It’s that time of the year again! The 2023-24 football season is kicking off, and we can’t think of a better way to start it than to rank Croatia’s top-10 youngsters ahead of their campaigns. Here’s how our grading scale works:
The most important factor is potential, followed by current skill level, age, national team contributions, and lastly, level of competition. These are power rankings solely based on today’s status – and are subject to change throughout the season.
- Joško Gvardiol – Red Bull Leipzig – 21 – Defender
Our pick for #1 shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Gvardiol is already arguably the best center-back in world football, a label that will only grow stronger with the completion of his transfer to Manchester City. Croatia’s 21-year-old brick wall was the best defender at the 2022 World Cup and is projected to improve with time. They call him the “minister of defense” for a reason.
2. Martin Baturina – 20 – Dinamo Zagreb – Midfielder
Coming off a fantastic 2022-23 season with Dinamo Zagreb, Baturina is already being targetted by many big clubs around Europe, most notably by Arsenal. The 20-year-old scored six goals and assisted 12 times in 34 appearances for the HNL champions and was Croatia’s standout player at the U-21 Euro in June. Baturina’s gigantic leap last season gives us every reason to call him our #1 midfield prospect going into fall.
3. Luka Vušković – 16 – Hajduk Split – Defender
No doubt about it, young Vušković is the most physically gifted talent Croatia has ever had. The 6’4 center-back is still only 16 years of age and has the entire world of football at his feet. Real Madrid, Manchester City, PSG, and Barcelona all have their eyes on Hajduk’s hottest prospect, and it is rumored that he could leave the club today for around 12M euros if an agreement is met. Famous football scout Jacek Kulig claims that Vušković is one of his top-3 discoveries ever.
4. Luka Sučić – 20 – Red Bull Salzburg – Midfield
If this article was written a year ago, Sučić would easily be our #2 prospect behind Gvardiol. Unfortunately, a brutal knee injury set the young midfielder back last season, making room for Vušković and Baturina on the podium. Given the #10 shirt for RB Salzburg, Sučić has the opportunity to put on a fantastic bounce-back season for the Austrian champions and pick up some trade proposals from very large European clubs. Rumors are circulating that Serie A side Lazio are already looking to sign Sučić ahead of this year’s campaign.
5. Josip Šutalo – 23 – Dinamo Zagreb – Defender
Josip Šutalo has been an absolute beast for Dinamo Zagreb and the Croatian national team when called upon. The fact that he is #5 on our list just shows how incredibly deep Croatia’s talent pool is right now. Ajax, Arsenal, Fiorentina, and Napoli are all in talks with Dinamo to sign the strong center-back, with Leipzig on the verge of swooping in and taking him to the Bundesliga if the Gvardiol deal goes through. Šutalo is just one of those players that you can trust on and off the ball at all times, and is a true leader on the pitch. The center-half position should be in good hands for the next decade, at least.
6. Dion Drena Beljo – 21 – Augsburg – ST
Dion Drena Beljo is Croatia’s biggest hope to save the Vatreni from their complicated striker problems. Similar to Mario Mandžukić, Beljo is a tall, athletic motor up top who can score goals with his head and also make a play with his feet. He works very, very hard, and was voted Augsburg’s top signing of the 2022-23 season by their fans. Expect a solid season from Beljo this campaign.
7. Matija Frigan – 20 – Westerlo – Forward
Talk about a breakout season out of nowhere! Matija Frigan put Rijeka on his back last season during some tough stretches of play from the club, scoring 14 goals last season in the Prva Liga. Frigan completed a move to aspiring Belgian side Westerlo a few weeks ago, joining many other top talents from around Europe. If the 6’1 utility forward can continue to tear it up in Belgium, he could be on his way to a top-5 league side in a few years.
8. Josip Stanišić – 23 – Bayern Munich – Defender
A somewhat household name already, Stanišić has been nothing but solid when it comes to international football. At the end of the day, he is playing football for Bayern Munich, and playing well for the German giants too. He might not ever become the superstar that some claim he will be, but it’s safe to say that he will be really key for the Vatreni in years to come. He has it rough behind the mighty Josip Juranović in the pecking order, but he’s come up big for the Vatreni on several occasions. Stanišić is a really good player to have in your system.
9. Niko Sigur – 19 – Hajduk Split – Defender
Niko Sigur is so fun to watch on the pitch. The Canadian-born defender/defensive midfielder was Croatia’s second-best player at the U-21 Euro behind Baturina, and has been a stud for Hajduk Split in the opportunities he’s been given. He is cementing himself as a starter for Hajduk and is one solid season away from catching eyes all around Europe. Committing to play for Croatia early on in his career, Sigur has quickly become a fan favorite across the country.
10. Niko Janković – 21 – Rijeka – Midfielder
Now here’s a player you might not know – yet. We’re picking Janković to be Croatia’s silent breakthrough star this season. The 21-year-old midfielder got off to a hot start with Rijeka this season, scoring three goals in his first two competitive matches. Janković was a standout player in Dinamo Zagreb’s youth ranks, and has also spent time with Zrinjski Mostar in the Bosnian Premier League. Expect to hear a lot about this talent on CroatianSports.com this year…