Last night’s match between Hajduk and Istria 1961 at Poljud stadium will be one Hajduk fans will remember for a lifetime – and if you were at Poljud last night, we’re pretty sure you’re still buzzing.
The buzz, in particular, has to do with Hajduk goalkeeper Karlo Letica. The 21-year-old from Split boasts over 2 meters in height, scores goals, and is a prospective candidate for one of the top clubs in the world, Real Madrid. Though he kicked off his career with Hajduk back in 2013, Letica only made his debut for Hajduk in August 2017 in a league match against Slaven Belupo – so, how did he get here?
Letica was a prospective junior at Hajduk without a club, and for six months he did not defend a goal in a match, nor could he find a club…and not even one in the third league! Letica, therefore, spent his summers working as a sailor on a family boat that transported tourists. At the request of Lovre Kalinić, Siniša Šošo agreed to be Letica’s agent, though he was slightly reluctant because goalkeepers are challenging to sell. He took the young goalkeeper to Rudeš, where he spent two years with private coaches who worked with him on everything from flexibility to mobility. This shaped Letica’s career.
But at Poljud, there was still not much confidence in the young keeper. Dante Stipica started the 2017/18 season as the first keeper for Hajduk, while the second keeper was Ivo Grbic who regularly defended the B team. Letica, then, was only the third option for the Split club. In the midst of circumstances, Letica was given a chance to start in goal for the infamous Adriatic Derby between Hajduk and Rijeka. Even though Hajduk coach Željko Kopić was hesitant to give Letica an opportunity in the starting eleven, this was one of the moments that undoubtedly changed his mind. In this derby, you might remember young Karlo brilliantly defending a Rijeka penalty at Rujevica which gave Hajduk their first win over the club at Rujevica in five years.
Since the Adriatic Derby against Rijeka, through the long winter break, and until now – fully into the spring season – Letica has become Kopić’s solid first choice for the goal. Yesterday’s game against Istra 1961 further confirms that confidence in this keeper is not to be questioned.
On March 10, 2018, Karlo Letica woke up just as he would on any other game day, though the morning headlines across Croatian media screamed: “Real Madrid wants Karlo Letica!” Spanish daily newspaper Marca had initially announced the news and mentioned the royal club was after the Croatian’s qualities and height.
“When that news came, I turned off my mobile phone – but I always do that, it’s my ritual. I did not care, my head was only interested in Istria,” said a modest Letica.
What Letica didn’t know was that Hajduk’s game against Istria later that day would have him writing history books for the famous Split club.
Hajduk, in a 2:2 draw in the painful 5th minute of extra time, were given a free kick and their last chance at a goal with just seconds to go. Anything but a win was not an option for Hajduk, considering Dinamo faltered to Lokomotiva just hours before. A win would put Hajduk only six points behind Dinamo in the first place.
Toma Bašić and his stellar left foot would take the free kick which saw all of Hajduk’s players, including Letica, in the box. Bašić lobbed the ball over the penalty line which was cleared by Istria. A poor Istra clearance found the boot of Zvonimir Kožulj who volleyed the ball back into the box. The ball found Letica’s head, and with a diving header, Hajduk’s goalkeeper had not only scored but won the game for the Split club.
“This goal… it’s like realizing my craziest dreams; it’s a dream come true, I do not know what to say. It was a free kick, Zvonimir Kožulj kicked it to me, and the ball was in the net. The win was the most important, and the goal is a reward for my work. We did not take advantage of enough opportunities, we deserved to win, and it will probably be easier next time,” said Letica after the match.
The praise from Madrid, as expected, did not stop.
“Letica responded to Real’s interest,” wrote Marca in their evening release. “From a local star, Letica has become a global star, the best day of his life.”
Considered the ‘next big thing’ in Croatian football, everything that matters to the story of Karlo Letica’s future will take place in the summer. First of all, the question is whether Croatia national team coach Zlatko Dalić will bring Letica to preparations for the World Cup, which would be an additional plus for the young goalkeeper. Then, the keeper must sign a professional contract with Hajduk because Karlo, believe it or not, still only has a 10,000 kuna scholarship contract, which expires in the summer of 2019.
Marca has conveyed that Real will come for Letica this summer and put him to work with the first team in the first half of next season. The Split keeper would be an alternative to Keylor Navas, and his first substitution in the event Kiko Casilla leaves the ranks of Real, which is very likely.
Letica has given up only four goals in Hajduk’s last eight matches, two of which came yesterday in the game against Istria. The hype, we think, is warranted.
The new challenge ahead of Letica and Hajduk is already this Tuesday in the semi-finals of the Croatian Cup. Hajduk will be the guest of Lokomotiva at Kranjčevića.
“It will be a real match; we hope to pass,” Letica concluded.