The story of Antonio Marin’s supposed “downfall” is most unfortunate. However, he is still only 20 years old, and all hope is not lost. Lets dive deeper into why his career fell off the rails and what he’s doing right to get it back on track…
Climbing up the ranks of the Dinamo Zagreb youth academies, Marin was always regarded as one of the most naturally talented youngsters Croatia has ever seen. At the age of 14, Antonio was a member of the Croatian U16 team, where he started to get the attention of many coaches and staff around Croatia. Fast forward to the 2017/18 season, where Marin gets his debut for Dinamo Zagreb at the age of just 17.
Antonio Marin caught the attention of many scouts and big clubs around Europe in the UEFA Youth League tournament where he was a member of Dinamo Zagreb’s U19 squad. He amassed 4G/A in 6 games while playing at the LW position, and showed off his amazing skills and footwork. Quite frankly, he was visibly an entire level above every other player in that tournament. In 2018/19 Marin was bounced back and forth from the Dinamo squad to the Dinamo II squad, putting up 5 goals in 6 games for Dinamo II and 3 assists in 7 games for Dinamo’s senior squad. Marin was also nominated in the Guardian’s top 60 youth talents around the world, being hailed as the “Croatian Neymar”. His coordination, confidence, dribbling, quick changes of direction and ambidexterity was superior to all his peers.
And then came the 2019/20 season. After great performances the season prior, Marin was given opportunities in Dinamo’s senior team. He played mostly out of position at LW or RW (when he prefers to be in the center of the pitch at AM), but was still very promising. He created quality chances and did very well as a ripe 18 year old in the HNL. However, his individual stats were just not up to par at just 1 goal and 1 assist in 13 matches (mostly coming off the bench). Marin had a bit of a hard time adjusting to professional level football after being so dominant against youth players. However, Zoran Mamic did not give him a chance to prove his worth and bounce back the next season. Instead, he was carelessly sent on loan to the Serie B at Monza. Monza was a squad who was making a huge push to the Serie A and relied on players like Kevin-Prince Boateng, Balotelli, etc. This was the worst possible move for a young star like Marin, who desperately needed some consistent play time, because he just did not fit in their team. As a result, he got 85 minutes of football in a full calendar year. Suddenly, Croatia’s biggest attacking prospect fell off everyone’s radar. Now regarded as just another bust, his confidence was shattered. After guys like Halilović, Balić and Čorić, Vatreni fans couldn’t stand the thought of yet another talent wasted. Marin was thus instantly disregarded and ‘on to the next’ was the general mentality amongst Croatia and Dinamo fans.
Thankfully, the next season, his loan at Monza was terminated and Marin returned to Croatia. Not having scored a single goal or even an assist in a whole year really affected him, and this was visible in the way he played. He no longer tried to dribble confidently and attempt beautiful shots. At Lokomotiva, he played it safe, took no risks, and was ultimately a passenger for 15 games. Not a single G/A.
Marin broke his 1 year+ scoring drought with 2 banging goals against Turkey U20 in a friendly. Finally, the Antonio Marin we all knew was back. Dinamo Zagreb loaned him out to Šibenik, the perfect HNL club for now 20 year old Antonio. Marin has since scored 4 goals and recorded 1 assist in 11 starts for Šibenik and has featured in the HNL team of the week twice, which are excellent numbers. He’s had his best performances playing in the middle of the pitch as an attacking midfielder, which allows him to drift wide or stay central, distributing the ball to his wingers and up top to the striker. He’s a creative player, and can’t be constricted to a certain side of the pitch. Playing him in the middle of the field has allowed him to open up his play and ultimately perform better.
Marin’s improvement in his confidence levels have been on display this season, as he’s averaging 2.8 shots per game. He’s also contributing well defensively as he averages almost 2 tackles per game. Additionally, he wins more than half of his duels and has won an average of 7.8/game, which is much more than his mere 2.8 last season for Lokomotiva.
Below are his heatmaps for the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons. Take note of how more mobile he is and how much more space he creates as an attacking midfielder.
He’s obviously much more involved in the play, which is a good indicator of him being more hungry and confident. He backtracks more and is also more mobile in attacking areas. Amazing improvement over the course of just one summer.
Marin has also been a crucial part of the U21 squad alongside Luka Sučić and Roko Šimić. Although he hasn’t scored or assisted, Marin got taken down for a penalty shot and has been one of the best players on the pitch in all four games.
I believe that if Marin can continue to perform throughout the season, we can very well see him getting a second chance with Dinamo next season. He would slot in perfectly at AM as a Lovro Majer replacement, allowing Luka Ivanušec to move back to the RW. He’s been scoring, assisting, working hard, and building his confidence back. Could this be the return of, arguably, Croatia’s most talented youngster of this generation?