Who are 10 of the best Croatian footballers ever to play the sport?

Who are 10 of the best Croatian footballers ever to play the sport?

Ciku Njuguna
May 6, 2024 at 9:44 AM
In this article:
Luka Modrić logo
L. Modrić
Real Madrid logoMCroatia logo
Croatia logo
Croatia
Croatia
25
Mateo Kovačić logo
M. Kovačić
Manchester City logoMCroatia logo
Ivan Rakitić logo
I. Rakitić
Al-Shabab FC logoMCroatia logo
Ivan Perišić logo
I. Perišić
Hajduk Split logoFCroatia logo
Marcelo Brozović logo
M. Brozović
Al Nassr FC logoMCroatia logo
Joško Gvardiol logo
J. Gvardiol
Manchester City logoDCroatia logo

Football is one of the most popular sports in Croatia. Its players are among the global football A-listers, with representation in all top soccer leagues. Dig in here for an extensive look into the best Croatian footballers, their profiles, and achievements.

The top four best croatian player
Mandžukić (far left), Modrić (left), Šuker (right) and Rakitić (far right). Photo by Jesus Ruiz/Quality Sport Images, Christian Liewig/TempSport/Corbis, Flor Tan Jun, S. Mellar/FC Bayern.
Source: Getty Images

Table of Сontents:

Sports Brief has based this report about the greatest Croatian footballers on data from various credible sources, such as FIFA, Transfermarkt, and BleacherReport. The article covers retired, active, and up-and-coming Croatian players whose performances have stood out.

Who are the best Croatian footballers?

Top midfielders Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitic have stood out among the best Croatian footballers of all time. However, numerous others have emerged, including two of the nation's all-time top scorers in the country's top-tier league, Ivan Krstanović (123 goals) and Mijo Caktas (101 goals).

Croatia's Luka Modric of Real Madrid in action against Barcelona
Real Madrid's Luka Modric is in action during a La Liga EA Sports match against Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 21, 2024, in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto.
Source: Getty Images

Why does Croatia produce good footballers?

According to Transfermarkt, Croatia's capital, Zagreb, is ranked among the top twenty cities producing the world's best footballers. New York Times's Rory Smith linked Croatia's unwavering refusal to tolerate defeat to its citizen's fighting spirit, witnessed during their fight for independence.

Who are the best Croatian soccer players?

This article ranks and analyses some of the most talented Balkan players by stats and titles. Have a look at this list of the 10 best Croatian footballers ever.

Players

Position

Playing status

Years active

Mateo Kovačić

Central midfield

Active

1999 - present

Joško Gvardiol

Centre-back defender

Active

2009 - present

Marcelo Brozović

Defensive midfield

Active

2002 - present

Zvonimir Boban

Attacking midfield

Retired

1985 - 2002

Robert Prosinečki

Central midfield

Retired

1974 - 2004

Ivan Perišić

Left midfield

Active

1995 - present

Mario Mandžukić

Centre-forward

Retired

1992 - 2021

Ivan Rakitić

Central midfield, winger

Active

1992 - present

Davor Šuker

Centre-forward

Retired

1984 - 2003

Luka Modrić

Central midfield

Active

2000 - present

10. Mateo Kovačić

Mateo Kovačić, the best croatian footballer, in action.
Manchester City's Mateo Kovacic during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 9, 2024, in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Jose Breton.
Source: Getty Images

Mateo Kovačić is an Austrian-Croatian footballer who plays for Manchester City and the Croatian national football team. The central midfielder also ranks among the best Croatian players in the Premier League. he averages 1.19 goals per game and has a 7-point rating by Sofa Score.

  • Full name: Mateo Kovačić
  • Date of birth: May 6, 1994
  • Age: 30 (as of May 2024)
  • Teams: Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, GNK Dinamo Zagreb, LASK Linz, ASKÖ Ebelsberg
  • Titles: Champions League (4), FIFA Club World Cup (4), UEFA Super Cup (4), Europa League, La Liga, Spanish Super Cup, Croatian Cup (2)

9. Joško Gvardiol

Croatia's Joško Gvardiol playing for Machester City
Manchester City's Josko Gvardiol (r) in action with Aston Villa's Leon Bailey (l) during the Premier League match at Etihad Stadium on April 03, 2024, in Manchester, England. Photo by Chris Brunskill.
Source: Getty Images

The versatile defender joined Manchester City in 2023 to begin his Premier League career. Gvardiol plays as a central and left-back. In his WhoScored profile, he has a 90 pass success percentage with a 6.90 rating.

  • Full name: Joško Gvardiol
  • Date of birth: January 23, 2002
  • Age: 22 (as of May 2024)
  • Teams: Manchester City, RB Leipzig, GNK Dinamo Zagreb, NK Tresnjevka
  • Titles: FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup, German Cup (2), Croatian Champion (2), Croatian Cup, Croatian Super Cup

8. Marcelo Brozović

 Marcelo Brozović of Croatia and Al Nassr
Al Nassr's Marcelo Brozovic shoots during the AFC Champions League at Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium on February 14, 2024, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Yasser Bakhsh.
Source: Getty Images

Marcelo is a Croatian defensive midfielder who plays in the Saudi Pro League. Opta Analysis ranks him among the top 10 midfielders in Premier League history and the best defensive midfielders in Serie A.

  • Full name: Marcelo Brozović
  • Date of birth: November 16, 1992
  • Age: 31 (as of May 2024)
  • Teams: Al-Nassr, Inter Milan, Dinamo Zagreb, NK Lokomotiva, HRV Dragovoljac, Dragovoljac JGD, NK Hrvatski Dragovoljac
  • Titles: Serie A, Italian Cup (2), Italian Super Cup (2), Croatian Champion (3), Croatian Super Cup

7. Zvonimir Boban

Zvonimir Boban, the best croatian footballer, in action.
AC Milan's Zvonomir Boban (l) in action during the Serie A match against Verona at the San Siro in Milan, Italy. Photo by Stu Forster.
Source: Getty Images

Zvonimir Boban is a legendary Croatian midfielder who played for top European clubs and later worked as the Chief of Football at UEFA. According to his Transfermarkt profile, he played 282 club matches, managing 33 goals and 36 assists. He received 51 caps, scoring 12 goals and 2 assists.

Boban also used his talent to spread peace and fight for political freedom. In 1990, he played a soccer match between Serbia's Red Star Belgrade and Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb that turned into a riot. Speaking to the Financial Times through the Guardian, he said,

“I do not regret it at all. It was a fight for freedom against the regime.”
  • Full name: Zvonimir Boban
  • Date of birth: October 8, 1968
  • Age: 55(as of May 2024)
  • Teams: Celta de Vigo, SSC Bari, AC Milan, NK Dinamo Zagreb, HNK Hajduk Split, NK Mracaj Runovic
  • Titles: Champions League, Serie A (4), UEFA Super Cup, Italian Super Cup (3), Under-20 World Cup Champion

6. Robert Prosinečki

Turkey's Sergin Yalcin and Croatia's Robert Prosinečki
Turkey's Sergin Yalcin (l) challenges Croatia's Robert Prosinečki (r) at the City Ground, Nottingham. Photo by Clive Brunskill.
Source: Getty Images

Robert Prosinečki is a German-born Croatian manager who led Red Star Belgrad to the 2012 Serbian Cup win. The former central attacking midfielder had a successful career in various leagues, including La Liga with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla. Prosinečki is the only footballer to score for two national teams, Yugoslavia and Croatia, in two World Cup events.

  • Full name: Robert Prosinečki
  • Date of birth: January 12, 1969
  • Age: 55 (as of May 2024)
  • Teams: NK Zagreb, NK Olimpija, Barcelona, Standard Liège, Hrv Dragovoljac, Sevilla, Portsmouth, Croatia Zagreb, Real Oviedo, Real Madrid, Red Star, Dinamo Zagreb, Stuttgarter Kickers
  • Titles: Under-20 World Cup Champion, European Champion Clubs' Cup, Spanish Cup, Spanish Super Cup, Europapokal der Pokalsieger Sieger, Yugoslavian Champion (3), Croatian Champion (3), Slovenian Cup

5. Ivan Perišić

Ivan Perišić, the best croatian footballer, in action.
Croatia's Ivan Perisic controls a ball at Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium on September 11, 2023, in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo by Hrach Khachatryan.
Source: Getty Images

Ivan Perišić is a professional football winger for Croatian first-tier club Hajduk Split and the Croatian national football team. As of May 2024, he has played 605 club matches, scored 140 goals and 122 assists. He has 146 caps and 36 goals.

  • Full name: Ivan Perišić
  • Date of birth: February 2, 1989
  • Age: 35 (as of May 2024)
  • Teams: Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, VfL Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich, Club Brugge, KSV Roeselare, FC Sochaux, Hajduk Split
  • Titles: German Super Cup, Champion League, Bundesliga (2), Serie A, German Cup (3), Italian Cup, Italian Super Cup

4. Mario Mandžukić

Croatia's Mario Mandžukić playing for AC Milan
AC Milan's Mario Mandzukic (R) is challenged by SS Lazio's Francesco Acerbi during the Serie A match at Stadio Olimpico on April 26, 2021, in Rome, Italy. Photo by Giampiero Sposito.
Source: Getty Images

At the time of writing, Mario Mandžukić is the assistant football manager for his home country's national soccer team. Months after his retirement in July 2021, the two-time Croatian Footballer of the Year was appointed to his current role, where he serves under Zlatko Dalic.

  • Full name: Mario Mandžukić
  • Date of birth: May 21 1986
  • Age: 37 (as of May 2024)
  • Teams: Al-Duhail, AC Milan, Juventus, Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich, VfL Wolfsburg, Dinamo Zagreb, NK Marsonia, NK Zagreb, Zeljeznicar SB, TSF Ditzingen
  • Titles: Champions League, FIFA Club World Club, Serie A (5), Bundesliga (2), Italian Cup (3), German Cup (3), Italian Super Cup (2), German Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup, Croatian Champion (3), Qatari Champion, Spanish Super Cup

3. Ivan Rakitić

Ivan Rakitić, the best croatian footballer, in action.
Sevilla FC's Ivan Rakitic runs with the ball during the La Liga EA Sports match at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 04, 2024, in Seville, Spain. Photo by Jesus Ruiz.
Source: Getty Images

Ivan is the number 30 midfielder for Saudi Pro League club Al-Shabab FC. He is one of the top footballers who switched nationalities. At the time of writing, Rakitic has played 595 games with 93 goals and 96 assists. He retired with 152 caps and 37 goals.

  • Full name: Ivan Rakitić
  • Date of birth: March 10, 1988
  • Age: 36 (as of May 2024)
  • Teams: Al-Shabab, Sevilla, Barcelona, Schalke 04, FC Basel
  • Titles: Swiss Cup, German Cup, Champions League, Europa League (2), FIFA Club World Cup, La Liga (4), UEFA Super Cup

2. Davor Šuker

Davor Šuker, the best croatian footballer, in action.
Davor Šuker of Croatia (front) in action during a match against Portugal on June 19, 1996 in Nottingham, England. Photo by Henri Szwarc/Bongarts.
Source: Getty Images

Davor Šuker is a Croatian football administrator and former professional player who played as a striker. Between 2012 and 2021, the retired midfielder turned manager served as the president of the Croatian Football Federation.

Šuker played for Yugoslavia and Croatia but remains Croatia's all-time scorer with 45 goals in 69 games. He scored six goals during Croatia's 1998 FIFA World Cup campaign, earning him the Golden Boot.

  • Full name: Davor Šuker
  • Date of birth: January 1, 1968
  • Age: 56 (as of May 2024)
  • Teams: 1860 Munich, West Ham United, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Sevilla, 1.HSK Gradanski, Dinamo Zagreb, NK Osijek
  • Titles: La Liga, Spanish Super Cup, Champions League, Intercontinental Cup (2)

1. Luka Modrić

 Luka Modrić, the best croatian footballer, in action.
Real Madrid's Luka Modric is put under pressure by  FC Barcelona's Pau Cubarsi during a match at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 21, 2024, in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Flor Tan Jun.
Source: Getty Images

Who is Croatia's star footballer? Luka Modrić is one of Croatia's most famous football players. The multi-talented midfielder captains the Croatian national football team and plays for Real Madrid.

At the time of writing, the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner has appeared in 767 club matches and scored 81 goals and 130 assists. His international career stats are 209 caps with 27 goals as of May 2024.

  • Full name: Luka Modrić
  • Date of birth: September 9, 1985
  • Age: 38 (as of May 2024)
  • Teams: Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, GNK Dinamo Zagreb, Inter Zaprešić, HSK Zrinjski Mostar, HNK Zadar
  • Titles: 2018 Best FIFA Men's Player, 2018 Ballon d'Or, 2018 UEFA Best Player in Europe, FIFA Club World Cup (4), La Liga (4), Champions League (5), Spanish Super Cup (5), Spanish Cup (2), Croatian Super Cup

Notable mentions

 Darion Simric, one of the best Croatian footballers in action
Dario Simic of Croatia in action during a UEFA European Championship match against France on June 17, 2004. Photo by John Walton/EMPICS.
Source: Getty Images
  • Dario Simic
  • Darijo Srna
  • Niko Kovac
  • Josip Simunic
  • Eduardo Da Silva
  • Ivica Olic
  • Alen Boksic
  • Robert Jarni
  • Slaven Bilic
  • Robert Kovac

Frequently asked questions

Who is the best Croatian soccer player? From Luka Modrić to Davor Šuker, the nation has a proven history of producing global sporting talent. Here are some interesting facts about the best Croatian footballers.

1. Who was the first Croatian player to win the Premier League?

Former Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren is the first and only Croatian footballer to win the Premier League. According to Total Croatia, the country has had talented players star in the top flight of English. Lovren won the EPL with Liverpool in 2020.

2. Who is the best young Croatian footballer?

In October 2023, Noa Skoko and Oliver Lukić were named in the Guardian’s Next Generation list, ranking the world's top teen wonders. Skoko is an attacking midfielder who plays for HNK Hajduk Split’s Under-19 team, while Lukic plays for FC Liefering in 2. Liga.

The declaration of Croatia's independence in 1991 began a new era in the country's sporting sector. The best Croatian footballers have made indelible marks in the nation's history.

Final word

The declaration of Croatia's independence in 1991 began a new era in the country's sporting sector. The best Croatian footballers have made indelible marks in the nation's history.

READ ALSO: Ana Maria Marković's age, stats, height, Instagram, relationships, net worth

Sports Brief has published an article on one of Croatia's top female footballers, Ana Maria Marković. The right midfielder, regarded as the most beautiful football player in the world, plays for Grasshopper Club Zürich and the Croatian national football team. Click on the link above for more details about her.

Authors
Ciku Njuguna photo
Ciku Njuguna
Ciku Njuguna is a journalist with 3 year’s experience in content creation based in Kenya. She currently covers sports personnel as well as team biographies.