If you believe what you read, West Ham are on the verge of a major coup, with the addition of one of Europe’s best young talents, Alen Halilovic.
Spanish source Sport claims that a deal will be finalised after Barcelona complete their pre-season tour of the US – their last game is August 2nd against Fiorentina.
Not many of us have seen much of the young Croatian, so we decided to speak to someone who has. Football journalist and Spanish football expert Rafael Hernandez spoke with us exclusively about Halilovic, and what he could bring to West Ham United.
When Barcelona first signed Halilovic, he was considered as one of Europe’s best young talents. How would you describe his playing style?
He’s still among the best young talents in the world. Halilovic’s style is similar to Messi with dribbling runs, smart plays and passes, but he’s more of an attacking midfielder than a right winger as Messi was at the beginning of his career. His marquee characteristic is definitely his dribbling ability, which is outstanding, and he has a knack for shooting outside of the box. He also gives that feeling of being special when you watch him, something that can arguably be seen on Depay and previous wonderkids such as Eden Hazard.
A player that impressed many as he blossomed early, adolescent featuring among adults in Dynamo Zagreb even on the Champions League, and his club carrying the pedigree of having world class material such as Modric on their youth teams before.
With Barcelona’s transfer embargo – why are they looking to offload Halilovic when the squad cannot be improved upon for the time-being?
They have no place for him on the first team if he is to get regular playing time. This Barcelona management believes in a different way of developing La Masia and young players in general, they think it’s better to loan or sell the player with a buyback option rather than slowly make him break into the first team as he is given more chances. Also, this version of Luis Enrique seems a lot more focused on established players rather than developing young ones like he did when he managed Barcelona B. Different circumstances, naturally.
Having barely made an impact in the first-team at Barcelona, how did he look in the ‘B’ side?
He was irregular for the B team, some dazzling goals and performances combined with spells where he simply failed to show up. He’s been at Barça for a little more than a season and his adaptation period was just reaching its end. Theoretically, he was meant to assimilate the Barcelona style, but due to problems with the management and the relegation to the third division it didn’t go as well as it should. A player like him featuring in the third tier would be a waste and that’s another reason why the club desires to loan or sell him this summer.
Does his physique and playing style translate to the Premier League?
That’s difficult to say, he’s still developing and there will be a certain shock of playing in top tier league matches regularly, even if he has featured vs top clubs in the Champions League and for Croatia. The Premier League competitiveness is also the highest among the top five leagues, it’s beneficial for him if well managed. Plus, he will certainly have more chances to thrive with more space and better teammates.
Considering his media-branded ‘wondered’ status, why aren’t there more ‘top’ teams looking to secure Halilovic?
Good question; only interest from West Ham and Everton were reported, with Sevilla refusing him, I figured it’s because of the willingness to take a player like him on loan and the challenge of developing him knowing that the future of a “wonderkid” is in your hands. Not many club officials and coaches have the patience for that.
Where do you think his career will go from this point – can he reach the very top?
Yes, he has the potential to become world class. His movements and dribbling are eerily similar to Messi, which inevitably make us a tad biased to judge his overall potential. The Argentinian’s level shouldn’t be attainable for any football player, but used as an inspiration. The amazing ability and exciting qualities are there, it’s up to the player and those that manage him to try to get him to reach the place we want him to be.