Croatia has been a conveyor belt of talent in the last three decades with countless players coming to the big European leagues to showcase their talent. From Robert Prosinecki, Alen Boksic, Davor Suker and Zvonomir Boban via Niko Kovac, Darijo Srna, Vedran Corluka and Niko Kranjcar to Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, Croatia has been a proud exporter of talent to the top level of European football. Today we’re seeing players like Mateo Kovacic star at Real Madrid, Sime Vrsaljko impressing across the Spanish capital at Atlético, Marcelo Brozovic becoming integral at Inter and Marko Pjaca slowly getting more appearances at Juventus. Another young Croatian sure to shortly be a big name on the European football stage is Napoli’s 21-year-old midfielder Marko Rog.
Rog first came through the ranks at Varaždin in the Croatian third division where he was top scorer with 17 goals in 30 appearances in his first ever season in the first team. After that season he joined RNK Split where he would spend a solitary season, scoring seven goals in his first top flight campaign. Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb had seen enough in Rog’s 30 appearances to make the decision to sign the youngster for a Croatian record of 5 million euro. After 50 appearances in his first season, scoring six goals, and a great start to the current campaign with five goals in twelve games, Rog made his third move in as many summers when he joined Napoli on a loan with an obligation to buy at the end of the season reportedly worth 14 million euro.
Due to coach Maurizio Sarri’s willingness to work with new players on the training pitch before granting them playing time, Rog had to wait three months for his first Serie A appearance, finally making his debut in December against Inter. On plenty of occasions, Sarri stressed the need for Rog to be given time to adapt to the football in Italy in general and Napoli in particular. Sarri also made the point that patience was needed with Rog after the young midfielder also had moved to a new country.
With Rog now seemingly ready to shine for Sarri, there’s nothing holding back the Croatian. Rog has demonstrated his quality in recent outings, most notably in the Coppa Italia semi-final at Juventus where he was one of the standout players on the pitch. Rog possess all attributes to shine in top level European football as he already showed in the 2016 Euro group stage clash with Spain when he started in place of the missing Luka Modric in Croatia’s midfield. A quick, skilful player, Rog can be utilised on either flank as well as centrally as a number 10 or a mezzala, one of the wider central midfielders in a 4-3-3. The latter is likely to be his role at Napoli.
Despite playing as a winger and number 10 in Croatia, Rog is surprisingly adept defensively. He presses intensely and aggressively, defends well in 1-vs-1 situations, has the energy to get up the pitch throughout the 90 minutes and uses his stamina to cover for teammates out of position. He can tackle, too. The only worry is he might be too aggressive as he tends to concede quite a few fouls, sometimes needlessly. That’s a worry that is easily righted though. As one of my own coaches once said: “it’s better to be too aggressive than too nice to begin with”.
In the video above you can see what I mean. Look at that intensity when pressing, remarkable for an attacking player.
In a side coached by Maurizio Sarri, every player needs to extremely good in terms of passing the ball quickly. Especially the midfielders. Rog fulfils these demands with his ability to pass both over long and short distances, to pass accurately under pressure, to pass creatively to set up chances and most importantly with his intelligence and understanding to read situations and make the best decision.
As you see, Rog fits Sarri’s mould perfectly in terms of passing and with more games he will improve further.
As you’d expect from a Balkan born winger, Rog excels in attacking 1-vs-1 situations where he can use his speed, strength, technique, creativity and trickery to attack opponents. Rog at full flight running at defenders is a sight for sore eyes, but his quality to dribble out of tight and pressured situations is also highly impressive.
Above you see him embarrass seasoned top level players like Giorgio Chiellini, Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira. With footwork that quick, with that technique, with that agility and that speed, Rog looks to be the complete package in terms of dribbling. Most importantly perhaps is his calm in pressed situations. In top level football the big matches are always quite tense with both teams cancelling each other out. With Rog you find a player who won’t crumble under pressure and who can unlock a packed defence with some quick footwork and skill.
He hasn’t been able to showcase this quality with Napoli yet since he’s only played four games, but from his time in Croatia I found a number of superb goals scored by Rog. Just look at some of these strikes.
The cool in front of goal is evident, he’s got a wonderful shooting technique with tremendous power and we see a remarkable quality from free kicks too. The ability to be dangerous from set pieces is a quality teams pay good money for if you can mix it with other qualities of course. And Marko Rog certainly can.
Area to improve
I’ve mentioned earlier that he needs to be calmer when pressing and tackling to avoid needless fouls, but that will come with experience. The big challenge is of course to continue his development by really breaking into Napoli’s team with Piotr Zielinski emerging as the number one choice in the right sided mezzala position ahead of Allan and Rog, but with his quality and potential I wouldn’t go against the Croatian soon replacing the Polish international in the eleven. Rog can also be used to rest talisman Marek Hamsik every once in a while and he is an option from the flanks. Personally I believe Rog should continue in central midfield as he has everything needed to thrive in the modern game.
Marko Rog is another superb talent emerging from Croatia and another highly talented youngster in Serie A at the minute. Under the guidance of Sarri, Rog can continue his rapid rise and develop his game even further. Whether it’ll be on the wing, as a number 10 or in central midfield remains to be seen but the future looks extremely bright for Marko Rog who might develop into the total footballer the modern game demands.
Remember the name.