The rise of Croatian hotshot Josko Gvardiol


Arguably Croatia’s player of the tournament at the 2022 FIFA World Cup on their run to the semi-finals, Gvardiol has attracted the interest of some of Europe’s elite clubs from Chelsea to Manchester City.

The centre-back or left-back is currently plying his trade for Bundesliga side RB Leipzig where he predominantly plays on the left side of a back three. However, his versatility allows him to also play at left back where he played for Croatia at the European Championships in 2021.

Gvardiol started his career with lowly capital club NK Trešnjevka Zagreb before being scouted by the traditional big boys of Croatia, Dinamo Zagreb.

Starting off in the youth teams, Gvardiol went on to make appearances for the u17 and u19 sides and impressed with his understanding of the game and leadership qualities.

Gvardiol was then promoted to the first team in training and was rewarded with his debut (as a substitute) for the senior side in 2019 as Dinamo won 4-2 over Gorica in a league game, only at the tender age of 17 years.

He went on to make a handful of other appearances for Dinamo that season before cementing himself in the side in 2020/21 with over 35 appearances.

In that summer Gvardiol made his first international start for Croatia vs England at Euro 2020 at left-back, showing his versatility. He impressed at the tournament and was rewarded with an £18 million switch to RB Leipzig.

Gvardiol took no time to settle in and impressed instantly with his defensive nous and on-the-ball ability which is now required for any top-level defender. In his first season in Germany Gvardiol made his Champions League debut which shows how far the player has come in such a short amount of time. 

Then came the biggest stage of all, the World Cup.

Gvardiol was a shoe-in for the Croatia squad due to his assured presence and was given a starting berth over Domejo Vida at the heart of Croatia’s backline alongside veteran Dejan Lovren. The rookie and the veteran played excellently together and this was the foundation for a strong run to the semi-finals on the world stage.

Gvardiol started all of Croatia’s games on their run to the last four, starting with a solid performance by another eventual semi-finalist in Morocco. 

Gvardiol’s standout performance came against one of the tournament favourites in Brazil where he shut down the frontline excellently. Gvardiol would surely been man of the match had it not been for the excellent Dominik Livakovic behind him in the sticks.

Gvardiol was eye-catching in this tournament for his ability to bring the ball out of defence, either dribbling through the line or playing a ball forward with impetus. This allowed Croatia to get the ball forward quickly as well as retain possession which was what helped them overcome Brazil in the quarter finals.

However, Gvardiol is also astute defensively with his 6ft 1in frame allowing him to dominate in the air. His game reading and anticipation is also near to perfection and this allows him to snuff out opposition attacks with tackles and interceptions, thus allowing Croatia to play on the front foot. 

He got his reward for an excellent tournament with a spectacular diving header vs Morocco in the third-place playoff to earn his fellow teammates a bronze medal.

At 20 years of age, Gvardiol was arguably the best central defender at the World Cup and this is no easy feat considering the plethora of big names at the tournament. 

This form has plunged him into the transfer mill where the defender is linked with almost every top club in Europe. After coming close to joining London club Chelsea last summer for a reported £60 million fee, this time around clubs will be expected to pay at least £90 million to tempt Leipzig into selling one of their star assets. 

This time around the defender is being linked with Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea once again as well as the ever-persuasive Real Madrid. 

Due to the poor start Chelsea have had to the 22/23 season, Stamford Bridge could well be the best fit for the defender. 

After losing both Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen in the summer Chelsea spent a combined £100 million on Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly. Although they are both undoubtedly both top-level defenders on their day this season both have been poor. 

Koulibaly has struggled to deal with the pace of the Premier League and has looked clumsy at times while Fofana has not looked the same since his long injury layoff. 

With new owner Todd Boehly clearly ready to pay large transfer fees for big names, Gvardiol should be top of that list as he will give Graham Potter a versatile defender who can vary his game depending on the tactics installed by the Englishman.

Under Potter, Chelsea have lined up in either a back three or a back four and in the latter Gvardiol could make that spot his own with his aggressiveness being complimented by Fofana’s composure. This pairing could serve Chelsea for at least the next decade and save any more needless spending.

Meanwhile in a back three Gvardiol could line up in the left centre-back spot as he has done so for RB Leipzig. Here he could learn from the excellent Thiago Silva while offering valuable pace at the back which has been one of Chelsea’s Achilles heels this season.    

Chelsea will no doubt be scouting Gvardiol but signing the player depends on RB Leipzig’s stance and they will no doubt charge a huge fee for the defender due to his contract running till 2027. With Chelsea also being heavily linked with the German clubs’ star player Christopher Nkunku, could Chelsea make a double swoop in either winter or the summer for this talented duo?

With so much accomplished at the age of just 20, don’t be surprised to see Gvardiol lining up for a big side soon, especially after an excellent 2022 World Cup campaign.

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