Talent Scout: Josip Iličić, Palermo
Saturday 03 December 2011
As football continues to become a world of quick fixes and transfer window roulette, there is an increasing realisation that Europe's middle weights can only maintain consistency by focusing on the stability of forward thinking.
There are few better examples of this than Serie A outfit Palermo, who's sensible and well thought out recruitment policy has helped the club punch above its weight in recent seasons. The faith put in cheap, well scouted talent with massive sell on potential was summed up last summer, when PSG splashed out £37 million on star man Javier Pastore. It was a notable profit, on a player who cost them just £3 million.
The temptation was surely there for Palermo to invest a large proportion of those funds in a replacement trequartista, but staying true to their model, they promoted from within. Step forward 23-year-old Josip Iličić, a talented midfielder plucked from a journeyman career in Slovenia, and currently thriving after emerging from Pastore's shadow.
Iličić was a £1.5 million buy from NK Maribor in 2010, and after 18 months of Italian adaptation, is now considered one of Serie A's most sought after gems. It's a title that seemed unthinkable given his difficult start to life.
Born in the war torn Bosnian city of Prijedor, Iličić was taken to the sporting hotbed of Kranj in Slovenia by his mother Ana aged just one, following the death of his father. It proved to be a key move in developing his love of football, quickly joining Triglav Kranj and then having spells at minnows Bonifika and Interblock, before sealing a switch to the countries most successful club, Maribor.
But Iličić's time there would be short lived, as Palermo moved quickly to secure his services after months of carefully monitoring his progress. The transfer seemed an instant success, as he established himself as a regular, forming part of a delicious front three with the wily Fabrizio Miccoli and exciting schemer Pastore. But this term, without the Argentine pulling the strings, Iličić has moved from a wide role into the centre, where he's really caught the eye.
It's no surprise, either. Iličić is one of Europe's most intriguing players, defying convention in almost every way, with a mix of physical and technical abilities that are hard to imagine working so well together, but do.
Let's start with the physique - he's six foot three inches tall, with good upper body strength and long, powerful legs. Yet far from being the stereotypical, sluggish, midfield battering ram, Iličić is a highly technical attacker, boasting quick, nimble footwork, incredible poise and more flicks and tricks than you can shake a stick at.
He can play all across the midfield or front three, but Iličić is at his best when allowed to cut inside from the right, where he can find space to show off his best asset of them all - shooting. There are few players who can get consistent results with a modern football, but Iličić can, regularly unleashing accurate, powerful shots from range, which give goalkeepers little chance.
Although the majority of his goals are 25-yard thunderbolts, Iličić is also excellent at timing runs into the box, where he's often on hand to find space and composure to tuck away any scraps that fall his way. That's how he finishes chances, but he's not bad at making them either. Iličić's ability to draw players in, then whip the ball away at the last minute, means he buys himself and team-mates space in dangerous areas. His vision and crossing is good, but the main game is all about beating players then finding a simple ball to unlock defences.
There are some downsides, such as Iličić's desire to over commit to defending, which often leaves him caught down field on attacks. He's also knocked off the ball a little too easily when dribbling through midfield. On top of that, he also needs to learn when to use his delicate flicks to best effect, and not show boat unnecessarily.
However, all in all, Iličić is a fascinating player. Tall and imposing physically, but elegant and poised technically, he's a unique mix. Add to that a thunderous left foot shot, good work rate, versatility and some stylish foot work, and Palermo have got themselves another talent with massive sell on potential.
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