GNK Dinamo Zagreb are the most successful club in Croatia, but very rarely do they get the plaudits they deserve when it comes to how they have achieved this – especially in the last decade or so. Over the last decade, GNK Dinamo Zagreb, have consistently produced quality young players from their academy. They have done this through either honing skills of young players for years in their academy or acquiring young players from other academy and further elevating their game in their academy. Some of these young players have gone onto being acquired by clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Ajax whom many view as superior in terms of youth recruitment and development. In fact, the club has developed so much talent in the last few years that it has been able to survive and grow from selling its youth prospects alone. A lesson that many clubs can learn from, as former Croatia coach Mirko Jozić puts it;
“Lots of clubs can learn from the way Dinamo Zagreb work with young players. They have no need to worry about their future.”
Below, we take a look at best youth players to have came through the Zagreb academy in past few years and sold;
He came to the Dinamo Zagreb academy when he was 8 years old. And made his debut in 2003 but eventually made it out of the academy set up and into the first team really in 2005. And went on to play over 60 games with club before being transferred to Manchester City in 2007 for £9.6 mil.
Arrived at the GNK Dinamo Zagreb academy when he was 16 years old in 1999. And made his debut in 2001 and was loaned out to Croatia Sesvete and Inter Zepresic for 2 years. He went into the first team as a regular in 2003 and went on to play over 100 games scoring over 73 goals with the club before being sold to Arsenal in 2007 for a fee of £9.4 mil.
Joined the Dinamo Zagreb youth academy for next to nothing when he was 16. Spent his first year being developed by the Zagreb academy and was then loaned out a year later and went on to make his debut in 2005. He developed his reputation as a versatile playmaker during his 6 years at the club and was eventually sold to Tottenham in April of 2008 for £14.7 mil. Nowadays, he plays for Real Madrid and is one of the best playmakers in the world with a market vale of £35 mil
Joined the GNK Dinamo Zagreb academy when he was 15 years old in 2004 and went to make his debut in 2006 before being loaned out to NK Inter Zaprešić for 3 years and when he came back, he became a first team regular in 2009 and was sold a year later for round about £6 mil.
Currently one of the best young playmakers in world football and has just recently moved to Real Madrid for £22 mil. He joined the academy from Austrian club LASK Linz when he was 13 years old and from an early age he was sought after by the elite European clubs but he chose to join and stay at the GNK Dinamo Zagreb academy. He made his debut in 2010 for the club and became the youngest goalscorer in the history of the league, at the age of 16 years and 198 days. He went on to play 43 games for Zagreb in his 3 years at the club and was transferred to Inter MIlan for €15 mil.
Spent 2 years in the GNK Dinamo Zagreb when he joined in 2005 at the age of 16 years old and was loaned out to a lower league Croatian side. Went on to make his debut and become a first team regular after the departure of Modric in 2008 and became a central figure in the side for 5 years and was eventually sold to Hamburg SV for €4.5 mil. Now part of the Italian side Fiorentina but so much was expected from Baldelj and he is still not truly realised his potential.
He was at GNK Dinamo Zagreb for 7 years and he joined in 2006 at the age of 14 years old. He made his debut on February of 2010 when he was 17 years old and went to appear 73 times for the club. He was eventually sold to Genoa for an undisclosed believed to be €4 million.
He is seen as one of best young defenders in the world, a technical and versatile center back already capped for his national side 3 times all at the age of 19. He came to the GNK Dinamo Zagreb academy at the age of 10 and made his debut in 2013 and such was his talent he was bought the same year by AS Roma for £3.5 mil. According to the Transfermarkt website his current market value is just over £5mil but would expect that to triple in the next 3 years.
He was just six years old when he joined the academy and went to play for all the different youth teams in the GNK Dinamo Zagreb set up and stayed with the club for 15 years. Made his debut in 2009 and was loaned out in 2012 and when he returned in 2013 to Zagreb, he became disillusioned which lead to his exit. He left when he was 21 years due to lack of playing time and went to league rivals Rijeka for just £850k where he scored an incredible 37 goals in 42 games. It turned to be one of the rare mistakes in youth development by GNK Dinamo Zagreb. Now playing in Leicester City after he was transferred there from Rijeka for club record fee of £9mil.
A 19 year old striker, who has been linked with several big European clubs over the years, most notably Manchester United. He came to GNK Zagreb academy at the age of 15 years after spending years moving academy to academy in his youth which affects development. He settled down at GNK Dinamo Zagreb and begun to create a reputation of one to watch in the future and was eventually transferred to Ajax under controversial circumstances which have prevented him from making his debut for his new club.
And leaving the best for last, one of the world’s most heralded prospect currently a part of Spanish side Sporting Gijon on loan from FC Barcelona. He started his career at GNK Dinamo Zagreb and eventually left for FC Barcelona in July of 2014, when he was 18 years old for an initial fee of €2.2 million with potential to rise. But before that move, he had already made 44 appearances for the Croatian side and already broken records. He is the youngest debutant in the history of Dinamo Zagreb, at the age of 16 years and 101 days and also the youngest goalscorer in the history of the league, at the age of 16 years and 112 days.
And currently at the club, they still boast talented prospects like the skilful Marko Pjaca who has scored 3 goals in this years’ UEFA Champions league and is already attracting attention from the likes of FC Bayern Munich. As well, as Ante Coric who is also attracting the same attention. Its only a matter of time before these young prospects are snapped up by the other richer clubs and like the names above go on to bigger and better things. Although these other elite clubs have better reputation, bigger finances and better facilities they still time and again struggle to provide consistently quality prospects from their academies like GNK Dinamo Zagreb.
As Romeo Jozak, who works as part of the GNK Dinamo Zagreb states
“A lot of credit must go to the coaches, but we have also shown a good eye for recognising talent – we can’t afford to miss any talented players,” continued Jozak. “A couple of years ago, our academy was recognised as one of the best six youth schools in Europe, along with the likes of Barcelona, Inter, Arsenal and Sporting. We work with a budget of around €1m a year, while the other clubs have up to €8m to spend.”