Ante Palaversa: The rising Croatian star who could solve Manchester City's midfield concerns

The promising youngster has caught the eye of Pep Guardiola and his City scouts

Juraj Vrdoljak
Thursday 31 January 2019 13:00
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It's always hard to stay put when the likes of Manchester City come calling, especially when you're still a teenager with just over 1,000 minutes of professional football behind you. Ante Palaversa, the young Croatian prodigy who will turn 19 in just under two months' time, has decided he's good enough to try and prove himself worthy to be a part of Pep Guardiola's setup. At least in due time.

So who is this youngster following the steps of former famous graduates of Hajduk Split football academy such as Slaven Bilić and Igor Štimac, who also happened to make the ranks in England's top flight?

Just last summer Palaversa was still a talented but also relatively unknown youngster to anyone who isn't keen on following youth football in Croatia. He spent the majority of last season still getting used to senior football as part of the Hajduk Split's reserves competing in the Croatian Second Division under Siniša Oreščanin, who eventually took over as the first team manager in November last year. With heavy reliance on youth development it wasn't long before Ante got his chance in the Hajduk senior squad, making his official debut last June in the Europa League qualifier against Bulgarian side Slavia Sofia, one month after signing his first professional contract with the club.

After that there was no turning back for him.

He had to mature fast as his debut season coincided with one of the club's worst starts in the independent Croatian league. As a result manager Željko Kopić, who promoted Ante into the first team, got sacked early into the season following a string of bad results, and his experienced successor Zoran Vulić only lasted two months at the helm before falling out with the board. Still, Palaversa managed to keep his head in place as well as his first team status, proving he is able to further develop in difficult circumstances regardless of his youth.

The appointment of Siniša Oreščanin, who overlook his transition into senior football, as the new first team manager benefited Palaversa as well as certain other players from the latest crop of academy talent that made the first team selection. Oreščanin is the one who found a specific role for Palaversa in his preferred diamond shaped midfield, making him the focal point of his possession-based football and a metronome who quickly embraced the individual style appealing to the likes of Pep Guardiola.

Palaversa currently covers the No 8 role in Oreščanin's asymmetric midfield system. However, he is fully adept to make a comfortable switch to a No 6, which is probably how he got into the notebooks of Manchester City's scouts who have been following him for a while now. Although he is still very young his maturity isn't only reflected by his down-to-earth approach but also his understanding of the game.

Palaversa is very keen on finding free space from where he can focus on his ball distribution, which becomes especially efficient when switching the play towards the flanks. With an average successful passing rate of 85 per cent percent - with an addition of 65 per cent success in distributing long balls - Palaversa is a perfect blend of technical proficiency and positional awareness, keen on sending through balls in an attempt to break the opposition lines as well as quickly exploiting any free space behind their defenses.

But him being dubbed the 'next Fernandinho' isn't just due to his ability to keep possession nor his passing skills. In order to successfully adapt to the highly demanding Premier League surroundings one also has to be fully prepared for its enormous physicality. Palaversa has more than a solid background there as well, especially for a player still in his formative age.

A lot of teams in the Croatian top flight compensate their lack of quality with the emphasis on hard tackling approach, and Palaversa is no stranger to that. During the course of these 17 senior level matches - but also during his time in the Second division last season - he presented an outstanding ability to not only cope with the high level of physicality, but also to be generally very press resistant. Ante doesn't avoid getting caught up in duels with the opposition players; he even manages to end up with the ball still at its feet in 61 per cent of the occasions when it comes to duels on the ground. He performs even better in the air, having won 79 per cent of challenges.

To round it all up, Palaversa is also occasionally trying his luck with long shot attempts, making the headlines with two magnificent screamers placed into the back of the Inter Zaprešić net. All those qualities make him more than suitable for a complete switch to a complete No 6 role, much needed at City with Fernandinho turning 34 in May, just one month after Palaversa turns 19. There is also certainly a lot more to come from this youngster, but his foundations make it clear that he is already adept to compete at a higher level, becoming the captain of both Hajduk and Croatian under-19 national team setup along the way.

According to the information coming from Manchester, City are ready to leave Palaversa in Split for the next season and a half to further develop under the guidance of the manager who shaped him into the mouth-watering talent he is today. For a reported fee of just under £5.5m Manchester City could easily get a bargain solution to their midfield woes. And the best bit for any City fan is that we still cannot be sure just how far Ante can go. If he manages to keep the pace as he has over this short course of time, the distance he goes could be truly great.

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