21 Midfielder Real Madrid Croatia
There are moments in games where he looks like he could make the ball dance if required. He can glide over the turf in that easy style of the greats, defenders on the floor somewhere behind him. He can make you sing with a pass, smile with a touch and howl at a shimmy. The problem is there are other moments in the same 90 minutes that make you grimace - the missed pass when all he had to do was look the other way, the wasteful finishing, the attempt to take on one defender too many - and there are other games that go by with neither, 90 minutes of “meh”.
2015 has been…
… more questions than answers.
As a great man once said, “I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”. At this point it’s clear that Mateo Kovačić has all the talent in the world but getting things together on the pitch, in order and playing consistently? That’s a different conversation.
His last season at Inter was comfortably his best but still there was a question over his ability to find a level to keep producing for 10 to 20 games without a dip. There’s also a question about where you play him to bring the best out of him; too lightweight to play deep, too unreliable to play high, too lazy to play in the middle. A riddle but one worth persisting with, there’s definitely a very special player in there.
The talk of a move had been there for two years but the reported €32m fee was surprise enough before you add in that Real Madrid were the team paying it. The biggest stage awaited and as Paolo Bandini noted “Rafa may have fallen in love with him when managing against him with Napoli in April”, a night when Kovačić was excellent. So far he’s been playing mostly from the bench and he’s yet to get the Bernabéu off its feet. Work ahead.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of moving to Madrid (who’d blame him for taking the chance anyway?) he has to kick on. He started slowly at Inter after moving from Dinamo, and he’s started slowly again at Real. In a star-studded squad this shouldn’t be underestimated but he needs to start treating every minute as if it’s his only chance to impress.
21 is still young enough to learn and find yourself as a footballer and we make no bones about it, this is an insanely talented young man. The issues around his game are solvable long term but it feels like his position is key. If he’s going to sit deep and create than he has to be willing to study and learn from others, if he wants to play higher he needs to find some consistency and realise those ahead of him are going to take time to catch, and fireworks to get past. We want to believe, we still just about do.
C+ His best season at Inter still left you feeling this was a slightly surprising transfer, take the opportunity with both hands
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