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Mateo Kovacic should play a part in Madrid's season - and future

The early signs are that Mateo Kovacic has a bright future at the Santiago Bernabeu - if he is given time.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Life at Real Madrid cannot be too easy for a player like Mateo Kovacic.

The obvious bonuses of playing for arguably the biggest club on the planet and the nice paycheck to one side, the Croatian does not fit the bill of ‘Galactico', youth team product of ‘flavour of the week'. He is not, shall we say, one of the favourites of the fans, or the president.

When the midfielder was brought to the Santiago Bernabeu from Inter Milan in the summer, he was not a name to draw the crowds to his presentation nor was he the kind of player who heightened expectations for the forthcoming season.

While players such as Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were brought to the club by Florentino Perez as big-name stars ready to set the world alight, Kovacic was one of the rare occurrences in the Perez era. He was the choice of the coach, Rafa Benitez, who knew the young star from his time in Italy.

He was a player brought in to add depth to the squad. While players like Isco, James Rodriguez and Pepe may be unhappy at sitting on the bench, Kovacic was a player who would do a job when called upon and would happily, relatively, provide back up for the time being. He was a squad man.

He was, however, also brought in as the possible replacement for Luka Modric, albeit with his elder of the two Croats still having plenty of years left in him. The scenario was all too similar to one that sprung up not so long back.

When Asier Illarramendi was brought to the Spanish capital for a large chunk of money from Real Sociedad, he was the apparent successor for Xabi Alonso. He passed the ball about superbly from a deep-lying role, he was Basque, and he had a similar air of tranquility about his play. We all know how that one panned out.

Fast forward a few years and Kovacic plays a similar game to Modric. Happy enough playing deep, he can also occupy the No.10 role, as he did for spells at Inter. He is also, of course, the same nationality. The thinking may have been that the national teammates will have helped each other progress and when the time was right, Kovacic was the right man to plug the gap left by his elder.

All that adds more pressure, and given the sole Croatian in the Madrid team is Modric, those comparisons are expected. Kovacic has been up against it from the start.

That Benitez was sacked just half a season into his term as Madrid coach left a question mark over the 21-year-old. Kovacic had done well in the matches he had played but he was very much a player of the coach. Was his time up already too?

With his red card helping secure the dismissal of the man who brought him to Spain, in the 2-2 draw against Valencia in January, it was easy to see Kovacic as a player who would get fewer minutes and who could well look for an exit door sooner rather than later. With Zidane preferring to stick with a more rigid starting eleven rather than chop and change like Benitez, the minutes looked set to be few and far between.

Kovacic is out to prove any doubters wrong, though. He was handed his first start under his new coach from the bench in the 5-1 thrashing of Sporting Gijon and provided the assist for countryman Modric for the crucial winner at Granada. Since then he was trusted to start the 4-2 victory over Athletic Club and played an important part in the 2-0 win in Rome, albeit from the bench.

The former Inter man offers plenty of energy and go-forward on the pitch and the initial signs are good - they have been from the start. The trouble is, he has Modric, Toni Kroos, Isco and James Rodriguez all vying for a place in front of them - and all five are ‘bigger' names. That matters to the president, and whether it matters to the coach remains to be seen.

That the midfielder has looked so comfortable, if not breathtaking, on the pitch alongside world football's biggest names is a sign of positivity for Madrid. Kovacic is ten minutes away from racking up his first 1000 as a Madridista and Zidane should have no fear in handing one of his younger squad players those ten minutes in the coming matches.

If comparisons are being made between the two Croatians then one fact that should be remembered is that Modric was voted as one of La Liga's worst signings just three years ago alongside Barcelona's Alex Song. Those who voted have been swiftly, and emphatically, proven wrong.

Kovacic has shown plenty of positive signs and although he won't break into Zidane's first team plans on a regular basis this season, he has no need to worry. His age, attitude and qualities should stand him in good stead for a shot at the big time at the Santiago Bernabeu. Time is rarely given by the powers-that-be but time is one thing Kovacic should be afforded.

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