This summer saw one of the most intriguing and absorbing World Cups of the modern era. The epitome of that intrigue lay with the progression of Croatia to the final. Their dynamic was based on hard work, a desire to play for each other and undoubted quality in their play. One of the finest examples of that quality was Ante Rebic. The Eintracht Frankfurt man played the majority of the World Cup on the Croatian right wing, combining brilliantly with the ever-effective Mario Mandzukic and the also brilliant Ivan Perisic on the left wing. Rebic scored 1 in 6 games, a stunning volley in the win against Argentina being his only goalscoring contribution, but it was his overall effectiveness within the system applied that has led to interest from some of the top tier European clubs. The only question that remains: is Rebic worth the reported $35-50m fee and should clubs take the punt in signing him.
Rebic does not have the stereotypical winger profile of small, slight and agile. He is the epitome of a modern-day footballer: physically strong, deceptively quick and stamina matched with a desire to drive opposing defenders mad. His bustling style isn’t always pleasing on the eye but he is relentless in his approach to affect any game on both sides of the ball. The 24-year-old is extremely hard-working, showing just as much desire for his defensive duties as he does his offensive ability. While on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt from Fiorentina last season, Rebic amassed 5.56 opposition half ball recoveries per 90 played. That is an outstanding amount for a winger. He also managed 2.4 tackles and 2.5 fouls per 90 played. These numbers rank in the top 15 of all forwards that played 10 or more games in the Bundesliga 17/18 season and go to show Rebic effectiveness at pressing the ball.
It is these qualities aligned with his World Cup performances that have alerted some of the biggest clubs in Europe, especially those whose coaches prefer the talented but physical and hardworking profile in a winger, think Jose Mourinho or his ex-coach at Eintracht and now Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac. Rebic loves to press and harass opponents, looking to win the ball back deep in opposition territory where his dynamic movement can help find those yards of space that are craved at the top level.
A great example of Rebic’ aggressive pressing in the pictures below. The first screenshot shows Rebic assessing the situation of the ball receiver. Rebic quickly realises ball receiver is receiving the ball in a poor body position, back to the oncoming play and has no out ball if he cannot control and turn quickly. The second screenshot shows the speed at which Rebic has covered the ground to be in the perfect pressing position. Opposition player has nowhere to go and tries to use skill to get out of the situation. In this instance, Rebic actually won the ball with a fair tackle and found himself in the no 10 position with receivers still in the box from the previous set piece. The perfect example of an aggressive but tactically correct press.
The 24-year-old isn’t just a workhorse though. In the World Cup, Rebic produced consistently as an attacking threat. He was the 6th highest crosser of the ball with 24 attempts. To marry with that the Croat also had the 5th highest number of successes in 1 v 1 dribbling situations. This is the reason why links with Manchester United in recent days have become strong, Rebic is extremely versatile. He can produce dangerous deliveries, he can run past a full back down the line or he can cut inside to join up with the main striker and attack space centrally. Indeed it was the last attribute listed which Rebic displayed so effectively in the semi-final victory over England. After a poor first half showing, both Croatian wingers tucked inside in the second half, joining up with Mandzukic to occupy each one of the 3 English centre-halves. This not only created more attacking threat in the middle it produced the optimum space for the Croatian right wing back, Sime Vrsaljko, to move into and enter dangerous crossing positions.
The ex-Viola man possesses distribution and decision making of a high technical level. In the Bundesliga last season, Rebic achieved 1.4 key passes per 90 played, which made him the 15th best in the division from all forwards in the league, an outstanding return especially considering who he played for, not naturally a top 4 team. The Croatian often makes good passing decisions, progressing the ball to dangerous areas or finding teammates in key half spaces between the opposition midfield and defence.
Rebic is also a very effective out ball for any team. His ability to win duels with opposing defenders, often winning free kicks or using his strength and tenacity to win throw-ins or territory higher up the pitch was a key aspect of play when the Croatian team came under sustained pressure in the World Cup. At times, the Croat’s touch can let him down in tight areas and this aspect of his play does need work as he often doesn’t receive the ball with the best body position to attack the opposition defence, but his aggressive running and physicality often ensure, even with a bad first touch, Rebic can still retain possession.
The Croatian star cemented his fine season in Germany by capping off a brilliant individual display in the German Cup final against Bayern Munich where he scored 2 goals in a highly unexpected 3-1 victory. Having technically only just joined Frankfurt in a cut-price 1.8m euro deal from previous club Fiorentina, Rebic is now looking at joining the elite clubs of European football, and with his tenacity, tactical nous and undoubted technical ability he could be one of the biggest success stories to come out of the 2018 World Cup.