by Mike Walker
Dinamo Zagreb’s 18-year-old star once again the subject of transfer rumors…
Ante Ćorić has been the subject of intense speculation his entire young career: The native Croatian left Zagreb for Red Bull Salzburg in his early teens, barely into the serious portion of his youth career, only to be bought back by Dinamo for € 900,000. Since then, as the eighteen year-old attacking midfielder zoomed into a very promising adult career with Dinamo it seems like every week there has been a new rumor of his impending transfer to one leading European club or another. Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Barça all have expressed interest in him both as a youth player and now as an adult as have a diverse roster of other leading international clubs. But as is most often the case with transfer talk buzzing around exciting young players like Ćorić, many of these rumors have proven to be nothing more than idle chatter or at best possible directions quickly to be dismissed by either Ćorić, Dinamo, or the prospective clubs themselves.
Now, something different has happened. The UK newspaper the Mirror has reported on 27 February 2016 that none other than Pep Guardiola, Manchester City’s new incoming manager, has voiced his desire to see two young players make waves for his squad: Spanish midfielder Aleix García—who is already at Manchester City—and Ante Ćorić. García came to City from Villarreal in August of 2015 but just now was brought up to the main squad. While the rumor of Manchester City’s interest goes back to at least Autumn of 2015 with the Manchester Evening News suggesting the club desired Ćorić, that ploy has recently been seen as something in the past now that Ćorić changed his mind about remaining at Dinamo through the year 2020. Ćorić, as anyone following the drama knows, has complained at length that he does not get the playing time on-field with Dinamo that he deserves and frankly, he has a valid point: if, as he has reasoned, he’s such a great talent, why don’t they play him more? It has to be frustrating to see top clubs clamor over you while your own is not giving you much time on the pitch.
Those overtures of leaving though were tucked away after Dinamo made apparent amends with Ćorić and his father and promised him more time in the games. In response, Ćorić reminded us all that he’s from Zagreb and wants nothing more than to remain with Dinamo—perhaps his entire career—if the money and playing time are right. He’s played this battle of words and contracts as well as anything he has ever encountered on the pitch: Dinamo is clearly on this rise and with other young players of immense talent like Marko Rog, Ćorić has a prime place on Dinamo’s roster as it grows in strength and refinement. Unless we see a serious dip in Dinamo’s performance over the next two seasons, everything would indicate it’s going to be a very powerful contender as a club and since the promise has been made for Ćorić to see more time in the game, what does he have to lose?
But then again, what does he have to gain at a larger club with more international exposure such as Manchester City? Dinamo is beyond first-rate, but the problem is that outside Croatia the club is not followed the way a Manchester City or Barça is because it’s not in a league that garners so strong an international following. Manchester City can bring anyone on its squad instant notice, nearly-instant fans. In contrast, try to even buy a Dinamo shirt outside of Croatia and it’s a hard thing to find. Besides, a good performance at Manchester City could open up the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern, or other UK Primeire League teams to Ćorić and with the expected provision that Ćorić would actually be a shining star and get all the time in-game he could desire. After all, why pay the kind of money he would at that point command for a player you seldom play? For that matter, why would Guardiola speak of Ćorić in the same manner as he did García—a player he already has on his squad—unless very serious about seeing Ćorić in the same place?
Pep Guardiola has some work cut out for him at Manchester City. He has the iconic task of taking a top-flight club and making it even better while sustaining its current performance despite bringing in new, young, talent unproven in the arena of the Premiere League. Normally, a man in Guardiola’s position will be fairly quiet about his recruitment plans because he will want the spectrum of choices to remain open, but in this case he’s stated the players he desires and seen a discussion begin in the media about it. Managers only do this for one reason, because they’re building their blueprint for their club on specific recruitment goals. They’re hoping for what they’ve seen in their crystal ball to pan out for them, then their public speculation widely reported in the papers and across social media will be valid affirmation that they were savvy in their planning all along. Even by allowing this rumor out there, Manchester City also waves a flag to Ćorić and Dinamo saying that despite Ćorić’s snug situation at Dinamo, Manchester City will pay serious coin to get Ćorić over to England.
And Ćorić isn’t alone: Rumors abound that Liverpool and other clubs have their eye on Marko Rog, as well, perhaps with even greater money waiting to be spent. Rog has been at Dinamo less than a year and at twenty is young enough to see his prime portion of his real career develop somewhere else. Dinamo was uninterested in selling Rog to Liverpool back in September of 2015 having only had Rog on its roster for the summer, but things may change quickly: the real question is, can Dinamo obtain equally promising youngsters to replace the likes of Ćorić or Rog if they let these young superstars in the making go? Either way, Ćorić however wins the day: if he remains at Dinamo he’ll benefit from more playing time at the club he grew up with in his native city, making Croatia proud. If he ends up at Manchester City or elsewhere, he will bring Croatia’s name as a soccer powerhouse to that club and by extension its league. If Rog winds up in the same league, the emphasis on Croatian talent will only double, and there are other Dinamo (and RNK Split) players being eyed by UK clubs for transfer, as well. So whatever happens, it’s a very very good time to be young and playing football in Croatia.