Luka Modrić’s first season with Real Madrid in La Liga has not going quite to plan after he and former Arsenal player Alex Song, now at Barcelona, were jointly voted as the worst signings of the year by readers of Spanish newspaper Marca. The talented Croatian midfielder to be fair has struggled to adapt to life in Spain with chances in the first team limited to only eight starts and five more appearances from the substitutes bench. But no one doubts the player’s ability as he so often demonstrated at Tottenham during his four years in the Premiership. Modrić, the club’s record signing at £16.75 million, was fairly unknown to most football fans at the time of purchase but was well-known to Spurs and a variety of other clubs across Europe who had been scouting the player since his breakthrough at Dinamo Zagreb. During his five years at Zagreb, Modrić rapidly established his role as playmaker in a youthful team which also featured the likes of Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandžukić and former Arsenal, now Shakhtar Donetsk striker Eduardo in its ranks. Zagreb has produced some of Croatia’s best players over the years and its latest star is looking to emulate Modrić by setting the Premiership alight.
Zagreb’s 16-year-old attacking midfielder Alen Halilović is quickly gaining more attention than most youngsters across Europe. It’s been quite the season so far for Halilović who only signed a professional contract with Dinamo in June 2012 but has already broken several records since then. Former manager Ante Čačić saw the potential in Halilović whilst he was playing for the team’s youth squad and quickly promoted him to the first team this summer. Two months later, the talented youngster was thrown into his first game, making him the youngest debutant in the history of Dinamo Zagreb, at the age of 16 years and 101 days. Eleven days later during Zagreb’s match against Slaven Koprivnica, Halilović came off the bench again to score a glorious chip over the opposition goalkeeper in Zagreb’s 4-1 victory, making him the leagues youngest goalscorer. Later on the same month, the player broke yet another record after making his Champions League debut against PSG, becoming the competition’s youngest participant. Only 6 months into his professional career, already Halilović is stamping his name firmly into the record books.
For a 16-year-old, Halilović is remarkably well-developed as a player. Despite his small stature (Halilović is only 5ft 1 inches tall), he possess superb balance, control and a frightening change of pace that have naturally drawn some to compare him to Lionel Messi. An all round player, he has a great passing range, eye for a goal and vision well beyond his young years, much to the enjoyment of the Dinamo Zagreb fans. Having only played 11 games this season for the first team, with two goals to his name, there is more to come from this talented youngster who may be lining up alongside Modrić for the Croatia national team before long. However as the son of Sejad Halilovic, who was a distinguished player in his own right and who played internationally for Croatia and Bosnia, Halilović will have to decide which country he is eventually going to play for. Until then, Halilović is focused on his club career at Dinamo, rather than be drawn on transfers or player comparisions:
“Dinamo Zagreb will decide what happens. All I have to do is try to improve as much as I can—everything else does not matter now. Just don’t call me Messi. I admire Leo, but I am a long way from him. For now my goal is to play well and to show the coach he can count on me”
The wonderkid, touted as the new Luka Modric, is attracting interest from Europe’s elite. Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Tottenham, Barcelona, AC Milan, PSG and Bayern Munich are only a few of the clubs who have dispatched scouts to various Zagreb games for a closer look at the player. It seems inevitable that Halilović will leave Dinamo quicker than Modrić did, but his next destination at this time is still unknown. Manchester City are rumoured to have offered £9 million for the player but his club knows that they can demand a much higher fee, especially given the money they have previously received for the likes of Modrić. Dinamo Zagreb’s sporting director Zoran Mamic was bemused by the low ball offer from City joking with the press that it wouldn’t buy Halilović’s left leg, nevermind the whole player:
“There’s no deal with Manchester City. We cannot talk about something that hasn’t happened yet. But the figure that is mentioned in the English media, for that kind of money we wouldn’t even sell his left leg!”
Halilović looks to have the world at his feet and it is only a matter of time before Zagreb accepts an offer they feel deemed appropriate for their latest prodigy. Regardless which team he moves to or which league he plays in, Halilović is destined to become one of the world’s best players.