Mateo Kovačić 18 Midfielder Dinamo Zagreb
You can blame Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo we reckon. You see they’re busily setting new benchmarks and changing expectations in ways you may not even realize yet. It’s no longer enough to be an attacking player vying to be the best in world football and not score 50+ goals a season. It’s no longer enough to be a winger, striker, false 9 or attacking midfielder – you have to be all four rolled into one. It’s no longer enough to have a really good season, you have to excel and outperform over five.
Now anything that raises standards is okay by us but there is another direct legacy felt throughout the 100 that we also thoroughly approve of. You see thanks to CR7 and La Pulga taking a man on and dribbling is back in a big way, and we all know there’s nothing that can get you off your seat quicker than a player skipping past a couple of challenges and finding empty real estate ahead to run into.
In the modern age of social-network one-upmanship, YouTube and 24-hour football coverage, there are very few young players who haven’t had access to the greatest hits of any of the best players in world football. There are a pleasing clutch of youngsters on this list who cite Ronaldo and Messi as specific influences when taking a man on and it shows in the way they then go about the job. While to keep our Twitter football hipster memberships valid we have to love tiki-taka, there is still an immense thrill in the direct.
One such player is Mateo Kovačić who has definitely been studying both but majoring in Messi. Unafraid with the ball at his feet he’ll take anyone on in any area of the pitch. This is a man who was born to thrill and surely there’s no downside to that is there?
Well firstly, don’t call me Shirley. Secondly, while the ability to carry the ball is precious you also need to use it well from that point on. Messi and Ronaldo achieve the heights they reach as their end product is beyond reproach, nine times out of ten you’re looking at a good pass, a dangerous cross or a goal. Mateo Kovačić? Not so much yet, not at all in some cases, and this is the single biggest reason why he may never get anywhere near his inspirations.
Far too many times he beats men and works himself into great positions, only to pick the wrong pass or loss the ball with one touch too many. Part of this is the impetuous of youth undoubtedly and we hope he never loses an element of that, but he needs to learn that around him team-mates are working hard and taking up good positions as well. As wonderful as it is to see him in full flight, head down and skipping past tackles, occasionally we wish he’d have a look first. At the moment he’s developing and has buckets of time on his side to learn, but if he moves to one of European football’s more ego-driven teams he’s going to very quickly annoy his team-mates.
If he can develop a wider view of the game he could be a really good player. At his best he’s destructive, a man who can occupy two or three players at the same time easily allowing room for others. The cliché rules that defenders hate pace and in
Kovačić’s case it’s the triple threat of being electric over 20 yards, capable of running as quickly with the ball as without and consistently coming back time and time again. Even at his worst he earns free-kicks in dangerous areas repeatedly, a valuable commodity in top tier football.
This is a rough diamond though, the consistency is non-existent and there’s a long way to go. After an initial explosion around his debut and first few games in late 2010, fire unrealistically stoked by a goal which made him the youngest goal-scorer in the history of the Croatian top division, the progress has been stuttering at times. He is a really exciting prospect but initial interest from Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs hasn’t been followed up. A young player with this much exposure will get his move at some point, but it might not be to the very top tier level of club once thought definite.
There are other issues around his faltering development but I’ve leave the excellent Bosnian journalist Sasa Ibrulj to explain them in his comment below. Things are far from bleak but some of the initial impetus has been lost, man cannot live by dribbling alone and the rest of his game needs to catch up with the standout aspect of his current skill-set. There is an exciting player in there and it may be that a move brings the best from him. We hope we see more of the dancing feet in the future but in truth, we’re not sure that’ll be at the highest level.
“Great technique, loves the ball, good in dribbling but to be honest, not improving as much as we expected. He was praised as "Cro Messi" but he rotates a lot, even in a poor Croatian league. I guess one of the problems is the fact that he shares the midfield with Sammir, who is similar player, but older and must be sold soon, Dinamo's priority is to sell Sammir, and that is why Kovačić is in his shadow for now.”– Sasa Ibrulj (World Soccer)
“Enjoyed a good year of development at Dinamo Zagreb, versatility to play inside and on the flank is a major asset. Frightening ability with the ball at his feet, running at defenders, with more work on his upper body strength he could be a colossus.”– Domm Norris (Slavic Football Union)
D Would benefit enormously from trying a bit less of the spectacular and a bit more of the solid, a harsh mark but representative of the promise he was showing at the time of inclusion