Scout Report: Alen Halilovic - The next big La Masia star?
Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy has been the learning ground of many a superstar ever since its inception in 1979 when legendary Dutch player Johan Cruyff wanted to emulate Ajax’ youth development program. The academy achieved the unique honour of having trained all the three finalists for the Ballon d’Or in a single year in 2010, with Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, and Xavi.
Such has been its reputation that any player who comes through its ranks already has ready takers. Alen Halilovic of Croatia is one such player who has showcased abilities to become one of the best midfielders in Europe.
Born on 18th June 1996 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, Halilovic is the son of Bosnia midfielder Sejad Halilovic. He started his youth career at Dinamo Zagreb and it was not long before the club’s hierarchy recognised his talent and offered him a professional career at the age of 16, which he readily agreed to. He made his professional debut on 27th September 2012 in a game against Hajduk Split, coming on as a substitute for Sammir in the 80th minute.
It did not take him too long to find the back of the net as he scored against Slaven Belupo in the next round, in the processing becoming the youngest ever player to score in the Croatian top flight (16 years and 112 days), beating the record of Matteo Kovacic.
The hierarchy at Barcelona tracked the player’s development and eventually decided to sign him in 2014. The clubs agreed to a €2.2 million plus add on fee and the Croat signed a 5-year deal at the club. He was immediately sent into the reserves side to ensure he can adapt to the league before he could come in contention for the first squad.
At Barcelona, the player would have found first-time opportunities few to come by in the previous season and hence was loaned to Sporting Gijon, a move that is expected to reap rich rewards in the future. The player is back at Cam Nou and we believe he will be given his fair share of opportunities to prove himself at the club in the current season.
The diminutive midfielder’s playing style has often been compared to national team-mate Luka Modric. He possesses a good first touch, is silky in movement and showcased creative instincts during the last season. He was in fact, the 3rd most creative Sporting Gijon player in the league last season. He is not shy to have a go at the goal and has a lethal left foot. He scored 3 goals in the last season at a shooting accuracy of 35% and we believe the numbers are set to improve with better players around him.
One aspect of his game that impressed many during the last season was his calmness with the ball at his feet. His ability to carry the ball out of his own half into the opposition half with ease is not a skill many midfielders across Europe possess. These abilities served Sporting in good stead as he was often seen turning defence into quick offence thus presenting them with opportunities.
His combative stats from the last season make for a decent reading. He did his fair share of dirty work in the middle of the park, going into tackles and made some critical interceptions to dispossess the opposition. However, it was his ability to get past the opposition that makes him a threat to them. He managed to beat his man every 30 minutes at an impressive success rate of 54%.
At such a young age, it is only obvious that the player’s skills are still developing and he still has a lot to work at certain aspects of his game. While he does seem combative, the frequency with which he does defensive duties has ample scope for improvement. While he does possess a great vision for his age, his abilities to read his teammates’ movements and actions often come up short and he will need to work on that to become a mainstay in this Barcelona side who love to play free flowing football.
At Barcelona, we believe the player is in the best hands to become one of the top midfielders in Europe. However, there’s still many a mile to go for Croatia’s youngest ever player. Touted as one of the best youngsters in Spain, many critics and pundits believe that the player has all the ingredients to turn into another superstar from La Masia and should he continue to work as hard as he has so far, we believe better days are not too far away.