If the ongoing 2022 World Cup in Qatar were to hand out an award for the tournament’s best defender, Josko Gvardiol would lead the nominations.
The Croatia centre-back is currently third on the clearance chart with 25, fourth in interceptions with seven, ninth in terms of passes, 318, and has the fifteenth most recoveries with 30 so far in the World Cup.
Shakhtar Donetsk coach Igor Jovicevic, who during his time at Dinamo Zagreb, was like a ‘sporting father’ to Gvardiol explains to MARCA why the Croatian could become the world’s most expensive defender in history.
“He was in the youth team and I thought he was so good that I took him straight to the team with me,” Jovicevic stated.
“He was 16 years old and already playing in the second division. The workload was very heavy, but he could handle it. We quickly realised that he was going to be a top centre-back.
“I understand that people miss him… but for those of us who know him closely, it’s been more than three years since he stopped surprising us. The World Cup, for Josko, is just another day at the office. He grows in every game.”
A Sergio Ramos-like character
Jovicevic also draws a parallel between Gvardiol and another legendary center back, Sergio Ramos.
“He had a personality unbefitting his age,” Jovicevic continued.
“He reminds me of Sergio Ramos. If he misses, he picks himself up. I’m a coach who believes in young players. If you see a player with that potential you have to stick with him at any cost, even if the price is that you get sacked.
“Time, fortunately, has proved me right. I have a great relationship with Josko and every time I see him play, I feel gratitude.”
The Shakhtar coach also elaborated on how Gvardiol is a complete center-back, relying on both physical prowess and intelligence.
“He had total control of the game,” Jovicevic stated.
“He was physically strong and made decisions with little effort. You could see what you see now: a solid, intelligent defender, who anticipates well and who is very strong in the clash. You see him play and it looks like he doesn’t even sweat.”
Jovicevic also explained how several of his coaches doubted Gvardiol‘s potential, with the Croatian adamant that they wouldn’t get another chance to sign him.
“Some people told me that he didn’t have a good head and that it was difficult for him to turn,” Jovicevic explained.
“My answer was always the same: ‘Get a move on because if you don’t sign him now, you’ll never be able to sign him again.’”
Gvardiol joined Leipzig in 2021 for 18.80 million and the price touted for his next move is set to be astronomical.
“They already turned down 80 million from Chelsea last summer,” Jovicevic stated.
“I think the transfer, if Leipzig push for it, can go up to 100 million euros, which would make him the most expensive defender in history.”
Real Madrid profile
Jovicevic, believes Gvardiol has the ability to succeed at Real Madrid, with the player offering an array of unique talents.
“Tell me, at the age of 20, what defender can you find with that solidity and that mentality, who offers immediate performance and, at the same time, has so much potential for improvement?” Jovicevic asked rhetorically.
“And, on top of that, he’s left-footed, which there aren’t many. He can play as a centre-back in a line of three and in a line of four, as a left-back… he comes out driving and almost gets into the opponent’s box. He is a ‘chosen one’.
“He could play for any top club. PSG, Barcelona, if it were up to me, I would [want him] go to Real Madrid.
“I don’t want to hear about anything else. What’s more, I’m surprised that Real Madrid didn’t sign him two or three years ago, although I also understand that they waited for him to mature a bit more.”