What the future holds for Mateo Kovacic
Mateo Kovacic recently claimed in an interview with Spanish daily Marca that it was time for him to move on to pastures new. Citing a lack of playing time, the Croatian ace said that he needed to move to a club where he could start on a regular basis. While his claims might come as a surprise to most, this is not the first time that he has hinted at a move elsewhere. The Sun reported earlier this month that Kovacic was looking to get more minutes under his belt. For Kovacic, winning accolades with Real Madrid hasn't compensated for the lack of minutes on the pitch.
Kovacic, 24, has won numerous trophies since joining the Los Blancos in 2015. He won three straight UEFA Champions League titles, has two FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup titles apiece, and has won the La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup on one occasion each. To say that Kovacic has been successful with the Spanish giants is an understatement. Yet, he is not entirely satisfied. The Real Madrid no. 23 feels that he hasn't been able to contribute enough to the team, something he also brought up in his interview with Marca. Truth be told, Kovacic simply hasn't played often enough for the Madrid club. He made 21 appearances for the club in La Liga last season. In 11 of those, he came off the bench. 3 out of 7 appearances in the UEFA Champions League were also as a substitute. To add to his frustrations, he was out injured for over two months towards the end of last year. Similarly, in his first two seasons at the club, opportunities were limited. He started 27 games and came on as a substitute in 25 games in the La Liga across those two seasons, as per Whoscored. Simply put - not enough.
Once described by Giovanni Trapattoni as a mix of Kaka and Seedorf, Kovacic desperately needs more game time to even be mentioned in the same breath as those two legends of the game. A host of clubs across Europe are ready to offer him such game time and have frequently been linked to him in the past. Let us assess some likely destinations.
The obvious destinations:
Manchester United have been linked with a move for the Croatian midfielder in the past. However, having just signed Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk, and already possessing enough firepower in the likes of Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, and Ander Herrera, it is unlikely that Jose Mourinho will be interested.
Manchester City and Tottenham are favorites with the bookies to sign the Real Madrid ace. While City have a verbal agreement in place with Jorginho's representatives, a deal with Napoli is yet to be reached, and Kovacic's statements have come just in time for Pep Guardiola to explore a deal for the Croatian. Tottenham, on the other hand, have long been linked with Kovacic, and Mauricio Pochettino might just be the right man for Kovacic to play under. For what it's worth, his Real Madrid and Croatia teammate Luka Modric might also have a say here.
Juventus have also had long-lasting interest in Kovacic, having failed in a move last season, with Football Italia reporting recently that the Bianconeri could still make a move for him. Along with Juve, Liverpool and Inter Milan are also in the race to sign Kovacic. Emre Can's departure will have hurt Liverpool, and while Naby Keita has arrived, Jurgen Klopp is still said to be in the hunt for a midfielder. Inter Milan, meanwhile, are a club Kovacic knows all too well, a club where he rose to prominence. If any of these clubs decide to pursue a deal for Kovacic, we could have an interesting transfer saga on our hands.
The not so obvious destinations:
The big spenders of European football aren't the only clubs to have shown interest in Kovacic. The Madrid man has also attracted interest from the likes of AS Roma and FC Schalke 04.
AS Roma are seeing a world-beater in Rajda Nainggolan depart the club for Inter. Replacing him with a man having the requisite potential to become a world beater is exactly what they should be doing. Back in February, there were reports that the Rome club were interested in signing Kovacic. If the board were to make a serious offer, Kovacic would certainly consider moving to the Stadio Olimpico.
It might not be an obvious destination, but Schalke 04 are also keeping an eye on Kovacic's situation. Having lost Leon Goretzka to Bayern Munich, the German side are in desperate need of a quality midfielder to bolster their ranks. They could hardly do better than a certain Croatian. However, Kovacic might see the move as a step down from Europe's elite tier.
Kovacic is under contract at Real until 2021, and Florentino Perez is determined to hold on to him. That apart, Kovacic is not unhappy in Madrid. He is dissatisfied. He wants to play week in, week out. It is certainly not easy to dislodge any of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos or Casemiro from the starting line-up. However, Modric turns 33 in less than 3 months. Modric might arguably be the best midfielder in the world, but Los Blancos will soon need to look for replacements for the Croatian. Will the club have a ready-made replacement in the form of another Croatian? Time will tell.