Why Real Madrid, Man Utd and Man City are so desperate to prise Alen Halilovic away from Dinamo Zagreb
Despite his robust protests, Zoran Mamic has to know Alen Halilovic is only marking time at Dinamo Zagreb.
Mamic, the charismatic, outspoken Dinamo sports chief has already successfully withstood an aggressive approach from Real Madrid for the teen. And with the full weight of the Croatian FA behind him, convinced Halilovic and his father to commit to a long-term contract.
But with representatives of Manchester United and Manchester City now showing their face in Zagreb and offering their thoughts to the local press, Mamic knows the hype around Halilovic is not going to subside.
"He is an extraordinary talent. Incredibly powerful with the ball for his age. We know that he's been mentioned throughout Europe as the best we'll see in the next few years in his position," says Dinamo academy director Romea Jozaka.
"I watched Luka at the same age and it seems to me that Alen is a step, maybe two in front of him. However, Modric has this character that made him make the most of his God-given talent and to become one of the best midfielders in the world."
With his floppy hairstyle and busy style of running, Halilovic is the spitting image of Modric. And like the former Spurs star, is a natural No10.
"He has a unique technical ability and a great knack of finding his teammates with the ball," continued Jozaka. "In one on ones, he's virtually unbeatable.
"But now he's entering a phase where his natural skill needs to be upgraded. He must learn the other sides of the game."
Real know all about Halilovic, having had the then 14 year-old spend four days training with their junior team last year. Coaching staff immediately were comparing him with Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.
"Everyone here knows he will be a sensation," one Madrid source said. "When he has the ball, he is reminiscent of Lionel Messi."
Real showed their hand last year, making a serious attempt to lure Halilovic to Spain as Dinamo pushed to get his signature on a long-term contract. Mamic was furious and worked with the Croatian FA to threaten the youngster with a playing ban until he turned 18. Complicating matters was that Halilovic's father, Sejad, is part of Dinamo's youth coaching staff and a former player.
In the end, sanity prevailed and the Halilovic family agreed to sign forms. Since then, Alen has been rewarded with promotion to the senior squad by manager Ante Cacic.
"Surely this is a great talent, a pearl of our football schools that we have long recognized. The objective is, through work and training with the first team, to bring him to the highest level," said Cacic.
Halilovic enjoyed his first training session with Cacic's squad last week.
"This is certainly a great honor and the greatest possible incentive to continue here. The mere fact that I was able to enter the first team dressing room and did a workout is unbelievable for me.
"I now will work hard to justify the trust they've shown in me."
It was during the week of Halilovic's promotion that news broke in the Zagreb press of interest from United and City. Both Manchester giants have detailed dossiers on the youngster and testimonies from trusted local scouts and coaching identities.
Despite the frenzied interest around the teen, Jozaka insists Dinamo is the best place for him.
"Hs father Sejad cares about his career and obviously has some sort of different vision of the future for Alen. But I should mention he's been offered a contract worth three times more than his peers. It's too easy to say he's already made it. There's hard work ahead of him. He's still only a young player. He has it all to prove."