

[...] Gazzetta’s Matteo Brega spoke for the majority of Inter fans when he lamented that the Croat: “Plays like the turn signal in your car: now he’s on, now he’s off, now he’s on, now he’s off again”.

That is not entirely Kovacic’s fault. He was not granted much continuity after arriving at Inter, who have changed manager twice since he arrived – with each new appointment bringing drastic changes to the team’s tactical approach. Last season alone, Kovacic was deployed as a left-winger, a forward, a trequartista and a deep-lying playmaker.

Kovacic is obviously a skilful, promising player, but sooner or later, he will need to specialise in one position and really work on improving his game.

Hopefully Rafa Benitez, whose Napoli side faced Kovacic's Inter last season, has clear plans for the Croatian.


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