It has been a surreal few months for talented Croatian footballer Josip Brekalo.
In the space of just a few months, 20-year-old Josip Brekalo has gone from catching a glimpse of his heroes at the Croatian national team World Cup homecoming party perched high on a tram announcement sign to playing alongside them.
Brekalo has been one of coach Zlatko Dalić’s revelations in the final two matches of the UEFA Nations League.
The Zagreb local made his senior debut in the second half of Croatia Nations League match against Spain last Thursday and the left-sided attacker immediately made an impact, having a hand in the winner when David de Gea could only parry his shot into the path of Tin Jedvaj.
Three days later and Dalić showed more faith in Brekalo, giving him 45 minutes at Wembley Stadium in front of over 70,000 fans. Again he was one of the more impressive players in a Croatian shirt on the pitch in the second half, having a hand in Andrej Kramarić’s opener.
“It is an indescribable feeling, because one minute I was a hardcore fan, who always followed the national team on my feet with all my energy, sometimes out of control through emotions, and the next moment I am standing on iconic Wembley in front of the same people who I shared the stands with,” Brelako told Sportske Novosti.
Brekalo (above) during Croatia’s World Cup homecoming party this summer in Zagreb.
Whilst many watching did not know too much about Brekalo, his rise to the national team and subsequent impressive performances come to no surprise to pundits and to the player himself.
Josip Brekalo began his career at Dinamo Zagreb. He made his league debut as a 17-year-old in 2015. In 2016 he signed for Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg for €10 million.
He was loaned out last year to VfB Stuttgart before returning to Wolfsburg this season. Brekalo has represented Croatia at all youth team levels and played a huge role in getting the U-21 team to the European Championships last month.
Brekalo was the highest scorer in all levels for Croatia during the u-21 EURO qualifying campaign.
He also was recently named among the 20 finalists for the 2018 Golden Boy award. The award is given by sports journalists to best young footballer aged 21 or under playing in Europe.
Without wanting to sound overconfident, Brekalo is not surprised by his rapid rise.
“Because of all my effort and work, I think I am where I belong. Knowing I am regularly playing in the Bundesliga at Wolfsburg it has to pay off. This for me was a huge honour, but I have prepared for this for a long time. I hope everyone was satisfied just like I am for finally realising my dreams.”
So what advice did coach Dalić have for Brekalo before he was thrown into the fire of senior international football?
“Coach Dalić the whole time just said: ‘Josip, relax and play your game, don’t worry about making mistakes because I back you. I won’t judge you for a few mistakes because I know your value. If something happens, I will take responsibility.’ When you have that kind of welcome then everything is a lot easier,” Brekalo revealed.
After Sunday’s match against England there were rumours in the media that Premier League scouts were already interested in the young Croatian with Tottenham showing interest comparing him to Dutch winger Arjen Robben.
Brekalo has many attributes which will make him a world-class player. He is not afraid to take the initiative and has a killer instinct in front of goal.
There is no doubt that Brekalo will be a key figure in the Croatian national team in the future. The good news for fans is there is another Brekalo.
His younger brother Filip (15), who plays left-back and is pictured above with Josip, has recently signed a scholarship with Dinamo Zagreb.