ZAGREB: Alen Halilovic, Croatia’s teenage ‘superboy,’ will join Spanish champions Barcelona in the sunmer writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Halilovic, still only 17, has been top of the wanted list for a string of clubs in Spain, England, Italy and Germany despite having been a flop at last atumn’s World Under-17 Cup in the United Arab Emirates when a highly-rated Croat team crashed out in the first round.
Barcelona officials, including technical director Andoni Zubizarreta, flew to Zagreb in midweek to finalise details of the transfer which was confirmed by Halilovic on his Instagram account. He wrote: “Thanks Dinamo Zagreb for everything! My first club and biggest love! Now is time to move on to Barcelona.”
The initial fee is €5m with further payments to follow depending on appearances and achievements.
Halilovic had started playing in Dinamo’s children’s section when he was only six under the watchful eye of father Sejad, a Bosnian international who played for the club. He is a basketball fan whose hero is Kevin Durant but there was never any doubt that his future lay in football – partly because of a lack of height.
Indeed, his build and skill earned him a nickname of the ‘new Luka Modric.’
Like Modric, he came through at Dinamo Zagreb, signing a contract with them as soon as he had turned 16. Then, 101 days later, he was making his debut, coming off the bench with 10 minutes remaining in the Eternal Derby against Hajduk Split to become the youngest player to play for Dinamo.
Eleven days after that, he became the league’s youngest scorer, scoring Dinamo’s last goal in a 4-1 victory over Slaven Belupo.
Still only 16 Halilovic made his national team debut for Croatia while dreaming of emulating the achievements of his footballing heroes Cristiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi and David Silva.
The following season, Halilovic appeared as a substitute against Paris Saint-German to become the second-youngest player in Champions League history.
Little wonder Tottenham spent most of that summer trying to sign him, only to be thwarted, apparently, by Halilovic’s family.
Whether they felt their son should have more time to develop at home or whether they were after more money is difficult to say, but Alen’s father, Sejad, was a Bosnia-Herzegovina international so may be expected to have some idea of the best way for Alen to mature.
There is also a younger brother, Dino, who is now 15 and making waves in Dinamo’s youth ranks.
Dinamo’s sporting director, Zoram Mamic, said once: “He is a wonder. A lot of people have compared him to Luka Modric, but he’s better than Luka was at this age. Everyone at the club thinks he has even more potential and that he will become one of the best players in the world.”
Halilovic is left-footed though Dinamo have preferred to use him on the right. His talent is indisputable though national youth coach Ivan Gudelj criticised Halilovic and his team-mates in the UAE for “thinking they are already Maradona and not thinking enough about the team.”