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With a debut goal in Sunday’s friendly win over Genk, Juventus loanee Marko Pjaca has hit the ground running at new club Schalke – but where has the Croatia international been hiding?

bundesliga.com retraces the 22-year-old wide man’s steps from Zagreb, via Turin, to Gelsenkirchen…

1) Straight off the Dinamo production line

Pjaca is a product of the self-same Dinamo Zagreb youth academy that spawned the likes of AC Milan great Zvonimir Boban, Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Hoffenheim forward Andrej Kramaric. He was farmed out to city rivals Lokomotiva in 2010, but returned to his boyhood club with a vengeance four years later, scooping the Croatian First Division Player of the Season award in 2014/15.

2) Inspired by Ronaldinho

Although Pjaca was never short of homespun inspiration, his all-time favourite player hailed from much further afield. “You could see and almost feel that he was born to play football,” the Zagreb native said of his Brazilian muse Ronaldinho. “I was forever trying to learn some of his skills and tricks. He also won games and trophies.”


FIFA 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldinho (pictured) fuelled Pjaca’s footballing ambition. © gettyimages / VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images

3) Shades of Benzema

The next Ronaldinho? Not according to Pjaca’s former coach at Lokomotiva. “If there’s anyone he reminds me of when he’s on the ball, it’s Karim Benzema,” Tomislav Ivkovic said. “I’m not saying he’s the new Benzema, but he does remind me of him in one-on-one situations. He’s one of those rare players who can go in both directions.”

4) All-round attacker

By trade, Pjaca is a nippy winger with all the flair and skills expected of a footballer who grew up idolising Samba phenom Ronaldinho. He also comes with the added bonus of being able to play across the frontline and boats a rasping right foot: qualities not lost on Schalke head coach Domenico Tedesco. “Marko can play on the right- and left-hand side of attack, as well as in the No.8 position or as a centre-forward,” the 32-year-old tactician enthused. “He brings a completely different quality to the team.”

5) Separated the men from the Bhoys

Reigning Scottish Premiership champions Celtic fell victim to Pjaca’s fleet-footed genius in the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League group stage. The then 19-year-old rattled off a superb hat-trick from just three shots on goal as Dinamo pulled out all the stops to record a memorable 4-3 victory, despite knowing progress to the last 32 was beyond them.


Pjaca’s hat-trick heroics against Celtic made the whole of Europe take note. © gettyimages / Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty Images

6) Strong sporting stock

Pjaca’s will to win and notable combative streak hardly come as a surprise. His father, Zeljko, was a professional wrestler, while his mother, Visnja, was a successful judoka.

7) Jordi Alba’s worst nightmare

Pjaca’s reputation hit new heights on the back of an electric display in Croatia’s 2-1 triumph over Spain in UEFA EURO 2016 Group D. Poor Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba couldn’t live with his devilishly direct runs, so you can imagine how fans were feeling when the Zagreb tyro was only used as an extra-time substitute in the fateful last-16 defeat to eventual tournament winners Portugal.

8) Juventus get their man

Juventus had seen enough of Pjaca, in any case. The Serie A champions reportedly fended off interest from Milan and Napoli to secure his services on a five-year deal and, according to reports, it was his decision rather than his parent club’s to let him join Schalke on a six-month loan deal until the end of the current campaign.

9) In Rakitic’s footsteps

Pjaca’s move to Gelsenkirchen follows 18 injury-hit months which restricted the 13-time Croatia international to just 20 appearances in all competitions for the Old Lady. He becomes the 104th Croatian national to join the Bundesliga ranks and sixth at Schalke after Mario Boljat (1979-80), Vilson Dzoni (1919-81), Fabijan Komljenovic (1993-94), Filip Tapalovic (1997-99) and current Barcelona string-puller Ivan Rakitic (2007-11).

10) Dreaming big

Staying fit is Pjaca’s priority, but he also harbours an altogether grander career ambition. “I’m making my dreams come true. One was to play for the national team; another would be to win the Champions League. I’m up for the challenge here at Schalke, and I’m sure we can achieve great things.”

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