Borna Sosa sent shockwaves around Croatia and Germany with his recent Die Mannschaft debacle. FTF delves into his unique talent and potential.
Former Dinamo Zagreb and Croatian technical director, Romeo Jozak was surrounded by journalists. It was 2017. He was coming to the end of his tenure in charge of the national team.
As he was getting ready to depart, Jozak was asked to predict the Croatian national team for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
‘I told them Borna Sosa is going to be the left-back. At the time Sosa was still in Dinamo, a young skinny guy, who had not played much, but he had all these attributes and I knew he would make it far,’ Romeo recalls to First Time Finish.
Four years later, and even a few weeks following our conversation, those words have soured from a Croatian perspective.
There have been plenty of high-profile duplicitous international switches in the past. From Jack Grealish, Declan Rice to Diego Costa, but none that have failed as calamitously as Sosa’s proposed Germany move. And none that have left the player on the end of a double-edged sword.
Borna Sosa could have been the star of this year’s Euros after a stellar campaign for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga.
And while he remains on Zlatko Dalić’s radar, his flirting with Die Mannschaft has in most likelihood cost his place at this summer’s competition.
A shame not just for Germany and Croatia, but football lovers around the continent.
Jozak is no ordinary man. He nurtured many of Croatia’s golden generation from Modric to Corluka, and he waxes lyrical about the VfB Stuttgart left-back.
‘I see him as Croatia’s long term replacement for Robert Jarni,’ he says with a passionate inflection.
Time heals all wounds.
Whatever the future holds for Sosa’s international career, one thing is clear, this is a unique talent.
With an infinite ceiling.
Germany’s interest and Jozak’s boisterous words are a testament to that.
To understand Borna Sosa, you have to go right to the beginning.
Born in the year of Croatia’s legendary third place finish at the World Cup, there has always been a sense of mythical quality attributed to the players from Sosa’s generation both at Dinamo Zagreb and Croatia.
Not just because of their birth year, but because of the special wealth of talent assembled.
Alongside Sosa, Brekalo, Moro, Ivanusec, Majer and Davor Lovren, have all gone onto achieve success in Croatia’s international teams.
Their hot-streak began all the way back in 2013, at Old Trafford where Dinamo Zagreb won the Nike Premier Cup beating AC Milan in the final.
— Nike Premier Cup (@NikeMUPC) August 10, 2013
‘Brekalo and Sosa led that 1998 age group,’ Rome Jozak recalls.
Two years later in 2015, Sosa was part of the U17 national team that finished in fifth place at the European Championship, beating an Italian team with Donnaruma, Locatelli and Cutrone in the process.
Borna Sosa was then, an ever-present part of the Croatia U17 team that marched to the quarter finals of the 2015 U17 World Cup a few months later.
Croatia beat eventual champions Nigeria in the group-stages, and only narrowly lost out to Mali in the quarter finals thanks to a Sekou Koita goal, which was deemed as a major success at the time.
Meanwhile at Dinamo, Sosa had been ingrained into the system from a young age.
He joined the club as an 8 year old and worked his way up the ranks in the club’s world class academy structure.
Sosa made his debut at 17 and ultimately forced his way into an extremely talented Dinamo side during the 2017/18 season which included Dani Olmo, Ante Coric, Nikola Moro and Amer Gojak.
It was not just Jozak who admired the young man.
‘This boy has everything for that position (left-back), speed, technique, tactical responsibility, he knows how to “read” the game, and his physical predispositions are great,’ current Dinamo Zagreb manager, Damir Krznar, who worked with Sosa as an assistant coach, once told Croatian outlet Vecernji.
Meanwhile the likes of Benfica and Inter Milan were purportedly interested in the young man before VfB Stuttgart made the ‘right bid.’
The ‘new Bekcham’
Sosa has thrived in Germany.
‘Borna said himself that David Beckham is his role model, and I think he has the same qualities,’ VfB Stuttgart’s sporting director Sven Mislintat told Bild.
The long blondish hair with the tight headband and the neat stubble, one can see the resemblance to Beckham.
And that’s before we even talk about his crossing.
Sosa’s deliveries have become an integral part of Pellegrino Matarazzo’s success with Stuttgart, particularly in the 20/21 campaign.
With the imposing two metre Sasa Kalajdzic in the box pouncing on the end of Sosa’s crosses, the pair have made a frightening duo.
Sosa’s crossing ability is unique in an era where crossing is becoming a ‘dying art’ in the game. Perhaps only Trent Alexander-Arnold compares to the 23 year old in the current generation when it comes to this unique attribute.
To exemplify Sosa’s ability take his performance against Borussia Mochengladbach as an example. He completed 8 out of his 9 crosses and provided a crucial assist for Nico Gonzalez’s equaliser in the second half.
With Stuttgart on the counter, Sosa whipped in a cross from a deep position. He only took one slight glance but he was able to anticipate the run of Gonzalez into the box. Even so anticipating was one thing, the delivery was another. Sosa had four Borussia Monchengladbach defenders to beat, but he was still able to loop the ball over their heads to cleverly float it into Gonzalez’s path who just had to guide the ball towards the goal.
With 7.41 crosses per 90, only one player in Filip Kostic has averaged more crosses in Europe’s top five leagues this season. Though Sosa’s 39.63% accuracy is the highest for players who have averaged more than 7 crosses per 90 via Wyscout.
📊U23 Most successful crossers across the Top Five Leagues –
Stuttgart’s assist machine leading the way ahead of some very exciting full-backs across the Top Five Leagues. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/ij5Gw5aBle
— First Time Finish (@firsttimefinish) March 1, 2021
Sosa’s ability to cross from deep and to float impeccable balls into the area has provided the key and decisive moment in four of Stuttgart’s games this season, against Borussia Monchengladbach, Hertha Berlin, FC Köln and Werder Bremen.
Without them VfB Stuttgart would be only 3 points away from the relegation zone in the Bundesliga.
A learnt trade
Sosa’s crossing ability feels innate. Like the greatest crossers of the ball, his propensity to anticipate movement and to execute the right technique is second nature.
When he is about to cross the ball it’s like watching a composer or an artist at work.
But while a lot of his talent is inborn, much of the credit should go to Dinamo Zagreb’s innovative system which helped to nourish and nurture his technique.
‘Sosa had this talent with his left foot to feel the ball better,’ Jozak remembers. ‘Together with all the other things that he had. But you know a lot of guys on the planet might be born with this ability (to cross the ball).’
It was through Dinamo’s periodisation programme where Sosa was able to polish his ability and master the art.
‘We exposed him to different environments and situations all the time. Sosa had this talent with his left-foot and the millions of repetitions that he did in different situations made him successful in every given situation that he is confronted by. That’s why his crosses are so good.’
Sven Mislintat would agree.
‘He puts in crosses from every angle: sometimes chipped, sometimes drilled, sometimes flat, sometimes in behind, sometimes to the front post, other times to the back post. His left foot is a real weapon.’
Jozak who remembers Borna Sosa well insists it is not only through crossing that he excels though.
‘But you know he wouldn’t make a career just making crosses, that’s a big bonus he has, but he’s also got many other qualities and a great mentality.’
Jozak makes an excellent point. Sosa offers ‘many other qualities’ to his game. The 22 year old is relatively quick, especially when he is in full flow. And for players who average at least 4 dribbles per 90 (Sosa 4.2), Sosa has the 2nd highest success rate out of anyone in the Bundesliga with 64.52%.
His surging runs forward have often been a key asset in helping Stuttgart progressing the ball into the opposition’s final third.
Defensively his 59.78% success rate could be higher. Though as his heatmap indicates Sosa is definitely more of a midfielder than a defender.
His 5 interceptions per 90 ranks him in the top ten for wing-backs in the Bundesliga and the 22 year old is good at breaking-up play, especially in the opposition’s final third.
Injuries have been the only thing holding Borna Sosa back.
In his first season he missed 20 league games due to various problems.
It was the same last season, with a particularly nasty knee injury which ruled him out for several months.
Even this season Sosa has missed 6 games due to muscular problems. Though given the heavy fixture schedule that is to be expected.
He’s been linked with a move to Bayern Munich in the future, which would be entirely feasible given that he once described David Alaba as his role model back when he was seventeen in 2015.
Even if a move to Bayern eludes him, it is almost a certainty, Sosa will be playing in a top team in the future.
Full-backs of his profile are a hot commodity in the modern game.
Sosa is part of a new generation of full-backs who are becoming increasingly pivotal in the attacking phase of play. Alexander-Arnold, Hakimi, Davies, Angelino, Kostic, Wamangituka and Gosens are just a few who have established themselves as key pillars going forward.
It’s a new multi-dimensional role exemplified by the ability to surge forward and contribute through key passes, goals and set-pieces.
Full-backs are no longer just required to defend.
The term ‘nobody wants to become a Gary Neville’ coined by Jamie Carragher has become archaic.
In fact, more and more players are transitioning and adapting into the role.
To put it simply, full-backs are ‘in fashion.’
Sosa will attest to that.
He runs with an infectious boisterous energy on the field. His compilation of crosses belongs in the Louvre and his silky blonde hair is a great source of envy.
At 23, the Croat can spearhead a full-back revolution which is well and truly underway.
And with time, he’ll be shining in Croatian colours once more.
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