17

Mateo Kovacic

BIOGRAPHY

Mateo Kovacic completed a permanent move to Chelsea in July 2019 following a successful season on loan at Stamford Bridge.

The Croatian international has plenty of experience having featured regularly in Serie A (with Inter Milan), La Liga (Real Madrid), the Champions League and at international level.

Kovacic is a ball-playing central midfielder who thrives on quick combinations. He combines hard work with skill in possession and penetrative passing. He can also play anywhere across the midfield and was named Chelsea Player of the Year for 2019/20.

2018/19

Kovacic made his Blues debut when he came off the bench in an early-season win over Arsenal, the Croatian impressing with his clever use of the ball and technical qualities, before making his first start in our next match away at Newcastle. He quickly became an important member of the three-man midfield favoured by Maurizio Sarri, playing on the left of the trio.

Kovacic's link-up with Eden Hazard caught the eye and he supplied a fine pass to the Belgian to open the scoring against Liverpool in September. He also set up Hazard's 100th Chelsea goal at Watford on Boxing Day.

The 25-year-old contributed significantly to our Europa League-winning campaign, starting in 10 of the 15 games, including the final in Baku, and making two further substitute appearances. He was a standout performer against Arsenal in Azerbaijan and was involved in three of the goals in our 4-1 win.

2019/20

Kovacic enjoyed the best form of his Chelsea career to that point during the first half of his second season at the club. A regular under Frank Lampard, his combination play with Jorginho proved particularly effective, as did the driving runs from midfield that showcased his dribbling ability.

He also had the satisfaction of scoring his first goal for us - and his first in nearly three years - as he equalised away to Valencia with a precise 20-yarder. A second goal soon followed in a league loss at Everton.

In addition to his first two goals he also provided three assists, including one delightful pass to tee-up N’Golo Kante against Manchester City in late November, and he was high up the list in terms of chances created, only behind Willian and Mason Mount for Chelsea when the season was paused during lockdown.

The shape and personnel in our midfield changed throughout the 2019/20 season, but Kovacic had a near-telepathic connection with his team-mates whoever he played alongside.

The man wearing our number 17 shirt did his popularity no harm with two standout performances against London rivals Tottenham in the Premier League either side of Christmas, and looked likely to be a big miss for Lampard when he limped off with an injury during our FA Cup win over Liverpool in March.

However, the timing of lockdown meant Kovacic was unavailable for just one match, returning from his Achilles problem in time to be named in the starting line-up for our first game when football resumed in June, helping us to make it a winning restart against Aston Villa.

Another injury suffered at the start of July forced him to sit out a couple of games, but when he returned it was in arguably his best form yet for Chelsea. He started all of our last six games in all competitions as his performances helped us secure a top-four finish in the Premier League and reach the FA Cup final, not to mention being voted by fans as our 2019/20 Player of the Year.

Pre-Chelsea

Kovacic caught the eye from a very early age, and after joining Dinamo Zagreb’s academy as a teenager, it wasn’t long before he had established himself in their first team. He scored on his senior debut aged 16 years and 198 days, becoming the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Croatian top flight in the process.

He got his first taste of elite European football during his two-and-a-half years in Dinamo’s first team, and became the second-youngest player to have ever scored in the Champions League after netting against Lyon at just 17.

Kovacic left Dinamo for Inter Milan in January 2013 having won a pair of league and cup doubles with the Croatian giants. His performances at such a tender age, including in the Champions League, had made him one of the hottest properties in Europe.

His first half-season at Inter was so impressive he forced his way into the starting XI and he picked up the club’s Young Player of the Year award.

After two more seasons at the San Siro, Real Madrid came calling in the summer of 2015 and with the Nerazzurri in financial difficulty, they had little choice but to sell one of their star assets. Kovacic headed to the Spanish capital having made almost 100 appearances in Italy. He had just turned 21.

With fierce competition for places at Real Madrid, Kovacic more often than not featured off the bench during his time at the Bernabeu. Despite that, he maintained regular playing time and accumulated over 100 appearances during his three years with Real, including in the Champions League, which Real Madrid won every season Kovacic was there. Among his other honours were a La Liga title and a Spanish Cup.

International

He debuted for Croatia in 2013, and along with playing his part as Croatia entered uncharted territory, he started each of their games at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

He played five games during Croatia’s run to the World Cup final in 2018, as well as setting up one of their goals in a memorable 3-0 victory over Argentina during the tournament.