“This kid is going to be the next Dzeko”
That’s something twenty year old former Liverpool player Armin Hodzic has probably heard more times than he can count. Every young Bosnian forward that shows any promise is at one time or another labeled a potential heir to Dzeko’s crown. The vast majority of them disappoint and disappear into obscurity. However, judging by the hat-trick Hodzic scored this Saturday for Dinamo Zagreb—including this stunning bicycle kick that’s been making the rounds online—he has no plans of joining the others.
Hodzic’s eye for goal was evident from the very beginning; as a youngster he smashed goal scoring records in the Bosnian youth leagues (he once scored 46 goals in a single season) and was a regular scorer for the Bosnia-Herzegovina youth teams. He was chosen as Bosnian footballer of the year twice at youth level. Foreign clubs took notice and in 2011 Hodzic signed for Liverpool from FK Zeljeznicar for a reported fee of €150,000.
Due to injury problems and work permit issues Hodzic only appeared in friendly matches and never received enough playing time to show the Reds his full ability but he still looked very promising when given the chance. The Sarajevo native scored on his debut for the Liverpool Reserves on 19 July 2012 when he came on in a friendly match against the USA U20’s and casually chipped the American goalkeeper. This was followed by another goal a few days later in a pre-season friendly against Bury.
He spent the next two seasons of his Liverpool career on loan to his old club FK Zeljeznicar. He finished the 2013/14 season as the second top scorer in the Bosnian league with 14 goals in 28 appearances.
As a Bosnian Liverpool fan, the idea of Hodzic one day getting the chance to play for the Reds excited the hell out of me, and it seemed most Liverpool fans were pleased with his development. So it was genuinely surprising and disappointing when I learned Hodzic would not be staying at Anfield and was instead signing a five year contract with Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb.
Many asked why Liverpool let him go, and after Saturday’s hat-trick even more are asking that now. The injuries and work permit complications probably played a role but it was also suggested by some that he was seen as too much of a “traditional” striker, which frankly sounds ridiculous. For Hodzic’s part he later cited Dinamo’s reputation for developing young players as a key factor.
“The most important thing for me is to play. Because what does it mean to be a Liverpool player if you are sitting on the bench or in the stands? […] The most important thing in my decision was knowing that Dinamo gives opportunities to young players to develop. That’s why I didn’t have many doubts when the two clubs reached an agreement.”
Whatever the full story behind his departure, Hodzic has nothing but good things to say about the time he spent in England, calling it a “great experience” that made him a better player. He particularly pointed out what an incredible honor it was to train with stars like Gerrard and Suarez. Now that we have seen what he is capable of, the question becomes: did Liverpool make a mistake letting Armin Hodzic go so early? How far can he go?
One look at the names Dinamo Zagreb has produced in recent history will tell you that he’s chosen the right place. The Croatian champions have developed the likes of Zvonimir Boban, Luka Modric, Vedran Corluka, Mateo Kovacic, Niko Kranjcar, Alen Halilovic, and even our very own Dejan Lovren. Don’t laugh at that last one. All of the aforementioned names eventually made big moves to top European leagues. Will Hodzic do the same in a couple of years?
The unlucky Bosnian’s first season at Dinamo was derailed by an abdominal injury that sidelined him for much of the campaign, and the unstoppable form of striker Angelo Henriquez, member of Chile’s winning 2015 Copa America squad.
“Those were terrible days. Some even predicted the end of my career. But I didn’t break, I believed I would recover and after a full seven months here I am back on the pitch! You know… it’s hard for a player when he pauses for a week and I lost 28 weeks, terrible… Fortunately my family was alongside me.”
Dinamo chief Zdravko Mamic reaffirmed his belief in the ex-Liverpool man when he predicted a fully fit Hodzic would soon mount a challenge for Henriquez’s starting spot. The 2015/16 season kicked off in Croatia earlier this month and Hodzic is already proving Mamic right with 3 league goals in 2 appearances. The Dinamo manager Zoran Mamic described his overhead volley against Inter Zapresic as “one of the most spectacular goals I have ever seen” and called it “only the beginning”.
Although currently captain of the Bosnia-Herzegovina U21’s, there is talk of calling him up to the senior national team. Hodzic made his ambition clear in a recent interview with Bosnian newspaper Dnevni Avaz:
“Every player in the world dreams of playing for his country, and so do I. There is no greater honour. It’s up to me to to play even more and keep improving, to score goals and establish myself at Dinamo, and then I believe the call will come. […] I believe there is a place for me.”
Bundesliga veteran Vedad Ibisevic is currently in the worst form of his career and Bosnia does not have a decent backup striker. With crucial Euro qualifying matches coming up, I would not be surprised to see Hodzic’s name on the list.
Comparisons to Dzeko are going to be unavoidable when you are Bosnia’s most promising young forward, but in terms of playing style, these two are different animals. The younger Bosnian is more mobile, likes to dribble, and generally boasts a higher work rate. At twenty years old Hodzic has been a regular goal scorer for years while Dzeko spent his youth playing as a midfielder. Hodzic’s style has more in common with his Brazilian idol Ronaldo than with the towering Manchester City man.
Nothing is guaranteed in football, but if he stays healthy and plays regularly for the next few seasons, Hodzic won’t be the “new Dzeko” – he will be better than Dzeko. And who knows, maybe one day Liverpool will be looking to bring him back to Anfield.
Huge thanks to the ‘Angry Bosnian’ for writing this superb piece, follow him on twitter here.
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