First Look: Ante Coric

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Name: Ante Coric
Age: 19
Date of Birth: 14.04.1997 (God, I feel old)
Nationality: Croatian
Club: Dinamo Zagreb
Position: Midfielder
Height: 5’ 6”
Weight: 68 kg
Preferred Foot: Right

In these modern times, the only true way of knowing whether a player is interested in joining your club is if he ‘likes’ related posts on Instagram. For Liverpool fans excited by talk of signing Croatian prospect Ante Coric, there has been encouragement in that regard this summer. He now only needs to follow James Milner on Twitter and it’s a done deal.

Liverpool’s links to Coric have persisted for the past few months, but more recently there have been rumours of bids from Manchester City, Everton and Tottenham. It would make sense given Coric’s talent and the hope of acquiring the 19-year-old for a relatively affordable fee – around £15million – from Dinamo Zagreb.

Those hoping to get a glimpse of the midfielder at Euro 2016 were left disappointed. At one stage Croatia looked destined to reach at least the semi-finals but, before their elimination by eventual champions Portugal in the last 16, Coric failed to make a single appearance. He won the first of his two caps in a friendly against Moldova in May and is expected to feature more frequently in the World Cup qualifiers.

There has been a bounteous production line of Croatian midfielders over the past few years, and Coric – along with fellow youngsters Alen Halilović, who joined Hamburg from Barcelona in July, and Dinamo team mate Marko Rog – has been backed to follow in the footsteps of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic. Mateo Kovacic’s challenging first year at Real Madrid may lead Coric to think even more carefully about his next move, although it is thought Zinedine Zidane is planning to give his compatriot more playing time this season.

Similar to Modric, Coric is a wonderfully balletic playmaker. His ability to quickly drop a shoulder and change direction is especially reminiscent of the former Tottenham man as he twists and turns his equally slight frame to evade opponents. At five feet, six inches tall, there was a time Premier League managers would have overlooked Coric’s skill because of his lack of physical presence, but thanks to Modric, David Silva, and others, that quick judgement has been consigned to history.

With City reportedly in negotiations with Dinamo, it’s possible they see Coric as a potential long-term replacement for Silva. It is easy to understand why Pep Guardiola would be a fan. Always eager to receive the ball while displaying excellent control and vision, the teenager possesses the same traits refined by Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez in the Barcelona midfield. He will need to move the ball quicker to truly convince the new City manager, but that applies to the squad as a whole as Guardiola stated after the opening day victory over Sunderland.

Crucially, Coric already has experience of playing abroad, having turned down Bayern Munich to join the youth set-up at Red Bull Salzburg in 2009. Even at that young age his fondness for hard work shone through, with the decision apparently made because Salzburg trained harder and Coric didn’t feel as though he was better than everyone else. At Dinamo he has deactivated his Facebook account to avoid being pestered by agents so he can concentrate on training and playing.

It’s the sort of anecdote that is music to the ears of a football manager, but Coric’s young age means he still has plenty of developing to do. Among his various strengths, InStat highlights his dribbling, ability on the counter-attack, chance creation and finishing. Like many players breaking through, however, his decision-making is sometimes questionable, while he is also very right-footed (which isn’t necessarily a weakness).

With only two full seasons of professional football under his belt – claiming six goals and nine assists in the last campaign – Coric is a raw talent. But his rise has come at an alarming pace: not many footballers can boast Champions League and international experience at 19, as well as being the youngest ever goalscorer in the Europa League aged just 17 years and 157 days.

If he maintains his progress under the right manager, Coric is a player we could be talking about for many years to come. After four years at Salzburg, the decision was made to return home to Dinamo in 2013. It will be interesting to see whether his next departure from Croatia will be for an extended adventure.

First Look: Ante Coric
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