Nico Gaitán is set to join Atlético Madrid in the coming days, and Croatian winger Marko Pjaca is one player that could replace him. We spoke to Matthew Lebo and Anthony Zoric from CroatianSports.com to learn more about the Dinamo Zagreb starlet.
Marko Pjaca is one of the most exciting prospects to have emerged from Croatia since Luka Modrić, another player who made his name at Dinamo Zagreb. Pjaca spent 5 years at Dinamo's academy between 2004 and 2009, before making his professional breakthrough with Lokomotiva Zagreb. 9 goals in 51 games convinced Dinamo to bring him back to the club in 2014. The young winger made an immediate impact, scoring in his first 2 league games, and he announced himself on the European stage with a hat-trick against Celtic in the Europa League. He finished the season with 14 goals and 6 assists in all competitions. This season, Pjaca failed to net in the league until Matchday 20, but he ended the season in terrific form, blasting 7 goals in his last 9 league games. He also scored in the Croatian Cup final, as Dinamo sealed their second successive double. Pjaca has 7 caps for Croatia, and could be a starter at Euro 2016.
The 21-year old is a hybrid of his international teammates; he combines the passing of Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić with the pace and direct running of Ivan Perišić. He is a right-footed left winger that can use both feet, with great technique and passing ability. Unlike most wingers, Pjaca favours quick combination passing over beating defenders one-on-one. Although he can pass players down the line, he prefers to cut in on his right foot, which has led to quite a few beautiful goals this season.
Pjaca's talent and versatility have led to comparisons with Zvonimir Boban and Dejan Savićević. Personally, I would describe him as a right-footed Arjen Robben. Both play on the wing that wouldn't be expected to favour their dominant foot, but they continuously cut inside and terrorise the opposition's defence.
Aside from his youth, Pjaca has incredible pace and acceleration. Add this to his accurate passing and his ability to use both feet, and he is a real nightmare to defend against. He will be one of only a handful of domestically-based players in Croatia’s Euro 2016 squad, but he has the flair and fearlessness to succeed at a top European club.
It is hard to pinpoint a specific weakness. Pjaca broke his collarbone recently, but his goalscoring form would suggest that he has made a full recovery. Of course, the Croatian league is not the strongest in Europe, so he may take time to adjust to facing top quality opposition.
You can never trust the transfer rumours until an offer has been officially disclosed, but Pjaca supposedly has several suitors. Aside from Benfica, Manchester United and Inter are thought to be interested.
Benfica are believed to have tested the waters with an initial offer of €17 million, but my guess is that this is only the beginning of a bidding war. Ultimately, his fee will depend on how well he performs at Euro 2016. If Pjaca impresses on the international stage this summer, his value could easily increase to the €20-25 million range.
How he would fit in at Benfica
Even if Nico Gaitán leaves this summer, Benfica will still have a host of wingers on their books in the form of Carcela, Carrillo, Pizzi, Salvio, Guedes and Cervi. Unless some of these players depart, it seems unlikely that the club would break their transfer record to sign Pjaca.
Likelihood of a move to Lisbon
5/10. Pjaca has stated that he wants to play in England or Italy, and his agent has claimed that his client deserves to play in a superior league to the Liga NOS. I can see Mourinho going after some more experienced players at Manchester United, making Inter the frontrunners for his signature. The Italian giants already have two Croatians running their midfield in Ivan Perišić and Marcelo Brozović, so Pjaca would feel right at home in Milan.
Full name: Marko Pjaca
DOB: 6th May 1995 (Age 21)
Club: GNK Dinamo Zagreb
Position: Left wing
Height: 1.86 m
Preferred foot: Right