Josko Gvardiol demonstrated his undeniable talent and potential for Croatia at the World Cup, which will only make Chelsea’s task of luring him away from RB Leipzig more difficult.
The World Cup’s best tackle? So far, yes. Not only because of how it was executed, but also because of what it meant in the context of the game as a whole. Brazil was ahead and on their way to the World Cup semi-finals. Croatia was out unless they could equalize in the second half of extra time.
The ball then broke to Fred, who appeared to have a clear run on goal. That is, until the imposing figure of Josko Gvardiol appeared to produce a textbook sliding challenge. Only one man was abducted.
Brazil would be eliminated on penalties by the small European nation. Few expected this outcome, but it came as no surprise. Croatia has previously punched above their weight, taking high-profile scalps. That’s just what they do under Zlatko Dalic.
It’s a team that’s not short on talent. Even at 37, Luka Modric is a dominant midfielder who is well supported by Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic. Ivan Perisic is still a willing and capable wide player. Dominik Livakovic, the goalkeeper, was outstanding against the Selecao.
Gvardiol, on the other hand, has seen his stock rise the most among the Croatian contingent during the World Cup. The 20-year-old was already considered one of the most promising young defenders in the league.
Gvardiol is completely at ease in his possession. Without the ball, he defends aggressively and confidently. In the second period against Brazil, he was even yelled at by Kovacic to get back into position after one advance forward into opposition territory.
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Chelsea pushed hard in the summer to sign Gvardiol, and they expected to push again in January. The issue is that the Blues are not alone in their pursuit. His World Cup performances have resulted in an orderly queue of Champions League heavyweights and a price tag of around £90 million.
Manchester City has long been interested in Gvardiol. According to Spanish media, Real Madrid and Barcelona have followed suit. When Chelsea reopen talks with Leipzig during the winter transfer window, their path will be far from clear.
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However, the Blues’ new ownership demonstrated last summer that they are willing to spend big to land top targets. If the right player becomes available, that will be the case again next month. Leipzig are unlikely to part ways with Gvardiol in the middle of the season, but one option is to strike a deal that allows the defender to finish the season in Germany.
Adding Gvardiol to Chelsea’s stable of young, talented central defenders – Trevoh Chalobah, Wesley Fofana, Levi Colwill – would undoubtedly be a statement of intent from Boehly and Behdad Eghbali. They will, however, have their work cut out for them with interest building and Gvardiol producing standout World Cup moments.