By Luke Matthews | Balkan Football Writer
When Paris Saint-Germain take to the field at the Maksimir Stadium on Wednesday, Dinamo Zagreb supporters will likely be in awe of the talent at the disposal of the nouveau-riche French club.
In particular, there will be a vested interest in a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with the Sweden international’s Croatian and Bosnian roots well documented.
However, amongst the Dinamo fans there’s only one player of Bosnian-Croat descent on their lips at the moment and that’s 16-year-old wonderkid, Alen Halilovic. The teenager has only made three substitute appearances – scoring one goal in the process – for the Croatian champions, but already has been touted as the finest Balkan player of his generation.
His debut off the bench in a 3-1 win over bitter rivals Hajduk Split just under a month ago made him the youngest ever debutant in the Croatian top flight at 16 years and 102 days. Ten days later the attacking midfielder broke another record – this time becoming the league’s youngest ever goalscorer after netting with a superb Messi-esque chip in a 4-1 rout of Slaven Belupo.
With his pace, dribbling ability, deadly finishing combined with deceptive strength considering his small frame, the left-footed youngster has unsurprisingly earned comparisons with Lionel Messi.
Likening Halilovic to the Argentine superstar may be a little premature – he’s not the only Balkan player in recent years to be resembled to the Barcelona attacker. Fiorentina’s Stevan Jovetic also earned comparisons to Messi as a 17-year-old and while he is currently fulfilling his potential in Florence, he is doing so as an out-and-out forward.
His club team-mate Adem Ljajic was also likened to the Barca man when he burst onto the scene at Partizan Belgrade yet the Serbian international is only just starting to find his feet in Serie A.
However, there is genuine belief within the Dinamo Zagreb ranks that Halilovic is the best player to emerge from the club in recent memory – no mean feat considering Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar, Vedran Corluka and the highly impressive Mateo Kovacic are all products of Dinamo’s academy in the past decade or so.
One person who has been keeping a close eye on Halilovic’s development is Zagreb-based sports journalist, Aleksandar Holiga.
“Everyone at Dinamo are positive that Halilovic will grow up to become a world class player and that he’ll be better than Luka Modric,” Holiga told Goal.com.
“From what I’ve seen they might be right, the boy really is a bit special and it’s little wonder that clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United want him.”
With Halilovic’s undeniable talent and Dinamo’s modest financial status, it is indeed no surprise that the elite clubs of Europe are sniffing around the 16-year-old. The youngster appears grounded though, recently playing down the transfer talk.
“Stories about Manchester United and Real Madrid? I do not spend much time thinking about those rumours. Dinamo Zagreb will decide what happens,” Halilovic stated.
“All I have to do is try to improve as much as I can – everything else does not matter now.”
The attacker recently signed his first professional contract with Dinamo, which will run until 2014, despite heavy interest for his signature from other sides.
His father, Sejad, currently a coach at Dinamo after a semi-successful career which saw him become the only player in history to represent both Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina was heavily involved in the negotiations to ensure that his son stays in Zagreb for the foreseeable future.
With Halilovic valued at around €12-15 million, it looks unlikely the 16-year-old will be making a move just yet. What does seem more of a certainty is it won’t be long until Halilovic is a name on the lips of football fans throughout Europe.
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