January Transfers: 10 Eastern European Players Set to Move to the Big Time | Bleacher Report
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The sun rises in the east, and so does a glut of young, gifted and up-and-coming footballing talent. Eastern European countries have been home to some wildly impressive, highly skilled footballers who will have some of the biggest clubs in Europe drooling in time for the January transfer window.
Here are 10 players from Eastern and South-East Europe who are poised to make their entry into the big time soon. If you have any more additions to the list, as always, have at it in the comments.
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One could argue that Hamšík has technically already cracked the big time as he continues to excel at an on-fire SSC Napoli and help keep them in Scudetto contention, not to mention playing a pivotal role in the Italian team’s dark-horse Champions League drive.
The mohawked midfielder has been an extremely potent figure in Serie A and the Champions League, with a brilliant finish and technical gifts to boot. It goes without saying that he’s attracted interest from a number of top-flight clubs, and with the playmaker reportedly looking to move from Walter Mazzarri’s side over the summer, several English sides are set to prepare bids, including Manchester City and Manchester United.
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The playmaker known as “Jojo” first made a name for himself in Europe with a brief but high-impact spell at juggernaut Slovenian side NK Maribor. While at Maribor, Iličić made waves with impressive goals in Maribor’s UEFA Europa League campaign, including one in Maribor’s defeat of Serie A side Palermo. Palermo were impressed with the powerful attacker even before that match, and by the time he’d scored against them, he was already set to join the Rosanero, where he has been a key impact player ever since.
Even in defeats for Palermo, Iličić still manages to impress with his skill and composure, most recently in a match against Roma where he gave the Rosanero their best scoring chance in the match. His skills have attracted the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan, the latter who Iličić’s agent told an Italian newspaper he would be interested in joining.
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One half of Borussia Dortmund’s highly formidable, young central defense (the other being Mats Hummels), the 22-year-old Serbian defender wowed in the Bundesliga last season, reportedly attracting the interest of Premiership clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United, and he has expressed a desire to eventually play in England as well.
Subotić hasn’t been quite on his game this season the way he was in Dortmund’s dominance of the Bundesliga last year, but perhaps a change of scenery could also see a resurgence in form for the Serbian international.
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Adem Ljajić is another brilliant playmaker who, like Josip Iličić, has been compared to Kaká and has been wowing across Europe since he was in his teens. After breaking through with dazzling technical skill while playing for Serbian heavy-hitters Partizan Belgrade, Ljajić looked ready to go to Manchester United, but the Red Devils backed out citing issues with acquiring a work visa for him.
He went to Fiorentina instead, and his fortunes look quite bright, as Viola manager Siniša Mihajlović is giving him more playing time and a chance to live up to his potential and the comparisons to a certain Real Madrid star. His impressive talent and status as a gifted trequartista will certainly have other suitors trying to court him in the near future—and this time, the deal could stick.
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Maradona. Wayne Rooney. Luka Modric. Robert Prosinecki. Leo Messi.
These are some of the names that 17-year-old Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovačić has drawn comparisons to. The young, mercurial playmaker was discovered at the tender age of 13 while playing for the youth academy at LASK Linz, and ever since, the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Juventus have been jockeying for position to lure him from Dinamo Zagreb.
Kovačić is already well-established at Dinamo, becoming the youngest goal-scorer and debutant in the Prva HNL ever on his first appearance for the club last season. He’s also worked his way up the ranks of the Croatian national team’s youth system and has been an impact player at various levels, although he has yet to break into the senior team.
Rumors of a Manchester United January bid for Kovačić have began to circulate in larger numbers, but Dinamo have denied that any kind of contact between them has been made. Of course, that all could change come January.
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Andrei Arshavin has called him “the most talented young footballer in Russia,” and that kind of hype will certainly be followed with interest from some pretty big names.
Despite only being 21 years of age, Dzagoev has already established himself as a force in the Russian Premier League and European competition, breaking into the first team after a string of well-timed late-in-the-game assists that helped give CSKA the victory in a Russian Cup match over crosstown rivals Spartak Moscow. Ever since, he’s been a pivotal part of the first team and a high-impact goal-scorer and his performances have helped CSKA maintain a respectable second in their Champions League group and contenders to advance and perform well in the knockout stages.
He’s also made waves as an international playing for Russia. In the last round of Euro 2012 qualifiers, a Dzagoev goal kept the Russians at the top of their group and eliminated Slovakia.
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Earlier this year, Shakhtar Donetsk defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy was named to the UEFA Euro U21 Team of the Tournament, alongside some of world football’s biggest rising stars, among them Chris Smalling, Juan Mata and Xherdan Shaqiri—and there’s good reason.
Centre-back Rakitskiy was a breakout player on both the domestic and international levels, giving Champions League quarter-final opponents Barcelona a run for their money, and helping his side hold their own against the Catalan champs.
An explosive, determined, hard-working presence on the pitch, Rakitskiy will likely impress in this year’s Champions League as well. Barcelona vied for him over the summer, and it’s only a matter of time before more big names come knocking for him.
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The Udinese keeper and star of the Slovenian national team is probably the oldest player on this list at 27, but his career is just starting to gather steam. Last season, he had a breakthrough at Udinese and helped put the Serie A side in Champions League contention, tying a Serie A record for most saved penalties in a season with six.
Arsenal expressed interest in bringing on the keeper last season, and AC Milan is reportedly interested in bringing him on. Handanovič’s contract with Udinese is good until 2016, but he has said he could be swayed by a move to a top-flight club.
As he told the Gazzetta dello Sport:
“I’m happy at Udine, but of course, at my age, I am thinking about a big club. I like to take steps forward in my career and if I move on to a different team then it will be to improve myself. If that is not really an option then I will stay at Udinese.”
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The Montenegrin mastermind is one of the most sought-after young talents in Europe and his playing style has drawn comparisons to former Italian superstar Roberto Baggio.
He first impressed after becoming Partizan Belgrade’s youngest-ever captain at the age of 18 and upon his arrival at Fiorentina, Jovetić held his own at the European competition level, scoring on the likes of Liverpool and Bayern Munich. A cruciate ligament injury kept him out of contention for a while, but now Jovetić is back and continuing to wow the footballing world with his technical gifts and dribbling skills. He has helped revitalize Fiorentina and with the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal reportedly prepared to offer January bids for him, he could be seeing time at a top-flight team very soon.
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Although the 22-year-old Otelul Galati star has yet to be at the centre of any transfer rumors, after his performance so far in the Champions League, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if he became a target come January.
The right-sided midfielder has been able to hold his own against some of Europe’s toughest teams. Although he didn’t score in Otelul’s last round against Manchester United, he made some impressive drives and made Sir Alex Ferguson’s defense sweat. If he continues to deliver, he will certainly raise some eyebrows.