For the second edition of the FIFA World Cup in a row, Croatia has made it to the quarter-finals, with the same recipe: a strong defence, a highly-organised team, with a star in the middle of the park in Luka Modric, whose swansong at the highest of levels yielded another excellent return.
While Croatia boast a three-man midfield of Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic which is capable to wrestle with the top teams in the world, there are still fringe players who are trying to make their mark at Qatar 2022, setting up an example for the generations to come.
Probably no player is better motivated to help Croatia go even further, in spite of a game against Brazil following, than Josip Juranovic. An also-ran in his formative years, Juranovic wrestled with perception and rejection, fought for his career and became a mainstay in Croatia’s team, as Qatar 2022 is the second major tournament in a row where he deputises on the right back position, after being key for Croatia at the UEFA EURO 2020.
A diminutive right back, who is only 1.73m tall, Juranovic boasts high speed, huge stamina and a motivation next to none, as he has been displaying a chip on his shoulder since he started football.
Born in Dubrava, a neigbourhood of capital Zagreb, Juranovic started football at the local neighbourhood club, NK Dubrava, but his performances were not earmarked as great, nor his potential was identified by giants clubs in the country.
His breakthrough came at 18 years old when he gave himself the final chance to succeed in football. He enrolled in a local programme run by a big sportswear firm run to find players who may have the potential to win a professional contract, but do not yet possess one.
“There was a tournament run for players who didn’t have a professional contract with a club. There were like 46 boys who were competing by playing three games a day. The games were 45 minutes long and then we had speed tests and passing tests and at the end of it one guy would go and represent Croatia in London. I came close. Only three people won and I was like the fourth or fifth in line,” said Juranovic.
While it was another rejection, people started to know Juranovic better. During the awarding ceremony of the tournament, Mario Mandzukic and Mateo Kovacic, two members of the national team, were there and celebrated the winners.
“Kovacic was there when I was starting my career and I am now playing alongside him in the national team,” said Juranovic.
From that moment on, his career took flight. His excellent evolutions in the tournament earned him a chance from Croatian giants Hajduk Split in 2015. Three years later, we has named the best right back in the Croatian league, with bigger clubs circling around him.
But even then he was not a right back, as he started his career as a central midfielder.
“I started as a number six or a number eight. And then I started playing for Hadjuk Split. Damir Buric was my coach and he said to me ‘you could make a good career as a right full-back. At first I was like, ‘no, no way.’ But then I came around and said, ‘okay I will accept that.’ And because of him I am here now. He was 100 percent right,” added Juranovic.
A transfer at Polish side Legia Warsaw only brought him the chance to be seen at the highest level, as Scottish powerhouse Celtic Glasgow made him a priority in 2021. After paying a $4 million fee, Celtic got their man and Juranovic became a mainstay in both at the club and national team levels.
Since 2017, Juranovic has been getting better and better and at Qatar 2022 he deputised on that position, earning rave reviews. Now, he will be facing Brazilian star Vinicius Junior in a do-or-die clash, as Croatia is aiming to get back to the semi-finals, four years after securing that place at Russia 2018 for the second time in their history.
With his excellent games at Qatar 2022, Juranovic is now on the move once again, being scouted by many European powerhouses. From an amateur moving up the ranks, this is pretty exciting.