Duje Caleta-Car 20 Defender Red Bull Salzburg
Croatian central defender Duje Ćaleta-Car is wise beyond his years and blessed with the football intelligence that makes the best defenders stand out. He came through the ranks at his home town club, HNK Šibenik, but played just a handful of first team games after many years there. He moved to FC Pasching in Austria in 2013, and then into the Red Bull system with FC Liefering – and then Red Bull Salzburg – in 2014.
2016 has been…
A year of steady progress. Ćaleta-Car hasn’t looked back since his whirlwind arrival in Austrian football, and 2015 ticked into 2016 with the ink not yet dry on a new Salzburg contract that takes him to 2020. It was a reward for huge strides forward last year, but keen observers of Red Bull’s caffeine-fuelled football wingiverse will know the deal doesn’t mean he’ll stay in Austria for four more years.
The young Croatian has been a first choice all year and for several months in the second half of last year too; he started 31 Bundesliga matches in 2015/16 and was on the bench for the other five. In short, Ćaleta-Car is part of the furniture. Though there are areas of required improvement, it’s easy to see why.
Ćaleta-Car rates Gerard Piqué as Europe’s best centre-back and says he is stylistically compared to the Spaniard. He plays in a Salzburg team that often keeps up the pressure by leaving just two centre-backs at home, meaning the youngster has a lot of responsibility, which he handles well. He’s smart on the cover and assertive in the air.
He has lovely composure on the ball and isn’t flustered by opponents at close quarters and prefers to pass to feet, a skill more assuredly executed with right foot than left. He usually looks to pass within a few strides, tending not to drive forward with the ball.
Ćaleta-Car makes smart, simple decisions in possession but there are some concerns defensively, albeit nothing that won’t improve with experience. He can be rolled by nippier players, and sometimes reacts less quickly than attackers to rebounds and loose balls. But he learns fast. That’ll take him far, because the raw materials are there. Good reading of the game is chief among them.
An intra-bovine switch to high-flying German Bundesliga newcomers RB Leipzig has had a whiff of inevitability since the summer, and that Ćaleta-Car was not reunited with Naby Keïta, Stefan Ilsanker and Marcel Sabitzer before August was a surprise to many. The notion drew attention in the Austrian press and it isn’t going away.
In all likelihood, Ćaleta-Car already knows where his immediate future belongs at club level. However, he’ll be keen to make his mark for Croatia in 2017. He’s represented his country at Under-17, Under-18, Under-19 and Under-21 levels, and was first called up to the senior squad just over a year ago. He was in the provisional squad for UEFA EURO 2016 and didn’t make the cut, and hasn’t been selected since then.
Although he plays in a position where Croatia boast a relative wealth of experience, Ćaleta-Car must be looking to force his way into the squad with his twentieth birthday now in the rear-view mirror.
C Established with Red Bull but caps should be next
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