With their UEFA Champions League campaign kicking off at Linfield FC tonight, NK Dinamo Zagreb feel they have recruited wisely after Luka Modrić's €21m sale.
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Despite seeing some central figures leave, domestic double winners NK Dinamo Zagreb still look a decent bet to dominate in Croatia this season after bringing in three South American players and are also aiming high in the UEFA Champions League as they visit Linfield FC in the first qualifying round tonight.
During the off-season, two of the club's brightest stars flew the nest as captain Luka Modrić – one of the stars of UEFA EURO 2008™ – moved to Tottenham Hotspur FC for €21m and fellow Croatian international Ognjen Vukojević joined FC Dynamo Kyiv. However, Dinamo have acted quickly by looking overseas for suitable replacements. So, in addition to the five foreign players already at the club – Brazilians Etto, Sammir and Carlos, Frank Guela from Ivory Coast and Cameroonian Mathias Chago – there are now three more.
Already being earmarked as the man to fill Modrić's position is Chile midfielder Pedro Morales. "It's already obvious that he's great," said head coach Branko Ivanković. "Morales is Dinamo's best signing so far. We can use him immediately." After signing a five-year contract, the 23-year-old has fitted in quickly at the club and has already started learning the language, although his vocabulary is currently limited to just four words: hi, back, my and alone. "I feel great with Dinamo's style of play," Morales said. "All the players are very skilful. I am satisfied with my role, I like to have the ball at my feet as much as possible and create chances."
Morales also showed he knew all about the rivalries that existed in Croatian football, saying: "Dinamo are a great club and I am looking forward to the big derby matches against [HNK] Hajduk [Split]." Another 23-year-old midfielder signed is Argentinian Guillermo Suárez, who was part of the CA Tigre side that last season achieved their highest-ever league finish in Argentina – runners-up. The Prva Liga champions have also recruited Luis Ezequiel Ibañez, a 19-year-old left-back from CA Boca Juniors, to fill the gap left by Hrvoje Čale following his switch to Trabzonspor in Turkey.
Apart from bringing defensive expertise to the Dinamo back line, Ibañez contributes possibly the most unusual piece of body art to the team's dressing room – a tattoo of Diego Maradona's autograph on his left hand. "I wanted to have a tattoo of his face, but it wasn't possible, so he gave me his autograph on paper and I had a tattoo made based on it," he explained. Meanwhile, club chairman Mirko Barišić is hopeful the new recruits will show their wares on the pitch and is confident they can help maintain Dinamo's position as the top side in Croatia. "Morales is definitely the most talented player Dinamo have ever brought to the club, Suárez will be the surprise of the league and Ibañez will be worth a lot, a huge amount, in about two years from now," he said. After visiting Belfast on Wednesday, Dinamo welcome Linfield for the second leg a week later as they aim to earn a tie against F91 Dudelange or NK Domžale.