Croatia’s school of centre backs produces another gem: Glivetić

08 Aug. 2023

Croatia’s school of centre backs produces another gem: Glivetić

A gritty, well-organised and motivated team. This is what Croatia brought to the table for the 2023 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship and for their first four matches, everything went their way, with four wins sealed by the hosts as they try to seal both their second title and the first medal since 2013.

10 years ago, Croatia conceded a loss in the final against Denmark in extra-time, with a team which had Lovro Mihić and Marko Mamić on the roster. Four years earlier, they were led by Luka Stepancić and Marino Marić to the title. In 2005, at the first edition of the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship, players like Domagoj Duvnjak and Ivan Čupić were in the squad and earned the bronze medal.

The list can go on and on, but the idea is the same: Croatia have always been a powerhouse in the younger age categories and hosting this edition of the IHF Men’s Youth World Championship is poised to create another excellent team for the future.

But the present is the present, and Croatia are now keeping their eyes open and fixed directly on the prize, with a big chance to progress to the quarter-finals, needing only a point in the last match of the main round against Hungary.

The current Croatia side has navigated through thick and thin, alternating the good moments with some mistake-prone ones, yet they are still one of the three sides with an immaculate record.

While Aleksandar Čaprić might be their best scorer and Karlo Jurić and Maksimilijan Molc the defensive lynchpins, the opposing defences have always taken a close look to centre back Vito Glivetić, with the 18-year-old being usually marked man-to-man during the games.

Croatia have always produced extraordinary centre backs over the last decades, with Ivano Balić, Domagoj Duvnjak and Luka Cindrić being just a few of the names that can be dubbed as generational talents, players who have thoroughly lightened the fans’ imagination.

Glivetić is not in the mould of Balić or Duvnjak: he is a diminutive player, bringing a lot of speed and creativity to the attack, always enabling his teammates to shine at the right time, by delivering assists or taking the heat for the side in attack.

“I have been playing since I was a little kid, and being born in 2005, I kind of grew up by watching Luka Cindrić. I do not know how I became a centre back, but I always admired the way he played, and I liked his style very, very much,” says Glivetić.

“Of course, I have seen clips from Ivano Balić, he has been an amazing player, but he retired from the Croatia national team when I was only seven years old and from handball when I was 10 years old, but I saw some of his moves and, of course, he was extraordinary.”

Comparing Glivetić to Balić or Cindrić is impossible, but the young centre back has been making some waves at his current club, RK Rudar, a small amateur team playing in the first Croatian league, with his performances raising some eyebrows and cementing his place as a starter in the Croatia men’s youth team.

While his numbers are not otherworldly, Glivetić has surely passed the eye test so far at Croatia 2023, taking the responsibility of a leader and making his teammates look better through exquisite passes and directing the rhythm of play, accelerating at the right time.

“Now we are just a step away from the quarter-finals, so we need to give everything in the next game against Hungary. Of course, we want to be the best team here, but that means winning against any opponent. It does not matter who we face,” adds the 18-year-old centre back.

The future definitely looks bright for Croatia, with the current crop of players in the men’s youth squad fitting the mould for the type of handball played in Croatia – a defence-first-minded team which can also deliver some excellent attacking play.

Take, for instance, how they manage to put the spotlight on wings, with Marko Bajan and Maksimilijan Molc never shying away from a shot. In the win against Slovenia, 32:25, Tonći Ivanišević earned the hummel Player of the Match award by slotting in after top scorer Čaprić conceded a red card.

But the only constant throughout all of this was Glivetić, a player who likes to set up his team for the win. Whether he will be this constant is still to be seen, but it looks like Croatia has another superstar waiting for the centre back position.

Photos: Croatia 2023/Kolektiff images