“Niko Kovač (Croatia’s national team coach) and I speak a common language. He decided that I am needed in the team and I respect his decision, I am Croatia’s solider. I don’t play for the money, a transfer or a record. I just want to help as much as I can” Darijo Srna, Croatia’s captain, said after the World Cup in Brazil. In 12 years of loyal service the versatile right back collected impressive 118 caps and scored 21 goals for Vatreni . He played at three European and two World championships. After this year’s World Cup in Brazil, where Croatia exited the competiton very early, some players waved farewell to the national team. Srna, although some expected otherwise, didn’t. He remained an integral part of the team and is now, motivated as ever, chasing his fourth European championship qualification.
For many years Srna was undisputed first right-back pick of every national team coach in the Croatian senior team set-up. With Robert Kovač at the helm nothing changed. But it is, especially to Srna himself, undoubtedly clear that he will withdraw from the squad eventually. Croatia is certainly not prepared for such a scenario at the moment. Though, that could change in the future. Three weeks ago, when Croatia played a friendly match versus Cyprus in Pula, Jedvaj, being only 18 years old, made his full international debut. It was only a friendly, a last Croatian rehearsal before the Euro 2016 qualifiers, but it was a very important step forward in Jedvaj’s promising career. He entered the game in the 61st minute and replaced – guess who – Darijo Srna.
Who is Tin Jedvaj?
That debut came only a few days after his first Bundesliga start, when Bayer Leverkusen’s new coach Roger Schmidt made him a starter at the right side of his defence. Since then Jedvaj played all four Bundesliga games and scored two goals. “From a tactical point of view Tin is very good and reliable. He has a really good feeling when to send a cross and he knows when he can run forward,” Schmidt said. Jedvaj, who grabbed the chance of going to Leverkusen on loan from Roma in June, indeed looks very promising on the right side of Bayer’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
He can score too. Against Werder Bremen, on September 12, he scored a spectacular right footed goal. He added another one versus Hertha Berlin. Last week, on September 16, versus AS Monaco, Jedvaj debuted on the big stage, in the Champions League. It took only one month for him to score a hat-trick of important debutes (in the Bundesliga, the Croatian national team and in the Champions League) and to recieve worldwide attention. Croatian press is united and certain: a star for the future was born.
Tin Jedvaj has football in his genes. His father Zdenko was a decent defender for Velež Mostar and Dinamo Zagreb and stayed in the Croatian capital after the end of his playing career. Tin, a self-proclaimed Zagreb’s city boy, rose through Dinamo Zagreb’s youth ranks and made his first team debut in February last year, at the Croatian eternal derby between Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split. He made only 14 senior appearances for Dinamo and, to be honest, didn’t leave (he had no time) a significant mark. But the biggest clubs from around Europe saw enough. Arsenal was very interested, Tottenham tried to strike a double deal with Dinamo, including Tin Jedvaj and Barcelona’s Alen Halilović, but eventually AS Roma stepped in. The Romans wired five million Euros to Zagreb and took young Jedvaj to Rome; only five months after his first senior match.
Playing only two matches in Roma’s shirt, Jedvaj didn’t and couldn’t show his true value. Nevertheless one year in Italy, where Rudi Garcia apparently didn’t recognize his potential, made him a better player. “I trained a lot. World stars such as Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Miralem Pjanić supported me, that helped me a lot, ” Jedvaj recalls. When Roger Schmidt and Rudi Völler called, Jedvaj didn’t hesitate. ”Tin Jedvaj is a big talent, we watched him for quite some time. We hope he will make progress here in Leverkusen. He will be very useful in our defensive line. We brought a very talented youngster, ” Völler said at the time.
In Germany, Jedvaj is already considered as a true successor to Daniel Carvajal’s who has returned to Real Madrid’s first team following a successful loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen. His loan deal will expire in two years, after that (in 2016) Bayer will be able to buy out his contract from Roma. The Italians are risking loosing a talented player but have insured themselves with a special buy-back clause in the youngster’s contract.
Tin Jedvaj has also made his mark on Outside of the Boot‘s Talent Radar feature, making an appearance in a Talent Radar Team of the Week and getting into the Top 10 Defenders’ list in the Talent Radar Player Rankings.
Style, Strenghts and Weaknesses
Although at Leverkusen Jedvaj is playing as a right-back he hasn’t always appeared there. As a kid he played for Dinamo Zagreb in three different roles; at centre-back, right-back and even as a defensive midfielder. Roger Schmidt brought him to Leverkusen to use him as a central defender first (his build is more of a central defender, being 6ft 2inch and 80kg), but he soon changed his plans with the youngster. The Croatian, still capable to cover multiple roles and strong enough to deal with wingers and strikers, is now mostly seen as at full-back under the ex-Red Bull Salzburg head coach.
As a modern, versatile defender, a very solid embodiment of a new age right-back, Jedvaj is constantly playing high on the right flank and is often, when he arrives in the final third, participating in attacking actions as a passer or a shooter. He is reading the game well and likes to play in both directions. When not in posssession, he is able to quickly return backwards, covering a lot of space, always with the intention to steal the ball from the opponent and to join the attack. His tackling ability is impressive, that combined with his commendable marking attributes and his height are what make him a possible option in central defence as well. But his pace and ability to cross, along with his surprising eye for goal, has tempted Schmidt to play him at right-back, making him an ideal choice for that position. When in possesion, he has been given a lot of freedom to charge and move forward, where he is often finding himself in promising positions. Beeing an intelligent, quiet and hard working player, he is a very popular with Roger Schmidt, who even back Giulio Donati on the bench, previously at Inter Milan, in favour of the Croat.
Jedvaj has his weaknesses though. Still a teenager, he is lacking experience the most and that could be a crucial factor since Leverkusen are attempting to compete at the highest level in the league, and simultaneously make it into the next round of the Champions League as a bare minimum. A bit more strength and sharpness too could do him well; and this is becoming a typical issue with the modern day full-backs, in defence. When under pressure, Jedvaj is sometimes making poor and irrational decisions, which lead to surrendering possession, but in football calmness and routine come with age. The talent is there, but it is still a bit raw and sometimes subject to poor decision making and not ideal positioning.
Otherwise, Jedvaj is one of the most talented young players from the Balkans at the moment and is representing the new, post Luka Modrić’s and Mario Mandžukić’s Dinamo Zagreb’s generation. At just 18 he is a very good investment for Bayer and could become an important Croatian national team player in the future. To succeed, he will have to work hard to eliminate his weaknesses and – this is most important for a young player of his age – play regularly. In one year he played less than 10 games. To change that, he came to Leverkusen. Some things, such as his natural ability to lead and his physics, came with birth, others come with training and games. To achieve greater things, he will have to follow his development process and, just as Darijo Srna did in all these years, stay modest. This too is a true captain’s (if he is to become one in the future) feature.
Here’s what Aleksandar Holiga, Croatian independent football writer, known for his work at FourFourTwo, Guardian, The Blizzard, ESPN, Bleacher Report, 11 Freunde, World Soccer and Jutarnji list, told Outside of the Boot about Tin Jedvaj. Follow him on Twitter @AlexHoliga.
Tin Jedvaj is a good, quiet kid. Modest, fully dedicated to his career. He has all the characteristics of a good defender. He’s good at marking, tackling, strong in the air and one-on-ones. I think he needs to improve defensively, because his positioning is not always ideal, he is also prone to make some risky passes. He is playing very well in an attacking sense. He is reading the game very well, especially considering his young age.
Here in Croatia, some coaches and journalists see him as the next Slaven Bilić, some even compare him with the Italian and AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini. I think, if he is to reach his full potential and become a complete player, able to cover multiple roles, he will first have to tighten up in defence. But for now, he looks very promising.
Written by Miran Zore.
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