Best Croatian Football Players: Chessmasters of the Pitch

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 5.4.2024.

Croatia national team

Not one element of football on the international stage has been consistently amazing as much as the performance of the Croatian national team. A country with a small population has managed to get into the World Cup’s four best on three occasions, playing in one final! Becoming a land synonymous with the most popular sport. But you cannot make a good omelette without good eggs, to paraphrase Jose Mourinho. Hence, the best Croatian players can stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest of other larger footballing nations.

The boys in checkered shirts have become such a powerhouse that we included them in our biggest derbies of the Euros 2024 groups stages article. Based on quality alone.

As was the case for our articles about the best English players, the top five were the easiest to write, but the first names in the top 10 were almost impossible to decide on. Same for Croatia. Despite not having as big of a pool of players, it was a crowded bunch and some Champions League winners were left outside of the mark - Dejan Lovren for instance.

#10 Ante Rebic (Besiktas) - LW, 30

Ante Rebic

Unfortunately, as he has a unique skill set in modern football, Ante Rebic has had a strong dip in his career even though he is just 30 years old. However, he already has a brag-worthy resume, having represented Milan for 123 times, with a great statistical return - 29 goals and 17 assists. Winning the Serie A trophy in the 2021/2022 campaign.

Prior to that, Rebic was a part of the memorable Eintracht Frankfurt side which was the talk of Europe due to its goalscoring and continental run. With 25 goals and 12 assists, the tireless and versatile winger has earned a German Cup triumph. For Croatia, he has seven goal involvements in 42 matches. Yet he hasn’t been invited to the NT since 2021!

#9 Mario Pasalic (Atalanta) - CM, 29

Mario Pasalic

Not the most well-known name amongst these top Croatian football players, but speaks more of his compatriots, than of Mario Pasalic himself. A starter in the semis against Argentina back in Qatar, the 29-year-old has been a key component of the cult-favourite high-scoring Atalanta side. With 49 goals and 32 assists in 234 matches for La Dea. The former Monaco, Milan, Spartak Moscow, Elche, and Hajduk Split player has 80 goals and 39 assists across his 396 club career games. Winning only one Italian Supercup with AC Milan.

The very versatile Pasalic has been utilized as a CM, DM, AM, LM, and even as a striker on a couple of occasions. For Croatia, the German-born player has 62 caps, 10 goals and four assists. While playing in every single game of the 2022 World Cup.

#8 Ivan Rakitic (Al-Shabab) - CM, 36

Ivan Rakitic

For a while, and we do mean a while, Ivan Rakitic was Croatia's #2 player. Just behind the man who is still at the top. But Raketic hasn't faired with aging as well as some other world-class phenoms. Which isn't saying a lot, because few have. Especially because Rakitic can look at his trophy haul and notice that there are four La Liga trophies there - one more than what his older and more successful compatriot has gathered.

Ivan Rakitic got noticed at Basel and Schalke, before exploding at Sevilla and then making the final step to Barca. Playing a total of 310 games for the Catalans, and 323 matches for Sevilla, across two terms. In total, the midfielder has 823 club career games! In which he scored 123 goals and made 135 assists! Winning the Champions League as well, the FIFA Club World Cup, two Europa Leagues (of course with Sevilla), four Spanish Cups, one UEFA Supercup, one German Cup, two Spanish Supercups, and a Swiss Cup.

He played in 106 matches for Croatia and retired from the national team in 2019. Meaning that he wasn’t a part of the 2022 World Cup run, of course.

#7 Domagoj Vida (AEK Athens) - CB, 34

Domagoj Vida

One of those players who is at least 50% better when he is representing his own country - Domagoj Vida has been a bedrock in Croatia’s defence since 2010. Representing his country 104 times, Vida is still going strong. This is another thing that Croatian players need to be credited for - they stick with their national team.

Despite playing only a single match - not even a full one - in the top five Leagues. Dipping his toes in the elite with Bayer Leverkusen, Vida mostly made his money in the east - Besiktas, Dynamo Kyiv, AEK Ath4ens, and domestic sides Osijek and Dinamo Zagreb. All in all, 553 matches and 50 goals plus 21 assists for the centre-back!

Vida was a champion in Greece, Turkey, twice in Ukraine, and twice in Croatia. He won cups in all the countries he played in - a total of five pieces of silverware to go along with two Supercups.

#6 Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim) - CF, 32

Andrej Kramaric

Maybe a controversial high-placement, yet only for English fans. As Andrej Kramaric is known to them as a Leicester City flop. Yet what the striker has been doing in Germany cannot be overlooked. The 32-year-old has played in 276 games for Hoffenheim and produced 125 goals and 51 assists. Most of those in the Bundesliga - 108 goals and 48 assists in 246 games!

Even prior, his record was impressive - 55 goals and seven assists in 65 matches for RIjeka. With Dinamo Zagreb, the club in which he came up in, Andrej won three titles, getting one Cup with both Dinamo and Rijeka, as well as one SuperCup as well. For Croatia, the CF scored 28 goals and made 10 assists in his 91 appearances. Kramaric started the 2022 WC semis with Argentina. The caps alone are a testament to how valued he is because he overlapped with bigger names like Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic.

Josko Gvardiol (Manchester City) - LB/CB, 22

Josko Gvardiol

What made the Croatian national team's successes in two back-to-back World Cups particularly unusual is that in both tournaments they didn’t have a single world-class player in the backline. Josko Gvardiol is the first Croatian defensive player who actually has a chance of becoming one in the future. A WC semi-final already on his CV is certainly a good checkpoint. Having a €90,000,000 transfer was another.

But even prior, in 2021, Dinamo Zagreb cashed in on a player that they developed since 2010. Getting €36,800,000 for their smart troubles. The 22-year-old adapted to RB Leipzig quickly and won two German Cups in his two seasons there. Four total trophies were collected in Croatia, and he got two pieces of silverware in half a season with City - the UEFA Supercup and the FIFA Club World Cup.

In total, Gvardiol has 168 club games behind him, 16 of which in the Champions League. With 29 caps for the national team! Being able to play as a left-back and a centre-back, under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola, with incredible maturity even when he was a teenager - it will be a shock if Josko isn't the best Croatian player in two years time. Or whenever the number one retires.

#4 Ivan Perisic (Hajduk Split on loan from Tottenham) - LM, 35

Ivan Perisic

The third most-capped Croatian player Ivan Perisic has had a bit of a nomadic club career for a player of his quality. Representing seven clubs, but signing professional contracts with nine. The 35-year-old left midfield player stuck around at Inter Milan the longest - 254 games! Providing Nerazzurri with 55 goals and 49 assists, showcasing his almost equal ability to create and finish.

Perisic also represented the giants of German football Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. But also other massive sides in their countries: Tottenham Hotspur, Wolfsburg, and Club Brugge. Winning one CL with FCB, two Bundesliga trophies with BVB and Bayern, a Serie A trophy, an Italian Cup, three German cups with three different teams, an Italian Supercup, and a German Supercup with Wolfsburg. Proving his winning mentality.

His equal goalscoring and assist-making are on display in his 129 matches for Croatia too - 33 goals and 30 assists! Starting all the important games of the Checkered Ones. Perisic, as a midfielder is the joint second-best goalscorer for Croatia!

#3 Marcelo Brozovic (Al-Nassr) - DM, 31

Marcelo Brozovic

The Croatian players whose habits and capabilities are the stuff of myth. In the same vein Cristiano Ronaldo’s teammates talk about his meticulous preparations, Marcelo Brozovic’s talk about his total lack of. Or the opposite. As one of his compatriot colleagues put it - “the man eat salami and drank 2l of Coca-Cola and then ran for 90 minutes covering the record-making 16.70 km!

Brozovic was at Inter Milan from 2015 to 2023, recording 330 games - scoring 31 goals and making 43 assists. He won one Scudetto, two Italian Cups, two Italian Super Cups, and played in a Champions League final before moving to Al-Nassr.

The mythical midfielder was the lungs of the Croatian team and continues to be so - playing 95 games with 14 goal involvements (7G/7A). He started in both the final against France in 2022 and the semis against Argentina in 2022.

#2 Mateo Kovacic (Manchester City) - CM, 29

Mateo Kovacic

Mateo Kovacic has had quite the career across three of the top five European leagues - playing 221 games for Chelsea, 109 for Real Madrid, 97 for Inter Milan, and is now in his first season with Manchester City. The ball-carrying central midfielder is an uncommon mixture of both physicality and technique that made him a wanted player across the Old Continent.

Kovacic collected quite the trophy haul - Four Champions League triumphs - three with Real, one with CFC. He won La Liga, but also the Europa League with Chelsea, and got four UEFA Supercups and Four FIFA Club World Cups! All that after being champion of Croatia with Dinamo three times.

He represented his country 99 times despite being on the right side of 30, scoring five goals and making eight assists. The club career saw him score 26 goals and make 46 assists in 524 games.

#1 Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - CM, 38

Luka Modric

Who else? The gap between Luka Modric and everyone else (not just his compatriots too) is so large that even when he retires, he’ll remain the best Croatian player ever.

His longevity alone would've given him a lot of plaudits, but the central midfield maestro has also impressed with the trophy hauls, goals, assists, and the poetry of his game. Luka Modric also deserves the spot on the pantheon of the greatest players of the planet on the merit of his immunity to decay. The man quality's has barely dipped and he is nearing his 39th birthday. Still playing for Real Madrid, 521 games in. After 160 matches for Tottenham Hotspur and 79 for Dinamo Zagreb. Luka scored 80 goals in his total 760 club matches, providing 130 assists, but truly countless key passes.

Modric was the architect for Croatia in 2018 - winning his Golden Ball in the era of Messi and Ronaldo - and in 2022! And what a servant he has been for Croatia, the most-capped player ever too - 174 games and still going strong. He has beaten the second-most-capped Croatian player Darijo Srna by 40 games! And counting!!! Talk about a captain.

Besides the Ballon d'Or, in 2018 Modric also won two major individual awards - for the Best FIFA Men's Player and UEFA's Best Player in Europe. To go with his four-time Player of the Year in Croatia award. Amongst five Champions League trophies, three La Liga titles, four UEFA Supercups, four FIFA Club World Cups, two Copa del Rey trophies, five Spanish Supercups, and six trophies in Croatia.

It also becomes apparently clear to anyone why Croatia managed to overperform in the tournaments - all the top three best Croatian players are midfielders!


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