When it comes to the playing staff, signings are a great way to improve the squad, both in terms of quality and depth, and indeed, are becoming the most common way. However, onlookers, especially fans of a club tend to derive great joy when a product of the club’s academy makes it through to the first team, and gains importance in it. With this in mind, we will look at some of the best youth academies across the world of football.
We carry on the series by taking a look at Dinamo Zagreb, the top team from Croatia.
One of the most successful and popular clubs in Croatia, Dinamo Zagreb is well known for it’s development of players along with it’s domination of the Croatian League. The first youth team was founded in 1945, but the youth academy known as “Hitrec-Kacian” didn’t open until 1967 when Branko Horvatek was elected as the first director.
Nowadays the academy is broken up into 10 age categories with the youngest group being the Under-8s and the oldest being the Under-19s. In modern times the youth academy has reigned over the youth league and has had a major influence on the continental level as well. According to the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES), Dinamo Zagreb is currently the fourth best club at producing top tier players in Europe with around 50 players currently playing in top tier of Europe’s 31 best national leagues. Dinamo Zagreb was also the third best club at producing World Cup players that participated in the 2014 World Cup finals according to CIES.
10 BEST PRODUCTS
Note that these are professional footballers whom have played in or after 2000.
LUKA MODRIC // SENIOR DEBUT: 2003
Establishing himself as one of the best centre midfielders in the world and earning his spot as a regular for one of the best teams in the world, Luka Modrić joined Dinamo Zagreb’s academy in 2002 when he was 16-years-old. After a short spell in the academy Modrić was loaned out to HŠK Zrinjski Mostar and then NK Inter Zaprešić. Upon his return to Dinamo Zagreb, Modrić signed a new long term contract with the club as he helped them win three league titles, two Croatian Cups and one Croatian Supercup before he decided it was time to leave. On the 26th of April 2008 Modrić agreed terms with English side Tottenham Hotspur, this is where Modrić would start to develop into one of the best midfielders in Europe. After four years at the club, Modrić moved to Real Madrid for around £30 million, he won his first trophy for the club 36 hours after signing his contract as Real Madrid beat Barcelona in the Supercopa de España. So far Modrić has won the Champions League, Super Cup, Club World Cup, Copa del Rey and Supercopa de España with Real Madrid.
MATEO KOVACIC // SENIOR DEBUT: 2010
Another Croatian midfielder that currently plays for Real Madrid but came through the Dinamo Zagreb academy is Mateo Kovačić. The former Internazionale midfielder has a similar stature to his fellow countryman Luka Modrić and is seen as his heir to his throne at Madrid. Kovačić first joined Dinamo Zagreb back in 2007 and made his professional debut for the club on the 20th of Novemeber 2010 against NK Hrvatski Dragovoljac in which he scored as Dinamo Zagreb won 6-0. Kovačić helped Dinamo Zagreb to win two league titles and two Croatian Football Cups before he joined Internazionale in January 2013. After 18 months at the Serie A outfits Kovačić joined Real Madrid as Internazionale boss Roberto Mancini admitted the club had to sell for Financial Fair Play regulations. Despite only being 21 Kovačić has already got 24 appearances for the Croatian senior team and was included in their 2014 World Cup finals squad.
NIKO KRANJCAR // SENIOR DEBUT: 2001
A technically gifted attacking midfielder, Niko Kranjčar spent most of his youth days in the Dinamo Zagreb academy before being promoted to the first team. When he was just 17-years-old Kranjčar became the youngest player ever to captain the side. During his time in the first team Kranjčar won the league title once, Croatian Cup three times and the Croatian Supercup twice. In January 2005 Kranjčar made a surprise transfer to Dinamo’s biggest rivals HNK Hajduk Split. He helped the club win the league title and Croatian Supercup before moving to Portsmouth after his fantastic displays in the 2006 World Cup. On the 17th of May 2008 Kranjčar was a starter in the Portsmouth team that historically won the FA Cup, which was their first FA Cup since 1939. He later moved to Tottenham Hotspur and then eventually Dynamo Kiev where he still currently plays.
DARIO SIMIC // SENIOR DEBUT: 1992
Currently the fifth most capped Croatian to play for the national team with 100 caps to his name, Dari Šimić is one of the most prestigious Croatian defenders in the country’s history. He first joined the Dinamo Zagreb academy at the age of 12 in 1987. Šimić was promoted to the first team in 1992 and made his debut for the club on the 23rd of August 1992 against NK Varaždin. He then went on to win four league titles and four Croatian Cups in six years for Dinamo. After his fine performances in the 1998 World Cups finals, which Croatia came third in, Šimić moved to Internazionale who at the time had a team of superstars like Roberto Baggio and Ronaldo. In a shock transfer Šimić moved from Internazionale to city rivals A.C. Milan. In his six years at Milan Šimić won the Serie A once, Italian Cup once, Champions League twice and Club World Cup once. He then moved to Ligue 1 to play for Monaco before returning back to Dinamo Zagreb to finish of his footballing career.
SIME VRSALJKO // SENIOR DEBUT: 2009
With Barcelona reportedly keen on bringing him to the Nou Camp, Šime Vrsaljko is one of the most sought after defenders in Europe. He started his football career at NK Zadar academy before moving to the Dinamo Zagreb academy in 2006. He made his debut for the club on the 27th of February 2010 and he helped the club to win the league in the same season. Vrsaljko went on to win the league for the next three seasons consecutively before joining Serie A club Genoa for €4.6 million. He went straight into the starting team where he was played more in a right midfield than his more familiar right back position. A year later Vrsaljko moved to Sassuolo and has now developed into one of the best and most consistent defenders in the league.
ROBERT PROSINECKI // SENIOR DEBUT: 1986
Part of the golden generation of Croatian football throughout the 90’s, Robert Prosinečki was included in the Croatian team that managed to finish third in the 1998 World Cup finals. He first joined the Dinamo Zagreb in 1980 after his family moved from Germany to Croatia in 1979. He moved up the youth ranks and made his debut for the club in 1986. Prosinečki moved to Red Star Belgrade a year later and developed into one of the most talented Croatian players after ex-manager Miroslav Blažević said he would “eat his coaching diploma if Prosinečki ever became a real football player”. After winning multiple league titles and famously winning the European Cup in 1991 with Red Star, Prosinečki moved to Real Madrid. Unfortunately, his time in Madrid was ridiculed with injuries and with expectations set ridiculously high, he never really achieved what was expected of him. He then had short stints at Real Oviedo, Barcelona and Sevilla between 1994 to 1997. Prosinečki returned to Dinamo for three years before have spells at Hrvatski Dragovoljac, Standard Liège and Portsmouth (where he is still considered as a cult hero due to his heroic performances). In 2004 Prosinečki decided it was time to retire following his short spells at Olimpija Ljubljana and NK Zagreb.
MILAN BADELJ // SENIOR DEBUT: 2007
Joining the Dinamo Zagreb academy in 2005 after playing for rivals NK Zagreb. Milan Badelj was loaned out to Dinamo’s feeder club NK Lokomotiva in 2007, upon his return to the club he was seen as the replacement for Luka Modrić. He did exceptionally well in the midfield for Dinamo and kept up their winning streak by winning the league four times in a row and the Croatian Cup three times in his tenure at the club. Badelj joined Bundesliga club Hamburger SV in the summer of 2012. Straightaway he was deployed in his favoured defensive midfield role and became an important player for the club right off the bat. In August 2014, Badelj moved to Serie A club Fiorentina after his impressive time in Germany. He has continued to show his quality in Italy and has been praised numerous of times for his performances in the centre of midfield.
EDUARDO DA SILVA // SENIOR DEBUT: 2001
Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Eduardo da Silva first started to play for Nova Kennedy and then later on for Bangu Atlético Clube. He was spotted by a Dinamo Zagreb scout and was offered a trial at the club. After a successful trial Eduardo signed for the club in February 2000, first starting in the academy it took Eduardo less than 18 months to get promoted to the first team for the 01/02 season. After his debut season at the club Eduardo was loaned to Inter Zaprešić for the 02/03 season for more first team football. Following his successful loan spell Eduardo managed to establish himself as a first team regular when he returned to Dinamo. Eduardo won the league twice and Croatian Cup twice in his time at Dinamo. In 2007 Eduardo signed for English club Arsenal after impressing manager Arsène Wenger when the two teams met at the Emirates. Eduardo started his career at Arsenal in great form and was showing off his fantastic finishing ability that he was known for. Unfortunately, during the 07/08 season he suffered a horrific broken leg against Birmingham City that would rule him out for nearly a year. He returned to football in style with a brace in his return game for Arsenal. In 2010 Eduardo moved to Shakhtar Donetsk where he would win the league four times and Ukraine Cup three times before moving back to Brazil to play for Flamengo for a season then deciding to return back to Shakhtar.
ZVONIMIR BOBAN // SENIOR DEBUT: 1985
Signing for the Dinamo Zagreb academy from Hajduk Split in 1983 it only took Zvonimir Boban two years to make his debut for the club at the age of 16. By the age of 19 the talented midfielder was already the captain of Dinamo. Boban was involved in the infamous Dinamo Zagreb-Red Star Belgrade riot in 1990 when Boban ignited the riot by attacking a policeman who was assaulting a Dinamo fan. This made Boban a nationalist hero and icon in Croatia at the time, unfortunately this would lead to his suspension from the Yugoslav national team meaning he would have to miss the 1990 World Cup. Boban moved to A.C. Milan in 1991 and was immediately loaned out to Bari, when he returned to Milan Boban became a regular in the first team and helped them win four Serie A’s, three Supercoppa Italiana’s, one Champions League and one Super Cup in his nine years at the club. In 2002 Boban decided it was time to retire after his loan spell at Celta de Vigo.
VEDRAN CORLUKA // SENIOR DEBUT: 2003
A versatile defender that can play across the back four, Vedran Ćorluka is the current Lokomotiv Moscow captain that has played for the likes Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Bayer Leverkusen. Ćorluka was loaned out to Inter Zaprešić in 2004 after impressing the coaches in the Dinamo Zagreb academy. He returned a year later and became a key player that won two league titles in a row as well as the Croatian Cup in 2007. After his impressive performances for Dinamo Ćorluka moved to Manchester City in the summer of 2007. He stayed at the club for one year before moving to London in the summer of 2008 to play for Tottenham Hotspur where he would link up with his good friend and fellow Dinamo Zagreb youth graduate Luka Modrić. After three years at the club he was loaned out to Byer Leverkusen in January 2012, when his loan expired Ćorluka decided to sign for Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow. He is currently one of the most capped Croatian players to play for the national team and is still a regular in the national squad today.
In the past two years Dinamo Zagreb have seen the likes of Alen Halilović and Tin Jedvaj move to Barcelona and Roma respectively. Now the latest wonderkid from the Dinamo academy is Ante Ćorić, this young midfielder has caught major attention throughout the whole of Croatia with current Dinamo manager Zoran Mamić stating that “Ante is a greater talent than Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić were at his age”, whilst the Dinamo president went a step further by saying Ćorić is better than Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinečki when they were the same age as him. Known for his fantastic close control, vision and creativity, Ćorić was originally born in Zagreb, Croatia and had trials at European giants Bayern Munich and Chelsea, but decided to join Red Bull Salzburg. After four years at the club he decided to move back to Croatia and join the Dinamo Zagreb academy. He is now considered one of the best midfield prospects in the whole of Europe and Dinamo can expect the European giants to return with serious interest for this talented playmaker.
Petar Mamić and Endri Çekiçi are both expected to be promoted to the first team sooner rather than later. The former being an offensive left back that likes to bomb down the line and whip in crosses, whilst the latter is a skilful winger that can also play behind the striker. The duo has so far made their debuts for the first team, but have yet to hold down their spots in the squad. With the history of Dinamo and their commitment to helping young players develop and gain experience in a competitive environment, Mamić and Çekiçi will likely be slowly integrated into the first team squad rather than thrown straight in the deep end, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they both spend a season out on loan to one of Dinamo’s feeder clubs before becoming a starter at Zagreb.
Written by Alex Smith
Alex is a London-based writer covering European football for various websites. You can keep up-to-date with his work by checking out his website www.alexsaidysmith.com or alternatively following him on Twitter: @AlexSaidySmith.
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