"Lots of clubs can learn from the way Dinamo Zagreb work with young players," said former Croatia coach Mirko Jozić, who once headed the club's world-famous academy.
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Seldom is the home of GNK Dinamo Zagreb or its surrounding training pitches not populated by eagle-eyed scouts looking to unearth the stars of tomorrow.
Indeed, the Croatian title holders have cultivated a worldwide reputation for producing gifted footballers. Perhaps the most pertinent example is Real Madrid CF schemer Luka Modrić, who commanded a fee approaching €27m when he left Dinamo for Tottenham Hotspur FC in 2008, before joining the Spanish giants four years later. Experienced full-back Vedran Ćorluka, Southampton FC defender Dejan Lovren, Hamburger SV midfielder Milan Badelj and FC Shakhtar Donetsk forward Eduardo have also flourished in Europe since coming through the Dinamo ranks.
In the past, Dinamo nurtured national icons like Zvonimir Boban, who was made captain aged 19, and Robert Prosinečki. The former swapped Dinamo for AC Milan in 1991, winning four Scudettos and the UEFA Champions League among other trophies during an 11-year stay in Italy. Prosinečki became the hero of FK Crvena zvezda's 1991 European Champion Clubs' Cup-winning team and went on to represent FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Last year, teenagers Mateo Kovačić, Tin Jedvaj and Šime Vrsaljko departed the Croatian capital for FC Internazionale Milano, AS Roma and Genoa CFC respectively. Tricky midfielder Alen Halilović and strikers Fran Brodić and Robert Murić, all 17, are the latest Dinamo prospects attracting covetous glances from Europe's elite, meanwhile. "During the FIFA U-17 World Cup, there were scouts from Monaco, Paris and Juventus showing interest in Murić. He is a big talent," said Romeo Jozak, head of the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) technical committee.
"A lot of credit must go to the coaches, but we have also shown a good eye for recognising talent – we can't afford to miss any talented players," continued Jozak. "A couple of years ago, our academy was recognised as one of the best six youth schools in Europe, along with the likes of Barcelona, Inter, Arsenal and Sporting. We work with a budget of around €1m a year, while the other clubs have up to €8m to spend."
Former Croatia coach Mirko Jozić, who was in charge of Dinamo's youth academy in 2008, envisages bright times ahead for Zoran Mamić's side – currently five points clear at the Prva Liga summit. "These young players deserve huge respect," he said. "Lots of clubs can learn from the way Dinamo Zagreb work with young players. They have no need to worry about their future."
Earlier this month, Dinamo's Under-17s overcame counterparts from FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund en route to winning the Jugend EURO Cup – an annual 12-team indoor youth tournament held in Germany. Dinamo's conveyor belt of talent, it seems, keeps rolling on.