Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Alen Halilovic joins Barcelona from Dinamo Zagreb

Alen Halilovic joins Barca
"Croatian Messi" will learn from the real one

Ozren Podnar

Barcelona have snatched Alen Halilovic, arguably the biggest Croatian soccer prospect since Luka Modric.

After several weeks of negotiations, the 17-year-old right midfielder signed a five year contract for an undisclosed sum, believed to be in the neighbourhood of 10 million euros plus variables of up to five million more.

"Thanks to Dinamo Zagreb for everything. My first club and my greatest love. The time has come to go to Barcelona," he posted on his Instagram profile along with a photo showing him posing beside Dinamo's and Barcelona's coats of arms.

Barcelona overtook other teams chasing the player, including Bayern, Arsenal and Tottenham, like they did with Neymar last June.

The deal was finalized on February 27th between Barcelona's directors Andoni Zubizarreta and Raúl Sanllehí and Dinamo's executive president Zdravko Mamic.

The family of the young virtuoso said they were happy with the developments reminding that Halilovic always dreamt of joining the Catalans.

"Barca was the only club Alen desired to join if he left Dinamo. He is very happy and I am too," said his father Sejad, a prominent member of the Croatian League champions Dinamo in mid-nineties, to La Xarxa Radio.

"Signing for Barca was a dream for him. He never contemplated offers from other clubs, just Barca's."

A monicker he could do without

Even before he debuted in Dinamo Zagreb's first team aged just 16 years and two months, Halilovic earned the controversial nickname of "the Croatian Messi".

Both he and his father Sejad are rather unhappy with this tag as it is more likely to create inappropriate pressure than act as motivation.

Still, he will have to live with this label when he lands in Barcelona B, Barcelona's reserves, next July. The Catalan press has not missed the opportunity to showcase the glamurous signing by splashing the "Croatian Messi" thing all over the covers.

Hardly a favour for the youngster who has yet to display the real Messi's trademark finishing in front of goal.

Halilovic is clearly not a prolific goal scorer in Messi's mould, although he does put them away in important games. A day before the deal was clinched he scored two crucial goals for leaders Dinamo.

After his team fell 2-0 behind in a difficult game at the third placed Rijeka, Halilovic took the center-stage and grabbed two stunning goals to give Dinamo a precious point.

Masterful dribbler

Rather than a goal-getter, Halilovic is a prodigious dribbler, apt at taking on any number of players, sneaking through the defenses, opening spaces and providing his teammates with perfect passes.

"He is not like Modric, since (Alen) plays in a more advanced position. He has some similarities with (Andrés) Iniesta and Messi though," claims the former Real Betis, Real Madrid and Croatia winger Robert Jarni.

"He plays mostly on the right, is very fast, has plenty of skills and a great quality. His style of play is highly compatible with that of Barca. The boy loves to play the ball. As far as defending is concerned, he has not mastered it yet, he still has to work on it, added Jarni.

The whole Halilovic family will move to Barcelona in the summer, including his brothers Damir (9) and Dino (16), who is supposedly just as talented as Alan.

In Barcelona's La Masía they will be overjoyed, and the youngster will not have the reason to complain either: if there is a place where a rough talent can be polished, it is this famed soccer academy which produced, among others, Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, Cesc Fábregas, Xavi Hernández, Iniesta and Messi himself.

Now Halilovic is poised to shine for Croatia at the forthcoming World Cup in Brazil, right? Well, no, not really. The current manager Niko Kovac is relying on the players proven at the international level as he believes Croatia can actually qualify for the knock-out stage from the group containing Brazil, Mexico and Cameroon.

Asked about Halilovic's chances of being called up, Kovac has always been elusive. What we do know is that he hasn't called the youngster for the friendly against Switzerland, which may provide some clues regarding his odds of making the list for the World Cup.

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