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Josko Gvardiol nearly quit football when he was a teenager, now he's 'the world's best centre-back'

Josko Gvardiol nearly quit football when he was a teenager, now he's 'the world's best centre-back'

The 21-year-old Croatian defender is regarded by many as one of the best defenders in world football.

Josko Gvardiol went from almost quitting football as a teenager to representing his country at a World Cup – and now he's now regarded as one of the world's best defenders.

The RB Leipzig defender, who will come up against Manchester City on Tuesday night in their Champions League round of 16 clash, struggled to make an impact in the early years of his career.

In fact, when speaking to The Times in February, the 21-year-old admitted he almost quit the not-so beautiful game.

"I was 16 or 17 and still on the bench in the youth teams," he said. "I was frustrated and, at one moment, I was thinking to leave football."

So what options did he have post-football? Growing up in the city of Zagreb, Gvardiol would often wake up at 4am to sell fish at a local market.

It's fair to say he didn't enjoy the family business. "By the way, I hate fish," he said. "Imagine being 16 years old and there’s only fish to eat every day at home. I want to try something else."

Gvardiol decided against giving up football and eventually, things began to fall into place for the talented defender.

"I don’t know what happened but then afterwards I started to play and they finally saw something in me, my quality, and in one year I moved to Dinamo Zagreb’s second team," he said.

Image credit: Alamy
Image credit: Alamy

Gvardiol went on to make his senior debut for Dinamo Zagreb in October 2019 before going on to make 13 appearances for the Purgeri during a breakthrough campaign.

RB Leipzig soon beat a host of European clubs to sign the youngster, who would go on to feature at the World Cup – an achievement he likely thought impossible at 16.

Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic paid Gvardiol the ultimate compliment after the nation secured their place in the knockout rounds of the tournament.

“Josko Gvardiol is the best centre-back in the world," he said via The Athletic. "To play this maturely, it’s amazing. The way he plays, with the elegance he carries the ball.”

Croatia teammate Borna Barisic went on praise him further after they beat Japan in the last-16, saying: "“He plays like he has 100 caps for the national team. But that is what happens when God gives you everything.”

Josko's father Tihomir, meanwhile, enjoyed a rise in sales during last winter's World Cup in Qatar.

In a recent interview with, Gvardiol spoke about his ambitions for the future and revealed he would assess his options when the season ends.

"Ambitions? Well, I don't really know. I'm here right now and we have a lot of work to do; there's the Bundesliga and we're also playing in the Champions League and competing in the [German Cup]." he said.

"So, it's important for me to be as successful as possible this season, and then when the season is over, I can think about what and how to proceed."

In a separate interview with Croatian TV channel RTLDanas, Gvardiol named Liverpool as his so-called "dream club".

"My dream club? That would definitely be Liverpool,” he said.

“Since I was little, I watched a lot of their matches with my dad. We covered every season in detail. It is a club that has remained in my heart".

Featured Image Credit: Alamy/Instagram - josko_gvardiol/Twitter - @AnthonyZoric

Topics: Croatia, Josko Gvardiol, Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Champions League