Manuel Veth –
It is the 45th minute of the Group D match between Croatia vs Spain, and Spain are 1:0 up. Most expect that Spain will carry the 1:0 lead to halftime, but then Ivan Perišić wins the ball on the left side and storms toward his box. His perfect cross then finds Nikola Kalinić, who is able to execute the ball perfectly with his back heel to make it 1:1 going into halftime.
Up to this point Spain had been the better team, but a talented Croatia side was able to launch several pinpoint attacks that threatened the Spanish back four, which, at the time, seemed complacent.
Then, in the second half, Perišić continued to be a major threat to Spain’s defence but also showed his sometimes-typical emotional streak when he grabbed Alvaro Morata’s face in a tussle.
Together with Darijo Srna, Perišić threatened time and time again with his strong wing play in a game that, especially in the beginning of the second half, was going Croatia’s way. Unlike Srna, however, Perišić could be found coming down on both wings, and at times was supporting Srna on the right wing in what was a tactical master class by Croatia.
Perišić’s Goal Secured a Historic Victory
Then, in the in the 87th minute, Kalinić broke free in midfield and started a run toward the Spanish goal—Perišić meanwhile matched Kalinić’s speed on the left side, and was completely unmarked. All Kalinić had to do was feed Perišić the ball, and Kalinić did just that. Perišić received the ball just outside the box, and was able to break into the box; his low shot was slightly deflected and beat David de Gea at the near post.
The goal sealed a 2-1 victory for Croatia against Spain, which meant that Croatia, and not Spain, won Group D.
For Perišić, the mature game marks the latest stage in his development. The now 27-year-old has always had the talent to become a special player but it was not until the 2014-15 season at VfL Wolfsburg that Perišić started to fulfil his promise.
Ivan Perišić – First Moved to a Top Club in 2011
Ivan Perišić first moved to Germany in 2011 when he joined Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund. The year before, Perišić had scored 22 goals for Club Brugge in the Belgium Jupiler Pro League and had won the Belgium player of the year.
But, despite winning the title with Borussia Dortmund in the 2011-12 season, Perišić was never able to fully break into Dortmund’s first team. Instead, Jürgen Klopp often brought the left-winger on as a super-sub, and Perišić was best known for scoring highlight reel goals for the Schwarz-Gelben.
Perišić wanted to start on a regular basis, however, and Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp was unable to provide him with the guarantee that he could start regularly for Dortmund.
Hence, in January 2013, Perišić decided to join up-and-coming VfL Wolfsburg. Wolfsburg, fuelled by Volkswagen’s millions, wanted to challenge for the very top of the Bundesliga table and was looking for ambitious young players who could make this goal attainable.
Wolfsburg purchased Perišić from Borussia Dortmund for a reported €7 million but the Croatian then suffered an injury in March 2013, which sidelined him until May.
The Breakthrough at Wolfsburg
It was, therefore, not until the 2013-14 season that Perišić was able to truly establish himself at VfL Wolfsburg. In that year, the Croatian managed ten goals and five assists, thereby helping Wolfsburg to a fifth place finish. The season could have been even better, in that the Autostädter narrowly missed out on a fourth place finish, which would have meant Champions League football.
The following season, Perišić once again missed several games, this time with a broken shoulder, but in 24 games he scored five goals and managed six assists. More importantly, he helped Wolfsburg to a second place finish, which qualified the club for the UEFA Champions League. He also managed to win his second title in Germany when he was part of the Wolfsburg side that beat Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in Berlin on May 30.
Yet, Bayern Munich’s dominance in Germany made it unlikely that Perišić would be able to compete for the national championship. Furthermore, Wolfsburg was limited in terms of spending on new players due to the fact that the club was under Financial Fair Play investigation by UEFA, and also because the club was restrained from spending excessively due to the Volkswagen Scandal—VfL Wolfsburg’s owner the Volkswagen Gruppe had manipulated the emissions of several diesel cars and was facing massive lawsuits in Europe and the United States.
Finally, it became apparent that Wolfsburg wasn’t able to hold on to the club’s biggest star, Kevin de Bruyne, who was transferred to Manchester City for €80 million on August 30. The transfer of de Bruyne had been a major topic in Germany’s newspapers throughout the summer, and seemed to be done a done deal weeks before the player was finally transferred the day before the deadline.
In the climate that was created around the de Bruyne transfer, Perišić decided that he wanted to leave the club as well. The Italian club Inter Milan was especially interested, and Perišić told Wolfsburg’s officials that he wanted to leave Germany to join the Italian club.
Hence, amidst the de Bruyne blockbuster transfer from Wolfsburg to Manchster City, the VW club also sold Perišić for €20 million to Inter Milan. The consequences for the Germans have been dramatic in that VfL Wolfsburg, without their two best players, only managed an eighth place finish in the Bundesliga.
Escape From Bayern Munich
Perišić later told Gazzetta dello Sport: “One of my reasons to leave was because I didn’t feel we could compete with Bayern Munich. Wolfsburg didn’t buy the players that were necessary to close the gap to the very top. On top of that, some players, who couldn’t be replaced, left the club.”
Perišić wouldn’t win anything with Inter Milan either, as the club was too inconsistent in the 2015-16 season to truly compete for a Champions League spot, let alone the Serie A title. In the end, Inter finished fourth, which means the club will play in the Europa League next season.
Yet, thanks to new Chinese investment—the Suning Group bought 68.55% of the club on June 6, 2016—Inter Milan will have the necessary cash to compete both in Italy and Europe. Furthermore, on a personal level, Perišić made a huge step forward in his development.
In 34 Serie A games for Inter Milan, the Croatian scored seven goals and assisted five times. In addition, the winger has also been able to develop his game to become more efficient and dominant in his attacking play.
This was especially evident in his play against Spain last night where Perišić was the player of the game. Furthermore, as the winner of Group D, Croatia will now avoid the big tournament favourites Italy, France, and Germany on their quest to reach the final. It can, therefore, be expected that Perišić and Croatia will remain in the tournament until the very end, as the country has put in the most convincing performances of the tournament. For Peršić, this could mean his breakthrough as a truly global football star.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London. His thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be available soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus