Please Wait . . .
Dinamo Zagreb defender Josko Gvardiol has described the clubs run in the Europa League as "the most beautiful period" of his career as he faces up to his final months with his boyhood club.
The teenager has already agreed a€19 million (£17.5m/$22m) move to RB Leipzig ahead of the summer transfer window, after becoming the latest Dinamo academy product to impress in the senior ranks.
And after playing his part in Dinamosshock elimination of Tottenham in the last 16, he is hopeful of bowing out by securing both domestic and European silverware.
"Before the summer, I want to play in as many of Dinamos matches as possible, andwin the championship title and the Croatian Cup together with my excellent team-mates," Gvardiol toldGoalin an exclusive interview after he was named on the 2021 NXGN list of the worlds top teenage footballers.
"Of course, we dream of winning theEuropa League. We will do our best to achieve it because Dinamo is a big club and I think it deserves that.
"I think we are all going through the most beautiful period of our careers at the moment. All players breathe as one and you see the togetherness. That is the most important thing.
"I really care about that. When I look back on my career someday in the future, I would like to remember great results achieved with Dinamo."
After starting his football education with local clubNK Tresnjevka at the age of six, he was enrolled into Dinamos famed academy two years later.
Having worked his way through the ranks in the Croatian capital, Gvardiol – who can play at either centre-back or left-back –made his first-team debut at the age of 17 in October 2019, before marking his first start a few weeks later with a goal.
That strike saw him become the sixth-youngest goalscorer in the clubs history, and he certainly believes he can offer as much in the attacking third as he does in defence.
"I would say that my style of play is based on strength, but on technique also," he said."I am trying to play as much as I can and do thesimple things in every game, because that kind of performance can bring you good results.
"I am a defender and I always strive to have good communication with my team-mates and team work.
"It is hard for me to answer the question about my strengths. It is not easy to talk about myself. Maybe I could point out my versatility.My primary role is in a defensive position, but I think I can contribute in other segments of the game."
That versatility attracteda number of clubs to Gvardiol, with Bayern Munich and Leeds United having both shown an interest in the youngster before he eventually signed his contract with Leipzig in September.
When asked about his own footballing heroes, Gvardiol said: "My idol, in general, is Leo Messi because I think that kind of player is born once every 50 years.But, in my position, I would choose Sergio Ramos and Virgil van Dijk [as role models]."
Having spoken to Gvardiols former coach at both Dinamo and in the Croatia youth set-up, Tomislav Rukavina, there may be another modern defensive great that Gvardiolresembles more.
"His tremendous self-confidence, strong leadership traits andcourageall remind me of Thiago Silva," Rukavina toldGoal.
"Gvardiol is one of the young players who, I am sure, will be one of the most important players of the national teamfor a long time.
"He is extremely strong, fast, agile and durable. He has excellent jump timing and excellent heading technique. He has a developed sense of the game, excellent perception of situations and timely response to whats happening on the pitch.
"Given hisyouth, there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of tactics still, as there is for improving technical characteristics."
Gvardiol is just the latest youth product to emerge off the Dinamo talent conveyor belt, with the club having provided the backbone of Croatias golden generation over the past decade.
"This is an important part of the club for us," Dinamo academy manager Zeljko Kopic toldGoal."The most valuable players we have had are players who have come from our academy.
"Luka Modric, Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Mateo Kovacic, Vedran Corluka, Dejan Badelj, Andrej Kramaric, Marko Pjaca and Tin Jedvaj are someof the academy players we have had, whileMario Mandzukic, Marcelo Brozovic and Domagoj Vida also played for Dinamos first team. Overall, we had 14 players in the World Cup final squad.
"When we build players like that, we give them chances in the first team, but they also provide stability for the club and investment."
There is hope that Gvardiol will be one of the leaders of the next generation of Croatian superstars, and Kopic believes he has what it takes to go right to the top of the game.
"Seeing him at 17, it was unbelievable how good he was, both mentally and physically," he revealed."We are really proud of him and his success, and we are proud of everything he gave to the club.
"If he stays healthy, I am sure we will see him become one of the best central defenders in Europe."
For Gvardiols part, he is fully aware of how fortunate he is to have been part of one of the continents most consistent talent factories.
"It is certain that Dinamos youth academy played a big role in my development," he said."I was in the academy for 10years, I played in all the youth teams, won numerous trophies and individual awards. It is a period of my life that I will never forget.
"It is known that Dinamos academy has the best development system and that, if you are a talented player, you can certainly find your way to the big stage. This has been proven by many players who are stars of world football today."