Croatian star Josko Gvardiol is stealing the show with his World Cup displays and Chelsea are well-placed to land him… but Blues know they have to pay upwards of £75m to fend off interest from Manchester United and Real Madrid
Josko Gvardiol always seemed destined for the top. The only question, it seems, was in which position.
When word of his talent first started to spread a few agents travelled to Croatia on an early due diligence mission expecting to see a potentially world class talent left back, as he had been intriguingly billed.
So their surprise was obvious when Gvardiol, then 15, started in central midfield in Dinamo Zagreb’s academy derby against Lokomotiva Zagreb.
Josko Gvardiol has been one of the best defenders in Qatar and is living up to his potential
European big guns will be coming after the RB Leipzig man with Chelsea favourites to land him
Gvardiol was needed to help solve an injury crisis, with his Dinamo coaches viewing him as the only one in his group they could trust to play anywhere.
They were more than vindicated when Gvardiol scored twice and set up a third goal all before half-time and he performed so well he remained in midfield for the rest of the campaign.
The following season, those who had already adjusted their expectations of Gvardiol once to view him as an exceptionally gifted midfielder were left scratching their heads again when his new coach, Dalibor Poldrugac, decided that his future would now be in central defence.
Poldrugac described Gvardiol as a diamond, was adamant he would be a world class central defender and starting for Croatia by 19.
After just six months in his new position, Gvardiol’s rise for club and country quickly gathered pace leading to a first-team debut aged 17. Europe’s biggest clubs really began going crazy for him and Poldrugac’s prediction, it has transpired, could not have been more accurate.
The RB Leipzig centre back pulled out one of the tackles of the tournament against Belgium
He did indeed make his first Croatia start aged 19, against England at last summer’s Euros.
And Gvardiol, now at RB Leipzig, has been one of the best defenders in Qatar, living up to his world class potential tag.
The unfazed 20-year-old has produced a string of impressive performances which have showcased his trademark maturity beyond his years.
One, against Belgium, featured the tackle of the tournament. Another will be needed in Friday’s quarter-final against Brazil.
Rather than spark new interest though Gvardiol’s showings have merely confirmed what his many admirers already knew – he is made for the biggest stage.
Chelsea are chief among them. They first began gathering information on Gvardiol when he was 16.
Chelsea look well placed to tried to sign Gvardiol after attempting to do so in the summer
They and Liverpool were keen to sign Gvardiol before he signed his first professional contract with Dinamo Zagreb.
The summer window brought renewed Chelsea interest, including talks to sign him for around £75m and loan him back to RB Leipzig for this season, but Gvardiol stayed put and signed a new deal. Still, the Londoners look well-placed to sign him in the future.
Christopher Vivell, expected to become Chelsea’s new technical director, has also followed Gvardiol since he was 16, first tried to sign him for RB Salzburg and eventually succeeded at Leipzig.
But Chelsea are far from alone. United and Tottenham were also keen during the summer. There were suggestions Manchester City considered rivalling Chelsea on deadline day. And then there are Europe’s other big guns, including Real Madrid, too.
Gvardiol’s agent Marjan Sisic told Sky Germany: ‘Regarding a possible transfer in summer 2023, we are in no hurry and I can make clear that there are no pre-agreements with any clubs. Josko has a long-term contract [until 2027] in Leipzig. Josko feels totally happy in Leipzig.’
But that time for a transfer will eventually arrive and, once again, it will only be a matter of where for Gvardiol.