A towering goalkeeper standing at 1.91m, NK Inter Zaprešić's Matej Delač has enjoyed a charmed start to life as a top-flight footballer. Having saved a penalty on his debut, he gained 38 friends on Facebook overnight; two months on and firmly established in the starting XI he is gaining more overtures, from fans in the streets and Croatia's top sides. Not bad for a 16-year-old.
Croatia has developed a reputation for nurturing its young footballing talent over the past two decades, but at 16 years and 186 days, the decision to throw Delač into the fray against NK Zagreb at the end of February raised eyebrows. They had ascended still further by full time, with the keeper's penalty save to deny former Croatian international Davor Vugrinec proved decisive as struggling Inter Zaprešić claimed a 1-0 win. "After I made my debut I got 38 requests to be friends on Facebook in just a few hours – I couldn't believe it," said the Bosnian-born youngster. "People are already saying 'hello' and greeting me on the street."
Indeed, Delač has been the consummate overnight success, and remains immovable from the Inter Zaprešić lineup. With HNK Hajduk Split and NK Dinamo Zagreb both casting admiring glances he may be prised away sooner rather than later, though the Croatian giants may face competition from elsewhere as Delač is on radars across Europe. Last summer he almost joined SL Benfica after impressing during a trial. "I was there on trial and it was great," the youngster explained. "Their scout watched me during an Under-15 match for Croatia and invited me to Lisbon. I trained a few times and they were very satisfied. But the clubs couldn't agree terms and I returned to Zapresic."
It could all have been very different, and sums up the nascent career of a player who was initially reluctant to don the gloves but did so when "my coach saw that I was taller than everybody else". Humble beginnings, but Delač is planning to grace more exalted environs soon enough. "I'm spending lot of time watching players' shots," he said. "If I could pick a player to deny from the penalty spot it would be Cristiano Ronaldo. He's superb. I would love to save one of his shots once in my life." Should he continue on his current trajectory he may not have to wait too long to realise that dream.
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