When talking about Inter in recent years, it’s always been about Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic. Similarly, with Croatia, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic have been the names on everybody’s lips.
There’s one man who’s snuck under the radar massively after overcoming an initial tough spell in Italy, he’s a player who’s work allows the stars to flourish while never seemingly being seen as a star himself.
Marcelo Brozovic is a player that rarely gets put in the limelight, not to any fault of his own, there are simply just ‘bigger’, more marketable stars in the teams he’s played in.
But now, the 27-year-old – who recently helped the Vatreni to Euro 2020 – is finally getting the recognition he deserves under Antonio Conte.
Initially, the Croat mightily struggled at Inter after arriving from Dinamo Zagreb permanently in the summer of 2016. Inconsistent and sloppy showings, as well as an unjustified arrogance, meant that Brozovic wasn’t exactly a fan-favourite among the Nerazzurri faithful in his first few months at the club.
His inconsistency on the pitch and petulance off it nearly led to his sale to Sevilla in January 2018, but the boss at the time, Luciano Spalletti, blocked the move as they weren’t able to find a replacement.
That was seemingly the turning-point in Brozovic’s career far, and after finishing the 2017/18 campaign with four goals and nine assists (a career-high), that summer, he would go on to play an underrated role in Croatia’s World Cup campaign that saw them reach the final – Brozovic starting and finishing both the semi-final and final.
Then, under Spalletti in the 2018/19 season, ‘Brozo’ starred in I Nerazzurri’s midfield – outshining the likes of Matias Vecino, Roberto Gagliardini and Borja Valero – as his tireless running, ball-winning abilities, competent ball distribution and determination to make runs into the penalty area started to push the former Dinamo Zagreb man into the good books of the home faithful.
But, despite Brozovic being a constant in Inter’s starting XI and finishing that season with a 90% pass completion in Serie A, – all while averaging four tackles a game – Icardi’s tame 17-goal season was credited for spearheading I Nerazzurri to the Champions League for the second season running. The workhorse in the middle of the park was merely another spoke in Spalletti’s dysfunctional wheel.
With the club seemingly at a standstill after not improving on their previous campaign, Inter announced Spalletti’s departure in May 2018 with former Juve boss Antonio Conte the man to fill the void.
With Conte at the helm, Inter have been taken to another level and while the performances of Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku up top and the stoutness of Diego Godin, Milan Skriniar and Stefan de Vrij at the back have been important, Conte’s midfield three have been nothing short of outstanding.
The dynamic Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi joined Inter from Cagliari and Sassuolo respectively in the summer and both have thrived alongside Brozovic, who’s operated as the ‘regista’ in the centre.
And despite Sensi and Barella’s ball-playing abilities, it’s the Croatian who’s proved to be the key in Inter’s build-up play under their new manager.
Initially, when the ball is with one of Inter’s centre-halves, Brozovic looks to receive in a position just behind the first line of the opponent (usually the striker). When he receives, his calmness in possession and press-resistance enables him to turn away from pressure and play clever passes round the corner into his midfield partners, who are usually positioned higher up the pitch.
Brozovic essentially becomes key in allowing Inter to progress the ball vertically through opposition lines. His ability to play straight, line-breaking passes then opens up space for Antonio Candreva or Kwadwo Asamoah at wing-back. Conte-ball.
So far this season, Brozovic has registered two goals and two assists in all competitions and despite a smaller sample size, he averages a higher pass completion (90.7%), more passes per 90 (74.2) and more long balls per 90 (7.4) than any prior season in Serie A. He’s the man that keeps this impressive Inter side ticking.
And while some of his defensive numbers in some metrics are down, particularly the tackles per 90 (from 5.0 to 2.8), Brozovic has proved to be more than capable at shielding Inter’s back three.
Along with this, the 27-year-old holds great importance when Inter press high, whether it be providing cover for the pair beside him who enjoy pressing opposition midfielders deep in their own half, or man-marking an advanced opposition midfielder – the latter being demonstrated in I Nerazzuri’s visit to the Camp Nou, where Brozovic would often find himself man-marking Arthur or Frenkie de Jong.
Overall, Brozovic’s outings in some of Inter’s biggest games up to this point have seen the Croat gain greater recognition. His performances in the Champions League – most notably in both games against Dortmund, especially in the home game – have been consistently fantastic, while he was the best player on the park in the Derby della Madonnina.
Despite a quieter showing against Juventus, Brozovic has proved himself to be a player for the big occasion and will undoubtedly be pivotal in Inter’s title challenge this season and in the many to come.
So, from a cocky nuisance who wasn’t even loved by his own fans, Marcelo Brozovic has gone under the radar to become one of I Nerazzurri’s most prized possessions.
Playing as the ‘regista’ under Conte in a much-improved Inter side has taken the Croatian to the next level and there simply aren’t many better midfielders in Europe than Inter’s number 77 right now.