Football Features

How Dinamo Zagreb could have lined up if they hadn’t sold their star players

By Squawka News

Published: 14:49, 21 May 2019

Since its inception in 1992, one team has reigned supreme over all others in the Croatian First League: Dinamo Zagreb.

Over the last 27 seasons, Croatia’s biggest club has won an impressive 20 league titles, including all but one of the last 14.

And it’s not hard to see why they’ve been so dominant considering some of the players who have donned the blue shirt down the years.

Virtually all of Croatia’s best players over the past couple of decades have at some point turned out at the Stadion Maksimir, whether they have risen through the youth ranks or been signed from smaller clubs across the country.

Sadly, though, whenever a player begins to show a hint of promise for the Blues, they are usually snapped up by richer clubs in Europe and rarely does one of their prized assets make over 100 appearances before leaving.

Fortunately, Dinamo possesses one of the finest youth academies in world football, enabling them to reinvent their side time and time again to cope with the loss of their most talented stars.

Had they managed to keep hold of all of their best players, though, they would undoubtedly be one of the finest teams on the continent at one stage or another.

Goalkeeper: Eduardo

Age: 35
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 99
Current club: Vitesse (on loan from Chelsea)

The only non-Croatian member of this team, the Portuguese shot-stopper arrived at Dinamo Zagreb in 2014 following a spell in Italy and enjoyed two successful seasons between the sticks, keeping 44 clean sheets.

Eduardo also has 36 international caps to his name and was part of Portugal’s victorious squad at Euro 2016, although he failed to make a single appearance. He signed for Chelsea in August 2016 but was released last summer without ever making a first team appearance. He was then resigned by the Blues, and immediately sent on loan to Vitesse, for whom he made 24 appearances this term.

Right-back: Tin Jedvaj

Age: 23
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 14
Current club: Bayer Leverkusen

So highly rated was Tin Jedvaj as a teenager that he only made 14 senior appearances for Dinamo before being sold to Roma, who beat a host of European clubs to his signature.

The versatile defender struggled to make an impact in the Italian capital but has fared much better since moving to Bayer Leverkusen, where he gradually forced his way into the starting line-up.

Centre-back: Vedran Corluka

Age: 33
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 79
Current club: Lokomotiv Moscow

Vedran Corluka joined the Dinamo Zagreb academy when he was eight years-old and after excelling in the club’s youth team, he graduated to the senior side in 2003.

Over the next four years, he established himself as a key member of the side and earned a move to Manchester City before joining Tottenham and then Lokomotiv Moscow where he was briefly reunited with former Croatia manager Slaven Bilic.

Centre-back: Dejan Lovren

Age: 29
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 60
Current club: Liverpool

Dejan Lovren spent most of his youth growing up in Germany but when he was ten years old his family relocated to Zagreb. He turned out for a couple of local clubs upon moving to Croatia and his form alerted the attentions of Dinamo Zagreb’s scouts in 2004.

Following a successful three-year loan spell with Inter Zapresic, Lovren became a first-team player for Dinamo in the 2009-10 season and his outstanding displays culminated in a move to Lyon, where he played for three years before joining Southampton and then Liverpool.

Left-back: Sime Vrsaljko

Age: 27
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 96
Current club: Inter Milan (on from Atletico Madrid)

Another youngster who made a big impression when he first burst into the side is the attack-minded full-back Sime Vrsaljko, who made just shy of 100 appearances for the club.

Vrsaljko won four successive Croatian league titles before leaving for Italy where he represented Genoa and Sassuolo. Following a couple of productive campaigns with the latter, he moved to Atletico Madrid in 2016.

He then joined Inter on loan with an option to buy, but the 27-year-old suffered an ACL injury and missed the second half of the 2018/19 campaign.

Central midfield: Marcelo Brozovic

Age: 26
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 99
Current club: Inter Milan

One of the few Croatians in this side who did not pass through Dinamo’s youth academy, Marcelo Brozovic instead started his career with Hrvatski Dragovoljac and also turned out for Lomotiva before achieving his big transfer to Dinamo.

He spent two seasons in Dinamo’s engine room and performed sufficiently well to earn a move to Inter Milan initially on loan and then on a permanent basis in 2016.

Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.

Central midfield: Luka Modric

Age: 33
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 128
Current club: Real Madrid

The star of the current Croatia side, Luka Modric was the golden boy of Croatian football when he was first making his way in the game with Dinamo, although a loan spell to Bosnian side Zrinjski Mostar was also pivotal to his development.

Just prior to starring at Euro 2008, Modric joined Tottenham in a big-money deal and he became one of the leading midfielders in the Premier League during his four years at Spurs, leading to a move to Real Madrid. Modric was crucial to Croatia’s run to the final at the 2018 World Cup and won the Ballon d’Or last year.

Central midfield: Mateo Kovacic

Age: 25
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 73
Current club: Chelsea (on loan from Real Madrid)

The obvious candidate to replace Modric for both club and country, Mateo Kovacic spent two years in the Dinamo first team and he showed such promise that Inter snapped him up in 2013.

Kovacic immediately became a prominent member of the Inter side and spent two seasons at the San Siro before moving on to Real Madrid in 2015. Although he was rarely a regular, Kovacic won the Champions League in his first season and repeated that feat twice more. He spent the 2018/19 on loan at Chelsea but didn’t exactly stand out.

Attacking midfield: Ante Coric

Age: 22
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 143
Current club: AS Roma

One of the most recent jewels in the crown at Dinamo and the last player in this XI to leave the club. After selling both Marko Pjaca and Marko Rog in 2016, Dinamo made it their primary objective to hang onto Coric but they couldn’t repeat the feat last summer and accepted a £7m offer from Italian side AS Roma.

An outrageously gifted technician who thrives playing the No.10 role, Coric clocked up 143 senior appearances for Zagreb and has been earmarked as Croatia’s next big playmaker, following in the footsteps of Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki and Modric. He has barely featured for Roma yet, but the Italians will certainly be hoping he lives up to his potential.

Attacking midfield: Marko Pjaca

Age: 24
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 93
Current club: Fiorentina (on loan from Juventus)

The arrivals of Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic at Juventus at the time overshadowed Marko Pjaca’s arrival somewhat and a subsequent ACL injury saw him sidelined for 6 month but the player still has potential

A versatile attacker, capable of playing on either flank or in the No.10 role, Pjaca’s goalscoring ability is highlighted by an excellent return of 28 goals in 93 games for Dinamo. Following his injury at Juventus he was sent on loan to Schalke in January 2018 to help his recovery with an option to buy. He spent the current season on loan at Fiorentina, who have an option to buy this summer.

Striker: Mario Mandzukic

Age: 33
Dinamo Zagreb appearances: 128
Current club: Juventus

Similar to Brozovic, Mario Mandzukic made his name elsewhere in Croatia with Marsonia and then NK Zagreb before joining Dinamo in 2007 aged 21.

It is with Dinamo that Mandzukic began to really flourish into a top-class centre forward as he struck 53 goals in 112 games, which led to a move to Wolfsburg.

Since then the towering frontman has gone on to play for European heavyweights Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Juventus. He recently signed a new two-year deal with Juventus, with whom he has won four Serie A titles.

Honourable mentions: Marko Rog (Sevilla on loan from Napoli), Milan Badelj (Lazio), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Jozo Simunovic (Celtic), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Eduardo (last at Legia Warsaw) Ognjen Vukojevic (Croatia Under-20s manager), Alen Halilovic (Standard Liege on loan from Milan), Angelo Henriquez (Universidad de Chile), Niko Kranjcar (Retired), Ivica Olic (Assistant manager of Croatia).