“Hello, Mateo? Inter want you, they have made an offer and you will be moving to Milan.” A surprising phone call that sounded something like that. As unexpected as it was welcome. Life for Mateo Kovacic has changed in a few hours. From Croatia to Italy, from Zagreb to Milan, from Dinamo to Inter. January 30, a day that will be hard to forget for Kovacic. It’s his first day as an Inter player, it is the beginning of a new adventure.
Kovacic is 18 years old and has a child’s eyes, surprised and happy. When they told him about Inter he became dazed, he had not expected it. Mateo was in Nedugorje, in Bosnia, on the border to Croatia. There Dinamo Zagreb were in preparations to return to the pitch after the long winter break without games in the league. Kovacic trained, focusing on returning to play, but with Dinamo. Instead, it will be with a different shirt, the Inter shirt. At the same time agent Bozzo, Inter’s envoy, reached an agreement with Dinamo Zagreb. Kovacic packed his bags. He left Medugorje in the afternoon with destination Zagreb. He came home in the evening, the last night in “his” Zagreb. Today, he leaves with a private flight, Milan is waiting. Medical examinations, signature and finally the pitch. Kovacic can’t wait to play for Inter.
“I love Inter, it’s a dream. I’m so happy,” he confided to his closest friends, teammates who talk about how Mateo always liked Inter. So much so that he often used Inter when he played Playstation and dreamed of one day playing there in a future which has now become a reality. The friends were those Mateo called when he heard about Inter, who have known him since he was 13 years old when he made the transition to Dinamo. It was 2007, the year of his arrival in Croatia. Kovacic has an EU passport because he was born in Linz, Austria. His family is Croatian, his father moved to Austria to get a job. It was there Mateo for the first time started kicking a football: at six years of age, in 2000, he played with Lask Linz youth academy. In 2007, with the transition to Dinamo, began the journey that brought him to the football that counts. The step from playgrounds in Linz to the Santiago Bernabeu is shorter than you think.
Playing in Madrid, against Real Madrid, is difficult for anyone. Imagine then how it is for anyone who is 17 years old. Kovacic has already played 12 matches in the Champions League and he is only 18 years old. That is normal for anyone who made his debut at 16 and a half years of age. How he debuted? With a goal of course. Pity then that the record was stolen by another young Croatian jewel, Alen Halilovic, born in 1996 who was close to Inter in January last year. But that’s another story, this is Mateo Kovacics time.
Surprised by the call from Inter, but happy. Inter wanted him most of all and anticipated the rest of Europe. For several years, the name Mateo Kovacic has been in the plans for all the top clubs. Last year, Arsenal offered eight million, Dinamo refused. He attracted interest mainly from Manchester City, Chelsea tried yesterday to outbid, Real followed him with interest and even Juventus and United followed him. There is also a background story. Two days ago Dnipro came to Medugjorje and knocked on the door for Dinamo’s Vrsalijko, another talent followed by Inter. Dinamo said no, because they knew that they would sell Kovacic to Inter. Inter actually had, after Paulinhos no, no doubts: they wanted Kovacic immediately, a request from Stramaccioni. So two days ago Dinamo were contacted and yesterday Bozzo went to Croatia to negotiate and close the deal.
Who is Mateo Kovacic? He is a central midfielder, but not only that. He can play as mezzala, has often played as regista but was born to be a trequartista. He loves to play the ball on the ground, his role models are Iniesta and Xavi. He is 179 centimeters long, but it is the physical aspect which needs to be developed most. His technique is high-level, he does not lack passes and shots of high quality in his repertoire. Magical feet and technical skills of a real talent. During the season, he has played eleven matches and scored one goal in the league. After a tough start to the season, Kovacic has become steadfast in the starting eleven and played ten matches in a row. Perhaps it was that which convinced Inter from October to November. He has retained his spot match after match. This season with Dinamo Zagreb he has played in several different positions. In 4-2-3-1 as an offensive midfielder behind the striker, but also as one of the two in the middle. But he has also played as a mezzala to the right in 4-3-3 and as a pure regista with two midfielders.
Last season he played 25 matches in the league and scored four goals. Other than that, he has played 12 matches in the Champions League during the last two seasons, the Europe that counts. He has a vision for the game, good ball control and shot: key features technically. He is very good in the horizontal passages, he is measured and often seek passes or plug in the ball behind the defenders. He is very young and must develop very much physically to play in Italy. Now it’s early, he can not yet make the difference, but he can still be useful from the beginning. Stramaccioni can try him on every position in midfield. As regista, an ideal role for the future, but perhaps still too early, or inner midfielder in 3-5-2 with a straight midfield. Guarin on one side, Kovacic (or Kuzmanovic) on the other with Cambiasso or Gargano in the middle. Or in a higher position in 3-4-1-2 as Vice Guarin. It is therefore Stramaccioni wanted him directly, Inter have followed him for a long time. However, he must mature with patience and in an environment that supports him. No, I will not call him the new Modric or the new Boban. He’s just Mateo Kovacic. Give him time, confidence and a ball. The rest is up to him.