Dinamo Zagreb's conveyor belt of talent

As Tin Jedvaj seals a permanent switch to Bayer 04 Leverkusen, we go back to where it all began for a defender still only 19: GNK Dinamo Zagreb's world-famous academy.

Tin Jedvaj's performances have had the thumbs up from many this season
Tin Jedvaj's performances have had the thumbs up from many this season ©Getty Images

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. He was, said many, the beating heart of last May's UEFA Champions League triumph.

Experienced full-back Vedran Ćorluka, Liverpool FC defender Dejan Lovren, ACF Fiorentina midfielder Milan Badelj and former Arsenal FC forward Eduardo also flourished in Europe after coming through the Dinamo ranks. It is not a new trend, either. In the past, Dinamo nurtured national icons like Zvonimir Boban, who was made captain aged 19, and Robert Prosinečki.

Luka Modrić: the vanguard of Croatian success
Luka Modrić: the vanguard of Croatian success©Getty Images

In 2013 youngsters Mateo Kovačić, Tin Jedvaj and Šime Vrsaljko departed the Croatian capital for FC Internazionale Milano, AS Roma and Genoa CFC respectively. Kovačić and Vrsaljko were already senior internationals; Jedvaj, who on Tuesday completed a permanent move to Bayer 04 Leverkusen after impressing on loan from Roma, followed suit in September.

Last year it was tricky midfielder Alen Halilović (to FC Barcelona) and strikers Fran Brodić (Club Brugge KV) and Robert Murić (AFC Ajax), all 17 at the time, that went. The 22-year-old Marcelo Brozović, a midfielder, now appears the centre of scouting attention, attracting covetous glances from across the continent.

"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," said Romeo Jozak, head of the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) technical committee. "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."

Mateo Kovačić takes the crossbar challenge
Mateo Kovačić takes the crossbar challenge

Former Croatia coach Mirko Jozić, who was in charge of Dinamo's youth system in 2008, chips in: "These young players command huge respect. Lots of clubs can learn from the way Dinamo Zagreb work with young players. They have no need to worry about their future." Nor, it seems, does the club itself. Last winter 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.

Dinamo's conveyor belt of talent keeps rolling on. And then there is the prospect that one day the flow of fine players will reverse, a hope raised by Kovačić recently. "Dinamo have always had great talent and it was a great honour for me to captain the team despite being very young," he told UEFA.com. "I hope one day I will be able to play for Dinamo again. They are the team of my heart."

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