Lovro Zvonarek: Bayern Munich's new teenage signing tipped to be the next Modric

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The 17-year-old attacking midfielder is set to arrive in Germany this summer having become the youngest player to captain a top-flight European team

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When Croatia arrive at the 2022 World Cup, they will do as the beaten finalists from the previous edition, but their team will look a lot different.

Gone are the likes of Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Danijel Subasic, and though Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic remain, the country's football team is bracing itself for a further changing of the guard.

All eyes, then, have been on Dinamo Zagreb in recent years, with Croatia's most successful club generally charged with producing the country's most talented young players through its famed academy.

Chelsea target Josko Gvardiol, Josip Brekalo and Borna Sosa certainly fit that brief, and are likely to be mainstays of the national team for years to come, but it is no longer just Dinamo that is producing potentially elite Croatian footballers.

In fact, perhaps the best teenager currently plying their trade in the country is Slaven Belupo's attacking midfielder Lovro Zvonarek - though he may well have already played his final club game in his homeland.

Bayern Munich announced in September 2021 that they had secured the signing of Zvonarek, the German champions agreeing to pay up to €2 million (£1.7m/$2.1m) to bring the youngster to Bavaria in the summer of 2022.

And Bayern will have been thrilled by the progress Zvonarek has made during his first full season of top-flight football, having become a staple of Zoran Zekic's line-up despite minor injury issues.

So impressive has the 17-year-old been, he was even handed the captain's armband for the final weeks of the campaign.

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“I didn't give it to him for the fun of it - he deserved it," Slaven boss Zekic tells GOAL. "He has made incredible progress.

“I spoke to Goran Paracki, who is 35 and was the captain before Lovro. I told him that I thought it was the right time for Lovro, that he should wear the armband, because he deserves it. He replied that it was a fantastic idea. That was enough."

The decision to have Zvonarek lead out the club he has been a part of since the age of 11 was a record-breaking one, too.

Aged 16 years and 351 days, the teenager became the youngest player to ever skipper a top-flight European team, beating the record previously held by Brentford defender Kristoffer Ajer from his time at IK Start in his native Norway.

It is not the first time, however, that Zvonarek has made history in his short professional career.

In just his second appearance for Slaven, and on the final day of the 2020-21 season when the Koprivnica outfit's survival in terms of the relegation battle was not yet secure, he found the net against NK Varazdin to ensure they remained in the top division.

Coming just a fortnight after his 16th birthday, he was the youngest goalscorer in the history of the league, beating the record of ex-Barcelona and AC Milan player Alen Halilovic.

He has backed that up with three further goals in his 20 appearances this season, and despite only turning 17 on May 8, is a key contributor in a team that again narrowly avoided the drop in 2021-22.

The way he has formed a partnership with top scorer Ivan Krstanovic, who at 39 is 22 years Zvonarek's senior, has been particularly impressive, with the teenager clearly not overawed by the situation he finds himself in.

“I feel at ease," he told Sportske Novosti. "In the dressing room, I don't feel the youngest at all. Age differences don't come up, and we are a good group."

Clearly he possesses the maturity and mentality to make it at a higher level, but does Zvonarek have the talent?

Standing at 5'10 (180cm), he is tall for a No.10, but is able to use his physicality to drive forward and test opposition defences, while also possessing an excellent passing range.

“We are putting him in many different positions so he can be ready to play in better leagues," Zekic explains. "This year he has played a lot as No.10, but he can cover any position. We also tried him in midfield, and even as a second striker.

"He moves very well without the ball, but even with the ball he always knows what to do. He has incredible timing of his passes and he always plays vertically.

"I struggle to find words to describe Lovro. He is very talented and very intelligent, extraordinarily professional, and he has a great understanding of everything."

Though different to look at, comparisons have been made with Modric, and Zvonarek is, at the very least, expected to become a leader of the national team in much the same way the Real Madrid star has been over the past decade.

To do so, he will have to maintain his development in Munich, with it expected that he will play for Bayern's reserve side in the fourth tier of German football during his first year at the club.

“He has chosen a great club,” says Zekic. "Perhaps he is not ready for the first team yet, but he certainly will be in one or two years.

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"I was hoping he could stay here another year, but obviously it depends on Bayern (letting him come back on loan)."

Regardless of where Zvonarek plays his football in 2022-23, a foundation has now been built for him to become a star of Croatia's next generation.

If he can reach a similar level to some of his predecessors, then Bayern's €2m purchase will go down as one of the best bargains of all time.