Leicester City: Is Filip Benkovic the next Croatian star to take England by storm?
Confirming his transfer on Thursday morning, Leicester City have signed a young centre back from Croatia Zagreb.
A month ago, Chelsea were linked with a move for young Dynamo Zagreb midfielder Filip Benkovic.
It all went quiet, though, as Maurizio Sarri got to know his new team and has reintegrated forgotten man David Luiz. It looks, then, as though the Blues won’t be investing in a new centre half in this window.
However, last week, the name of the young centre back re-emerged in the gossip columns with Leicester City being linked with Benkovic.
On Thursday morning, the deal was finalised. The Croatia Under-21 defender has signed for a figure thought to be in the region of £13 million.
Do Leicester need a new centre half?
Leicester have been busy in the transfer market this summer with players coming in and out of the club.
Title-winning favourite Robert Huth has left the club at the end of his contract: a smart move, given that he turns 34 this month.
Despite offloading Huth, Leicester’s defence is still quite old: Jonny Evans is a canny addition but is 30 years old; Wes Morgan is 34 and Yohan Benalouane is 31.
25-year-old Harry Maguire should be the future of the foxes backline but, if he continues to put in eye-catching performances, he could well move to a Champions League club in the near future. An investment on a promising central defender would be a wise move if Leicester are thinking about the long-term.
In terms of numbers and personnel, two-in and two-out would make logical sense. Aleksandar Dragovic has followed Huth through the exit, rejoining Bayer Leverkusen after last season’s loan came to an end. Benkovic being brought in alongside Evans would constitute good business.
What kind of player is Benkovic?
A product of the famous Dinamo youth academy, Benkovic was with the club since he was five years old.
Playing in one of the less famous leagues of Europe, Benkovic’s name will be unknown to most fans. In these leagues, talent often evades armchair football scouts but clubs like Dinamo have a tremendous record of bringing through prospect.
World Cup hero Luka Modric is the most famous name but the likes of Vedran Corluka, Sime Vrsaljko, Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic and Mario Mandzukic have made their name playing at Croatia’s biggest club.
Another former Dinamo player, Dejan Lovren plays the same position and is of a similar build to Benkovic, making ‘the next Dejan Lovren’ the inevitable tagline.
These comparisons are largely lazy. For one, Benkovic is a couple of inches taller than Lovren at 6’3”: an absolute giant at the back.
Croatian journalist Valentino Komusar says “ever since I first saw him playing for Dinamo, you could just tell that [Benkovic] will do big things.” However, Komusar quick to point out that, given his youth, the centre back should still be regarded as a long-term prospect rather someone straight for the first team. Benkovic only turned 21 this summer.
Komusar also has some warnings about the health of Benkovic, who has missed more games through injuries and suspensions than he has played.
Issues with his back and Achilles tendon forced him to miss most of 2017. However, he was back and performing well by the latter half of last season.
Benkovic was also suspended for six months back in 2014 when he refused to sign a professional “scholarship” contract at the age of 17.
Since then, though, he has been a trusted member of the Dinamo team and, even as a teenager, has featured in both the Champions League and Europa League. During the Champions League, he went through a baptism of fire as Bayern Munich scored five against Zagreb as Robert Lewandowski netted a hat-trick.
At £13 million, Benkovic is the third most profitable transfer in Dinamo’s history: only Luka Modric and Marko Pjaca have cost more, giving an indication of the value that Leicester ascribe to the youngster.
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