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Croatia hero Dejan Lovren: How he's shown up English media (& their players)

COMMENT: Enjoy it Dejan Lovren. The boasting. The gloating. Revel in it. Because ahead of the World Cup final, you deserve to.

There's no irony. No sarcasm here. For all the rubbish thrown at Liverpool's centre-half last season. For the gleeful, infantile 'gotcha' claims on the eve of Croatia's semifinal triumph. Lovren deserves to well and truly vocalise his revenge on the English media.

It was a good question. The gist of which was: is there any hangover from your Wembley hook at Tottenham last season? Lovren answered in spiky, snappy fashion. It was a good back and forth. Just the sort of panto we all love before a big game.

But the glee with which the exchange was reported. The claims of Lovren being "rattled" by one of the press corps. It was ridiculous. And you can well imagine, it wasn't so much the original question that was front of mind in the aftermath of Wednesday night for the Croatian centre-half, but the way he had been portrayed which sparked his "best in the world" response.

"From my point of view I had people saying I had a difficult season but I don't agree with that," he said in post-match. "I took Liverpool to the final of the Champions League and now with my national team we are in the final.

"I think people should recognise that I am also one of the best defenders in the world and not just talk nonsense."

Of course, Lovren's claims have since been derided. And all by the same mob who were nodding in unison to Gary Neville's assertion that "no player deserves criticism if they reach a World Cup semifinal".

But Lovren has been overcoming the "nonsense" all season. Indeed, there's no player on either team whom better illustrates why Croatia outlasted England at the Luzhniki than the Liverpool man.

Cycle back to October. To Wembley. And that hook after a half-hour against Harry Kane and Tottenham. They were climbing over eachother to bury him. Neville, the former Manchester United captain, claimed Lovren and his fellow defenders "will always kill" Liverpool with their errors. Jamie Redknapp, an ex-Red, said "they are just not good enough. They are going to keep making these mistakes week-in, week-out". You even had Jamie Carragher denying he recommended Lovren's signing when he was still with Liverpool.

And yet these very same pundits have been the most vocal about defending Raheem Sterling's form in Russia. Go back further and it's the same lot who accused Jose Mourinho of bullying Luke Shaw at Manchester United.

But there was no such defense of Lovren. Even a day out from the semifinal, another Liverpool identity, John Aldridge, branded Lovren a "walking disaster" and a "mistake waiting to happen". Could any England player survive - let alone manage - such criticism coming from his peers? Better yet, coming from ex-players who have worn the very same club shirt?

The simple answer is: no. None of them could. Just witness the panic produced from Thibaut Courtois' cheeky jibe about Jordan Pickford's height after Belgium's win. The Chelsea keeper did it with a smile across his face. It was dry humour. One joke. From one individual. And yet Pickford - and to be fair the English media - made a mountain out of it. It led to Courtois' father questioning out loud "what happened to the famous English humour?".

But for everything thrown at Lovren, it's he who is one game away from the peak of his profession. And it's he, more than anyone connected to the English game, who has the credibility to shine the spotlight on the "mentality" of England's players.

“The difference was mental," said Lovren in the aftermath. No doubt Croatia have a sports psychologist on call. But we don't know their name. And you wonder if the players even need one.

Especially when men like Lovren can articulate the reason for their success so clearly: “I think it is our mentality. We went through a lot of s***, war, all these things. Even now the situation is not the best but it is unbelievable how many talents we have in sports."

Better yet, forget the celebrated shrinks and all their PR. What about just great families and the sacrifices they made for their sons?

“I would say we have good mothers and fathers," added Lovren in the same soundbite. "They are making good love I would say."

Almost eight years ago, one of Lovren's old agents tipped this column off about the raw, no-nonsense centre-half in and out of Lyon's first team. There was some speculation about Manchester United looking at Dejan - and this put to the representative. "He's not ready for something like that just yet, but he'll get to that level. Anyone who comes in contact with Lovren knows he has 'it' in him."

Eight years on. On a Moscow pitch. In a World Cup semifinal. That 'it' was all about mentality:

“I received a question like 'what do you think about the 4-1?' I really do not understand those questions, always looking back to where I made some mistakes. I really do not understand.

“There is too much about me. But whatever, this is what gets me more motivated to work hard and prove everyone wrong."

It didn't take some wind-up merchant in a London press office to bring 'it' out of Lovren on the night. He's proved himself stronger than that. But proving the doubters wrong has now become something to armour his game with. He's thriving because of it - and all the way to the World Cup final.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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