Although inside the country Croatians enjoy a wide variety of sports, to outsiders there is only one sport for which Croatia has become known around the world. Football.
The glittering international careers of Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić, Ivan Perišić, Mario Mandžukić and others have in recent years advertised Croatia as a factory of top-flight footballing talent. Their combined efforts in reaching the final of the most recent World Cup sent that reputation into the stratosphere.
Croatian footballing talent has become so well known that the scouting of Croatia’s young players is beginning earlier and earlier. However, Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg’s recent purchase of promising Pula talent Rocco Zikovic breaks several records. The transfer fee – rumoured to be in the region of an initial €2 million – is the highest ever made to Zikovic’s former team, Istra 1961. It is also the highest ever paid for a Croatian player of Rocco Zikovic’s age; he is still only 15-years-old.
Rocco Zikovic © NK Istra 1961
But, by all accounts, Red Bull Salzburg have here done a particularly shrewd piece of business in their acquisition of the player. Rocco Zikovic captained Istra 1961 cadets to the top of the national league last year. He has also played for the Croatian National Football Team in the U-15, U-16 and U-17 age categories. Playing in midfield, he was the captain of the Croatian National youth team that recently won the international Vlatko Marković tournament in Osijek, where Rocco Zikovic was judged player of the tournament. It is during his performances there that Red Bull Salzburg are rumoured to have finally decided on making their move.
Rocco Zikovic is following a long line of youth talent to have been picked up by Red Bull Salzburg
Red Bull Salzburg have a strong reputation for scouting international youth talent and picking them up at the right time. They bought Senegalese player Sadio Mané for €4 million while he was only a teenager before selling him on into the UK Premier League for €13.5 million after just two years. Red Bull Salzburg bought Norwegian international Erling Haaland, one of Europe’s most exciting young players, before selling him to Borussia Dortmund in 2019 for a fee reported to be in the region of €20 million. Haaland completed the move having become the first teenager ever to score in five consecutive UEFA Champions League matches
Erling Haaland playing for Red Bull Salzburg in 2019. The club sold him to Borussia Dortmund later that year for a fee reported to be in the region of €20 million © Werner100359
Rocco Zikovic’s move to Red Bull Salzburg is all but a done deal. He still has to undergo a final medical and wait until 21 January before he can be announced – that’s his 16th birthday. Additional fees earned by his former club Istra 1961 could bring their total from the sale to as much as €3.5 million. It may be too early to place too much expectation on the young player’s shoulders just yet, but something tells us that we’ll be closely watching this young Croatian footballing talent for many more years to come.
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