Name – Luka Vušković
Club: Hajduk Split
Preferred Foot: Right
Strengths: physicality, duels, aerial dominance, presence, strength
Areas for Development: experience, decision making.
It has been quite the year for Luka Vušković. Two days after turning 16, he made his professional debut on February 26, 2023, playing the full 90 in Hadjuk Split’s 4-0 loss to Dinamo Zagreb. In doing so, he became the joint-youngest player to appear in Croatia’s top-flight and the youngest player to feature in the Eternal Derby. Four days later, he scored the opener in their 2-1 win vs. Osijek in the quarterfinals of the Croatian Football Cup, becoming the youngest player to score for Hadjuk.
Despite being a center back, he has shown an impressive goal-scoring prowess, racking up 6 goals in 14 matches in the junior league. This, along with several other unique attributes, has seen him heralded as one of the most promising center backs in Europe, and it has already earned him a big move. On September 25, 2023, Tottenham completed the signing of Vušković for £12 million, with the Croatian set to join the North London club in 2025 after penning a contract through 2030.
Despite interest from various clubs including PSG and Manchester City, Tottenham have won the race for the teenage defender. At 16 years old, he boasts an imposing physicality, a commanding presence in the air as well at 6’4″. His broad physique makes him a formidable unit who is tough to get past. He’s dominant in the air and always makes himself a threat whether defending his own box or attacking the opponent’s, constantly coming out on top in aerial duels.
Defensively, Vušković puts his life on the line. For someone so young, he boasts great leadership and bravery in all his challenges. The way he defends with so much passion & dominance makes it clear to see why all the top clubs wanted him. He times his tackles well, able to execute strong slide tackles to take out the man and come away with the ball without conceding fouls.
He takes ownership and makes himself a nuisance when defending, boasting stellar recovery pace that enables him to cover ground quickly and close down attackers, an essential quality whilst operating in a high line like that of Ange Postecoglou’s and defending wide areas. His speed allows him to push attackers out wide as he closes them down. A man mountain in defense, he has an inevitability about him in a similar ilk to William Saliba, Virgil van Dijk and Mickey van de Ven.
The physical tools don’t stop there: he also has incredible core strength which provides the platform for an imposing torso and hip stability, a stable foundation that allows him to generate even more power. A monster in 1v duels, his fearlessness in challenges is yet another phenomenal attribute from his multi-faceted game.
He isn’t just an elite duel-winning warrior, but also a ball-playing defender. For such a tall player, he is quite mobile and agile and is skilled at carrying the ball forward. Adept at switching the ball to the wings, Vušković is a player who is always demanding the ball before distributing from deep and launching attacks into the final third.
There are certainly things that need improving, but above all, he will only refine his flaws with experience. Defending is an art which is why it takes most defenders until they’re in their 30s to truly read the game to their fullest potential. At 16, it’s no surprise that he has the expected rash challenge in his locker and can be a bit inconsistent in his decision-making, but he is nevertheless an elite-level prospect in defense who will only get better.
Tottenham have done a good job at recruiting youngsters with an eye towards the first-team action in a few years, boasting the likes of Alejo Véliz (20), Ashley Phillips (18), and Vušković (16) as well as promising academy talents like Jamie Donley (19), Alfie Dorrington (18) and Mikey Moore (16). Overall, it seems that the present and future of Tottenham’s defense is secure, with the likes of Cristian Romero (25), Destiny Udogie (21), Pedro Porro (24) and Van de Ven (22) holding down the fort for Postecoglou’s side.
With Dejan Lovren announcing his international retirement last year and vice captain Domagoj Vida approaching 35 years of age, Luka Vušković has the potential to not only be a key figure in defense for club, but country as well. He has emerged as a stunning talent with a maturity well beyond his years, and he looks set to become the latest Croatian player to suit up for Tottenham after Luka Modrić, Ivan Perišić, and more.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Jonathan Moscrop / Getty Images