Written By Matt ‘The Golden Child’ Lebo
2011 (and not the full season) has graced us with some magnificent soccer, horrible defeats, hopeful transfers, unfortunate injuries, and what looks to be a steady progression in talent and awareness for our Croatian players. Even though some players may have had a great season, 2011 helped weed out the great from the good.
1. Luka Modrić (Tottenham Hotspur)
The bread and butter of the Croatian National Team and Tottenham Hotspur, Luka Modrić is still growing into his role as one of the best players Croatia has produced, as well as one of the best midfielders in Europe. Looking at his stat sheet, with only three goals and two assists, it raises many questions about his greatness, but it’s the intangible things that he does on the field that convince people why he is one of the top midfielders in the world. His passing, vision, and ability to control the flow of play make him a needed and wanted player by top flight teams in Europe.
Even though he is #1 on our list, he has shown signs of weakness in games with the national team as well as Tottenham. Teams have shown that a strong physical approach and ‘swarm mentality’ have affected Modrić’s game negatively. At a club level, we have seen his role in the midfield change from strictly attacking, to a more all around game. He’s worked hard at improving his defensive abilities, while still being able to perform effectively on offense. Even though he’s had a few setbacks with offensive accolades, we’ve seen his all around performance improve steadily. His passion, work ethic, and value to both teams is what sets him apart, and makes him the top choice.
Jermaine Jenas on Modrić
Luka Modrić Highlight Film
Jelavić takes Scotland by storm
2. Nikica Jelavić (Rangers)
Many of you would argue that Nikica has yet to prove himself to Prva Generacija. After a superb career as an offensive power in Austria, Nikica decided to take his talents to Scotland. After an injury set Jelavić back in the beginning of the season, he made sure to let the rest of the world know what he was all about in 2011. Since his comeback in the middle of January, Nikica has netted 14 goals in 17 appearances, none more important than the game winning goal against rivals Celtic. Along with the 14 goals, Nikica helped propel his team to another SPL title, as well as become the fan favorite at Ibrox stadium.
Even though he is an offensive powerhouse, Nikica has yet to prove himself at a top flight club in Europe. His lack of production for the national team has also brought many questions from his critics. Even with this criticism, Jelavić had a couple things going for him that will help to silence his critics. For one, his lack of quality starts for the national side instill the fact that the best is yet to come from this 25 year-old. Also, his impressive performance in the SPL has brought about rumors of a transfer to top English squad Manchester United. His stock is quickly on the rise, and his strength, acrobatics, and powerful scoring ability is what makes Jelavić Croatia’s #2 for 2011.
Rakitić takes his talents to La Liga
3. Ivan Rakitić (Sevilla)
Rated #10 in Top 10 transfers of the year on Goal.com, Ivan has shown that a slow start doesn’t translate into a terrible finish. After an abysmal end to his time at Schalke, it seemed like things were going to keep going downhill, as Rakitić experienced four losses and an own goal at his new club. But this brief spell of dreadful play transformed into brilliance as Rakitić became an important part of the Sevilla squad. With a 0-0 draw looming against bottom of the table opponent Hercules, Rakitić struck with a 78th minute game winning goal. Since that goal, Raki has gone on to score four more goals which either put his team in the lead, tied the game, or won it all. The wondrous form that we used to see at Schalke was coming back to life in Sevilla, while he helps keep them in the top four in La Liga.
For me, the negatives for Rakitić aren’t many. At times, it seems that he loses focus in the midfield for both his club and country. His poor performance and lack of physicality were evident in the beginning of the season for his club, but he’s bounced back since then. His stock has also dropped due his recent injury, that has placed him on the sidelines to end the season. Even though he lacks a bulky stat sheet and large number of appearances for Sevilla, he helped keep his club in the race for a top five finish and announced his presence in La Liga. Rakitić has also started in the last five wins for the national side, which further solidifies his spot at #3.
Lovren us a staple in the Lyon defense
4. Dejan Lovren (Lyon)
TGC!? What’s wrong with you!? Don’t worry, I’m not expecting this pick to be a favorite among any of CSR nation. I understand many of you are adjusting your glasses or computer screens to see if you are looking at this right. Well get used to it, because I’m pretty positive we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more of this kid for all the right reasons. Out of 12 starts, Lyon has only lost twice with Dejan receiving an average match rating of 6.0, which is good for a defender. His recent performances this month have shown definite improvement and even earned him a ‘man of the match’ award from Goal.com. Let me remind you that this kid is only 21, and the only real problem he’s had were against Real Madrid.
Even though Marcelo ‘did him dirty’, he definitely showed that he was able to hang with the big boys throughout many stages of the match and Champions League. With Lovren at the #4 spot, he definitely has room to grow. His last game showed Prva Generacija that complete maturity and mental toughness have yet to fully develop for the youngster. Along with current mental lapses, which we see in many of our players, he’s still got some work to do on defense. Lovren needs to improve his pace and ability to stick with more technically challenged players. Even though he needs work, his youth and ability to grow is a blessing in disguise for Lovren; and the future of our backline. Since coming to Ligue 1, Lovren has proven that he can excel in a competitive European league by helping his team to a top 3 finish while earning caps for the national team. I’m predicting a bright future for Lovren and expecting him to translate his success and growth from club level to the national level.
LOVREN ON LYON TRANSFER
5. Ivan Perišić (Club Brugge)
Finally, the last spot goes to Ivan Perišić. He’s been an essential cog for Club Brugge, scoring a total of seven goals, with a number of assists in a 13-game stretch. At the age of 22, his highlight reel is something to admire. His stat line may seem pretty good, but really doesn’t do justice to how dangerous and skillful he is. He’s young, he can finish, and his value has skyrocketed, as top Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund, have already picked up the Croatian kid for next season. He topped out in Belgium winning the scoring title and Belgian Player of the Year awards this season. Let’s see what he can do in the Bundesliga.
Just like Lovren, his maturity and talent give him room to grow. He’s technically sound on the ball, but his decision making and passing ability leave something more to be desired. On a national level, I believe more opportunities on the pitch will provide Perišić with confidence, as well as humble his cocky attitude as he goes against tougher competition. With a move to the Bundesliga, we are going to be seeing and talking about this kid for a long time to come.
I know that the Lakić snub may be a bit of a surprise to Prva Generacija, but 2011 has not been as fruitful as 2010, and the five players above have outshined him this year. I tried to do as much research as possible so I could come to you guys with what I thought were the best #5, and I believe that these five showed the best performance and promise this year. I’m working on stat sheets that I can update each week to make write-ups like these more accurate and informative. Constructive criticism and feedback is definitely welcome. Enjoy!