Let’s Talk: Ante Palaversa, Manchester City’s new Croatian midfield maestro (w/ Dino Grgić)

Manchester City have made their biggest signing of the January window by investing in a little known Croatian youngster by the name of Ante Palaversa.

18-year-old Palaversa has joined City from Hajduk Split for an initial €4.8 million (£4.1 million) with more to follow in future. The Croatia under-19 captain will return to Hajduk on loan until 2020, but City will be hoping he can one day feature for the first-team.

To learn more about the latest big midfield prospect out of Croatia, we spoke to a local expert, Dino Grgić, editor of Tribina, who has watched the player closely and created some scouting videos (which can be viewed below).

Thanks for talking to us, Dino. Can you tell us a little about Ante Palaversa’s background?

Ante Palaversa is a 19-year-old Hajduk Split player and captain of under-19 Croatian national team. Last season, he made his debut in the senior Hajduk team and in total, he has made 17 appearances and scored 2 goals. This season he became a regular in the first team, playing 14 of a possible 18 matches.

What can you tell us about Palaversa’s style of play? What type of midfielder is he?

Hajduk have managers three times this season, and since Oreščanin took over, Palaversa has played as a left midfielder in the diamond formation. When the left-back moves forward, he has dropped his position to build an attack or protect against the possible counter-attack. He has an important role in possession and is involved in almost every team move.

His main role is that of a “deep playmaker” in the middle of the pitch, so passing in his highest quality and he is involved in link-up play, sending vertical passes into the final third. But it should be emphasised that he has the potential to become a complete midfielder. If left-back stays back, then Palaversa can play high in a left half-space closer to the opponent’s goal. So, he is a very versatile midfielder.

Apart from his passing and tactical qualities, he is decent defensively, good at the air (78% duels won), very responsible with his positioning, and he has a good shot from distance, but he doesn’t often go near the opposition goal because of his position. This season he lost the ball 55 times but had 65 recoveries.

He will return to Hajduk on a long-term loan – does this mean he is not ready to play at a high level in Europe yet?

Yes, that’s right – this is just his second season and he’s only 18 years old. The deal between Hajduk and City was done in the best possible way. Hajduk will receive funds immediately (€4.8 million) and more (€1.5 million) for the next 18 months, while Palaversa remains in Split where he can best develop. My opinion is that Palaversa should go to City next summer, visit the training ground and club, meet the team and Guardiola, then play a few games for City before returning to Hajduk. The most important thing in the whole story is the fact that City have a vision and know what they want, so the first move is very good for all three sides.

As far as statistics are concerned, Palaversa is not ready yet: aerial duels and passing accuracy will be key if he plays for City. Palaversa has 80% pass accuracy and has won 60% of his duels. The positive thing is that he already wins 66% of tackles and has made 67 successful dribbles, meaning he can play against the press. He’s also very athletic and reacts quickly for “second balls” or saving possession, similar to Fernandinho.

Earlier this month when Gianluca Di Marzio reported on the deal, he said Pep Guardiola ‘sees Fernandinho’ in Palaversa. Do you think he’s similar to City’s Brazilian midfielder?

Not at the moment, but he can be. It’s hard to say how much he is like Fernandinho because the Brazilian is a pretty unique player. Fernandinho is maybe the best player in the world in situations where he needs to protect against a counter attack or commit a foul without getting a yellow card. This skill is very rare and underrated and it would be a good thing for Palaversa to join City in the summer to get some advice from Fernandinho and Guardiola.

However, Palaversa has the potential to be even better than Fernandinho with his passing and creation – especially long balls, link-up play, and breaking the lines though forward passes – so in the best case, he could be a better version of Fernandinho.

If you could compare Palaversa to any midfielder in Europe right now, who is he most like?

Right now, he is most similar to Toni Kroos. They are relatively similar in height, playing in the same position and moving towards the left back. He is great at playing long balls and like Kroos reacts to the opponent’s press. I should also mention that he can play so-called “no-look” pass and has great positional awareness, similar to Sergio Busquets. Manipulation through the passing and shape of the body is one of the rare skills in football and if he continues to evolve, City could get a top player in “pivot” role.

Croatia has a history of producing great midfielders, including the current Ballon d’Or holder Luka Modric. Does Palaversa have the potential to become the next one and reach City’s first team?

Yes, but it’s too early to predict when that will be. What works in favour of his development is that if Hajduk want to earn an extra €1.8 million from City they will have to give Palaversa a chance to develop. The second detail is him going to City, where he would meet Guardiola, Fernandinho and be introduced to the the entire club, its culture, and style of play.

I would use Zinchenko as an example to follow – he got an early chance and won his place in the squad rotation. But, before that Palaversa must correct certain defects in his game and gain experience – so Hajduk is the best place for him right now.

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