The Dinamo Zagreb wonderkid has signed for the Catalans on a five-year contract. But just how good can the teenager become?
By Luke Matthews
It was a winter of discontent for Barcelona in the transfer market. Not only did they not sign anyone, but the chaos surrounding Neymar's transfer last summer saw their president resign and the club accused of tax fraud allegations that they continue to deny.
However, two months on from the madness of the January window, the Catalans have got back into the swing of poaching the best talent on the planet by swooping for Croatian wonderkid Alen Halilovic from Dinamo Zagreb in a deal worth €2.2 million, which will rise with incentives.
Although the Blaugrana didn't confirm the story until Thursday morning, the 17-year-old had already suggested a move was imminent on social media, sharing his joy with the world that he had signed for Gerardo Martino's men.
"Thanks Dinamo Zagreb for everything!!" the three-times capped Croatia international wrote on his Instagram account. "My first club and biggest love!! Now is time to move on to Barcelona."
Halilovic has undeniable talent and, considering Dinamo's modest financial status, it was no surprise that the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United had been scouting him since he emerged as a star-in-making 17 months ago.
His debut off the bench in September 2012 in a 3-1 win over bitter rivals Hajduk Split made him the youngest ever debutant in the Croatian top flight at 16 years and 102 days. Ten days later the attacking midfielder broke another record - this time becoming the league's youngest ever goalscorer after netting with a superb Lionel Messi-esque chip.
Despite the clamour of interest, it was Barca who convinced him to part with Dinamo in June - when his first professional contract ends - to give him the chance to link up with the likes of Lionel Messi in the distant future.
Far from concidentally, the left-footed youngster's pace, dribbling ability, deadly finishing and deceptive strength considering his small frame have earned him comparisons to Barca's Argentine superstar - perhaps prematurely.
Barca are certainly getting a player with huge potential, a player who could develop into a world class attacker, but the fee of €10m is in danger of immediately piling the pressure on the teenager's shoulders.
Since he first shone at Dinamo early last season, there have been further flashes of brilliance but Halilovic has struggled to maintain consistency in a team where, in recent years, the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Milan Badelj dazzled at a similar age.
Still, Halilovic has an ability that only the top attacking players in world football possess: to ghost past players with ease in the final third. It’s this talent which undoubtedly persuaded Barca to fork out such a sum for a teenager despite already having what appears to be a conveyor belt of talented attackers emerging from their B team.
If Halilovic is to be a success at Camp Nou, Barca must keep the pressure off the young Croatian. This points to immediately putting the player to the B team to continue his development, alongside players of a similar age and talent.
Dinamo could never offer Halilovic a similar alternative - he embarrassed opponents at times representing Dinamo’s youth teams but the pressure, at times, has proven a little too much in front of the roar of the Maksimir Stadium. With that in mind, B team football could prove to be the perfect tonic for Croatia’s biggest talent.
Upon his emergence from the Dinamo youth ranks, there was genuine belief within the club that Halilovic was the best player in a generation to emerge from a club which has produced the likes of Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar. Now he begins his road to leaving those names in the dust and living up his miniature Messi moniker.