Marcelo Brozović: The Comeback Kid

Frustratingly inconsistent and more than capable of alienating anyone with his sloppy performances, Marcelo Brozović was a persona non grata among Inter supporters in the first three years of his time in Italy due to his hot-and-cold form and arrogant attitude.

His relationship with the Nerazzurri fanbase was at an all-time low when he was substituted in the club’s 2-1 victory against Bologna in Round 24 of the 2017/18 Serie A campaign. As the jeers filled the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza while he walked off the pitch, the Croatian midfielder applauded sarcastically at the crowd, fanning the flames of the Interisti’s indignation.

It seemed that there was no way back for Brozović, but after a couple of games coming off the bench in cameo roles, he then played for the whole match in the stalemate at home to Napoli, and he has never looked back, producing the best form of his career for the remainder of 2018.

Arriving at Inter in January 2015 on a one-and-a-half-year loan spell for €3 million with an obligation to be acquired outright 18 months later for another €5 million, the Croat arrived from Dinamo Zagreb with great promise, and was eager to prove his worth.

“I’ve always wanted to play for Inter,” Brozović said in his introductory press conference as a Biscione player in January 2015. “We are talking about a team with great tradition and a great history.

“I’ve never happened to meet supporters as passionate and welcoming as the Inter fans. I’m really happy to be here and I hope I can prove that the club’s investment in me was worth it.”

For a while, it looked like Brozović was never going to live up to his potential due to his inconsistent form and poor attitude. The Croatian international reacted poorly when he was substituted early in Inter’s shock 2-0 defeat to Israeli team Hapoel Beer Sheva in the Europa League in September 2016, and later, then-coach Frank De Boer omitted him from the squad for four Serie A matches.

“He just has to prove that Inter are his team,” De Boer said after the Nerazzurri’s 2-1 victory against Juventus later in that month.

“When he returns to us isn’t a problem for me. He did something I couldn’t accept, so he’ll return to the squad when he can demonstrate his discipline.”

There were games in which Brozović could win off his own boot, such as the 2-0 victory at home to Genoa in the 2016/17 Serie A season and the 2-1 away win against Benevento in the following campaign, scoring braces both times, but then there would be games where he would be either anonymous or ineffective.

Attention was placed on the Croatian when he started doing his pensive “Epic Brozo” celebrations, but he also became infamous for his petulant attitude and his mistakes.

He was almost sold to Spanish club Sevilla in January, but manager Luciano Spalletti vetoed the transfer because there was not enough time to bring in an ideal replacement. Before the Bologna fiasco, the Croat was taken off in the 1-1 draw with Crotone in February and in response, he kicked a jacket, as well as other items.

The draw against Napoli in March was the perfect tonic for Brozović, who played every game in full, except for the 0-0 draw with Atalanta in Round 32, when he served a suspension for earning five yellow cards throughout the season. He would finish with nine for 2017/18.

His tireless running, ball-winning abilities, competent ball distribution, and his aptitude to make runs into the penalty area pushed him into the good graces of Inter fans, and he was also capable of taking free-kicks and corners. By the end of the season, he had featured in 31 league matches, scored four times, and provided a career-high nine assists.

It was the ninth assist that sealed the Biscione’s first Champions League appearance since 2012; as his corner found Matías Vecino, the Uruguayan scored a last-minute header to defeat Lazio in the final round of the Serie A season.

After impressing for Inter, the midfielder represented his native Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, where he was a protagonist for the Vatreni as they reached the final, which they lost 4-2 to France.

Brozović provided the assist for Luka Modrić’s goal in the 3-0 thrashing of Argentina in the group stage, and he converted Croatia’s first penalty in the quarter-final penalty shoot-out against host nation Russia, which the Croats won 4-3 after the game finished 2-2 after extra time.

Since returning from the World Cup, the 26-year-old has been a key component of Luciano Spalletti’s team. While Vecino, Roberto Gagliardini, and Borja Valero have failed to perform at a consistent level for Inter, “Brozo” has been their most reliable midfielder.

Only goalkeeper Samir Handanović and centre-back Milan Škriniar have played more minutes in Serie A so far in 2018/19, with the box-to-box midfielder playing for 1,376 minutes, or 16 matches, and he also has the second-highest passing accuracy out of all the regular starters at 89.7 percent.

He has only scored twice and provided one assist, but one of the goals was a winner at the death in the 1-0 league victory against Sampdoria. The Biscione were relieved to see that goal stand, after a several would-be goals had been previously disallowed after VAR decisions.  

Unfortunately in the UEFA Champions League, Inter finished third in Group B due to an inferior head-to-head record with Tottenham Hotspur and the Nerazzurri demoted to the Europa League, but Brozović provided one of the most memorable moments of the 2018/19 edition by far.

In the Nerazzurri’s 2-0 defeat to Barcelona in Spain on Matchday 3, he noticed that Luis Suárez was about to take a free-kick, and he slid on the ground behind the wall. Suarez hit the free-kick low and the ball went under the jumping defenders, but Brozović was in the way, and he prevented it from rolling into the net.   

The Brozović of old did return in the 4-1 defeat away to Atalanta in Serie A, where he was sent off after earning two yellow cards for reckless fouls. In other seasons, that would be the norm for the Croat, but this time around, it is the exception.

Once seen as a liability to Inter, Marcelo Brozovic has remarkably risen to become one of the Nerazzuri’s prized possessions.

By: Vito Doria

Photo: Getty