Ivan Perišić left home at 17 in order to save his father’s chicken business. He hasn’t really found a new one since, and there has always been a sense that something was missing as he roamed around Europe. Could the Premier League offer the ideal setting for the peak of his career?
It certainly seems the right fit when you consider his style.
He’s exceptionally fast and possesses very good technical skills, yet he is not a showpony. His defensive abilities and effort have greatly improved over time and he has become a true team player; someone who is happy to work within the system and involve his team mates, someone who doesn’t need much of the ball at his feet to make an impact.
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He can create space and chances as much from transition as he can playing against set defences. He’s also very efficient at that, usually running past defenders rather than dribbling around them. An unorthodox winger, he likes to cut inside and sneak into the box, where his height (6 ft 1 in) and decent aerial power can come handy, too.
But it wasn’t always like that. It took quite a lot of personal growth, a lot of it through dealing with personal disappointments, to become the player he is now.
Perišić never got to play for Hajduk Split, the club he supported as a kid. In 2006, as he was trying to make his way from the youth ranks to the senior squad during the offseason, the French club Sochaux sent a private jet for him and the family decided he should go. It was never his call; his father’s chicken farm ran into debt and they saw it as a golden opportunity to save it.
But Perišić never got to play for Sochaux, either, only appearing for their ‘B’ squad. It was only three years later that he first made a name for himself at Club Brugge in Belgium. Playing as an attacking midfielder or second striker, he won both the league’s top scorer and Player of the Year awards. He would only become a winger later.
Next was the rampant, high-octane Borussia Dortmund side, who had just won their first of the two titles in the Jürgen Klopp era. Perišić seemed to have the world at his feet when he scored a scorching volley from outside the box against Arsenal upon the club’s return to the Champions League, but again, it did not happen for him. He struggled to fully fathom his role in the Klopp’s famous Gegenpressing scheme and found himself increasingly left out, especially after Dortmund signed Marco Reus.
“When I’m on the bench, I’m dying,” he said at the time, proceeding to complain about his status to the press. Klopp would have none of it.
“Public whining belongs to kindergarten, not to the world of adults,” the manager stated. “If he doesn’t play, a football professional should shut his mouth, work hard and make the coach select him – not complain about it to the reporters.”
Disappointed and crest-fallen, Perišić was shipped off to Wolfsburg in the winter of 2013, after only a season and a half with Borussia. However, in retrospect, the fallout with Klopp was probably the key point in his career. In Wolfsburg, he was united with his national team elder Ivica Olic, probably the hardest worker Croatia – and European football – has seen in recent years. He completely transformed from an attention-seeker to a team player, using his exceptional individual qualities for the benefit of the collective.
His evolution has been most evident in his appearances for Croatia: he went from probably the most criticized player, chiefly for his lack of defensive effort and composure in the final third of the pitch, to their most consistent performer in the past three years, bar Luka Modric. It started at the 2014 World Cup, especially after the Gareth Bale-esque goal against Cameroon – as Perišić sprinted from the halfway line with the ball at his feet before placing it into the net – and has continued ever since.
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Ironically, though, the teams Perišić has played for since leaving the Westfalen – Wolfsburg and Inter Milan – have been nowhere near as steady and as coherent as his individual development was. And for years now the analysts and the pundits in his native Croatia have been saying that he should play in England, that he was made for England: wonderfully gifted in terms of physique and frenetic if need be, able to play in a hurly-burly style of the Premier League, yet smart and co-operative enough to blend in, make a difference and establish himself as a mainstay – because he still dreads the bench more than anything.
The price tag may be a little steep, but Manchester United could be the right fit and finally give him the home he has long been searching for.