Josko Gvardiol is a wanted man | Emma Simpson/Getty Images
Croatian football has produced plenty of young talents over the years, and the next player off the production line looks to be Dinamo Zagreb centre-back Joško Gvardiol.
The 18-year-old made his breakthrough last season and has already attracted major interest from some big sides across Europe, with Leeds United leading RB Leipzig in the €20m race for his signature.
With just 12 senior appearances to his name before the start of the 2020/21 season, it’s fair to say that Gvardiol isn’t exactly a household name just yet, so here’s everything you need to know about him.
Guardiola inspired his nickname | Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images
Most of his team-mates don’t know him by ‘Joško’ or ‘Gvardiol’. Instead, he goes by ‘Pep’, because of how close his surname is to that of the Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola.
Coincidentally, Guardiola has even been linked with Gvardiol in the past, perhaps on a quest to sign every Pep in the world.
Not only is Gvardiol popular among Dinamo fans for his play style, but his down-to-earth attitude has also made him a beloved man. Fans went wild when they discovered he doesn’t drive a flashy car, but instead takes the tram to training.
To burst the bubble slightly, he told Jutarnji list that he only does that because he hasn’t actually passed his driving test yet, but that hasn’t stopped fans from raving about his time on the tram.
Bertrand is on Gvardiol’s wall of fame | Robin Jones/Getty Images
Gvardiol has three shirts hanging on his wall. One is the Croatian national shirt and another is a Benfica shirt signed by national team-mate Filip Krovinović, and the third is from Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand.
“His agent wanted to sign me, but in the end none of that happened, so he sent me a signed jersey,” Gvardiol revealed.
Gvardiol penned a new five-year contract with Dinamo back in June, after which he told the club’s official website that he has no plans to leave anytime soon.
“What I have here I don’t know if I could have anywhere else,” he explained.
“Of course, Europe is my goal, but it will come when the time comes. Then when I leave, I want to have left a mark in Dinamo. Not before.”
Luciano Spalletti tried to bring Gvardiol to Inter | Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images
In Croatia, you can find links between Gvardiol and pretty much every European giant from the past few years, but the side mentioned most is Inter.
I Nerazzurri made a push to sign Gvardiol in 2018 when he was just 15 years old, but the defender rejected the chance to seal a €4m move to San Siro as he felt he had a better chance of developing with Dinamo.
Alongside Inter, Bayern Munich and Manchester City are often named as potential suitors (Peps have got to stick together), but you can also find links to Chelsea, Juventus, Real Madrid and Ajax.
Described as the epitome of a modern centre-back by numerous reports in his homeland, Gvardiol has all the attributes to succeed in a top league.
Standing at 6’1, the teenager brings an imposing combination of physicality and electric pace – some would even argue that his speed is his most impressive attribute.
Having spent a large part of his youth as a left-back, Gvardiol is also comfortable bursting forward on the pitch. He knows how to find vacant space and is rarely scared of stepping up into it, and he’s comfortable enough with the ball at his feet to make something happen.
Gvardiol studies Van Dijk | Soccrates Images/Getty Images
It seems like every team in the world is on the lookout for the next Virgil van Dijk, and Gvardiol is seemingly doing his best to become exactly that.
“As a kid, I admired Lionel Messi, but now I am increasingly watching the players in my position. And today is the best Virgil Van Dijk,” he told 24sata.
Known as somebody who obsesses over analysis and watching footage, Gvardiol will know all about what makes Van Dijk the best in the business.
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