Croatia’s hero at the World Cup to this point has been none other than their goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
The Dinamo Zagreb stopper followed three ridiculous penalty saves in their last 16 shootout victory against Japan with another match-winning performance against Brazil.
He thwarted every threat the Selecao could throw at him in both normal and extra time – Neymar golazo aside – and then repeated the trick during penalties with a smart save down low on Rodrygo’s opening spot-kick.
The 27-year-old has spent his entire career in the Croatian domestic leagues so far, originally for NK Zagreb before moving to Dinamo. However, it is clear after this World Cup that he could play at a much higher level and belongs in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
Which clubs should be in for Livakovic? Well, almost anyone that requires a starting goalkeeper. Here are some of the teams who should be looking at him very, very closely.
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For what it’s worth, Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn has already ruled this one out, but given Manuel Neuer has broken his leg in a post-World Cup skiing accident – that’s one way to talk your mind off group stage elimination, Manuel – it would have made a whole lot of sense.
Bayern would have nabbed a quality starting goalkeeper for the remainder of the season, then an extremely competent backup and cup goalkeeper once Neuer returns from injury. The Bayern captain will be 37 come the start of the 23/24 Bundesliga campaign and, although Neuer wouldn’t like it, transitioning to a long-term replacement would be sensible.
Livakovic, at 27, would have been both an excellent stopgap and then eventual successor to the goalkeeping mantle in Bavaria, with his prime years still coming up.
There’s still time to change your mind, Oli.
With Kepa Arrizabalaga and Edouard Mendy currently vying for the position, Chelsea could do worse than look at Livakovic as a long-term solution to their goalkeeping woes.
Although Kepa has improved this season and is capable with the ball at the feet, he probably isn’t the man Potter wants as his future number one. Mendy’s form, on the other hand, has cratered since winning the Africa Cup of Nations and Champions League last season – during which he was the best shot-stopper in both competitions.
Even during the World Cup, Mendy made costly mistakes for Senegal and he has become more of a liability than an asset in goal. In short, he should be moved on sooner rather than later, with Livakovic more than capable of coming in and cementing himself as the starting goalkeeper at Stamford Bridge.
It also helps that the Croatian played well for Dinamo Zagreb during both encounters with the Blues in the Champions League this season.
A similar case can be made for Hugo Lloris, although he was back to his best against England in the World Cup quarter-final on Saturday. Because of course he was.
At this point Lloris is 35 and with his best years as a starting goalkeeper behind him. Like Bayern’s situation with Neuer, it would be prudent for them to bring in Livakovic now and slowly ease Lloris out of the starting line-up, perhaps in time for next season.
Or, if Lloris’ form drastically improves between now and then, keep him as a backup and cup goalkeeper until the time comes. Having two goalkeepers fight it out for the number one shirt is no bad thing.
(Unless they are Edouard Mendy and Kepa).
Manchester United have the option to extend David de Gea’s expiring contract for a further season, taking the Spaniard up to the end of 2023/24.
Given the potentially exorbitant wage demands of the player, they should probably starting looking for alternatives in goal. They have been eyeing up Borussia Monchengladbach’s goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who would be a sensible addition even if he is already 33 and should have been snapped up a long time ago.
Livakovic wouldn’t be a bad choice, either, although David Ornstein of The Athletic recently reported that they were offered the chance to sign Croatia’s number one for a cut-price deal somewhere between €5-10m, before eventually plumping for Martin Dubravka from Newcastle on loan.
Come the end of the season they will likely be taking a long-term replacement for De Gea more seriously and could well return to Zagreb to correct their error.
Their current starting goalkeeper is Danny Ward.
Vicente Guaita has been an outstanding servant for Crystal Palace but will turn 36 in January. With Patrick Vieira’s young team impressing in the Premier League so far this season, it would only help to upgrade (and get a bit younger) at the goalkeeper position.
With the Eagles’ team taking shape quite nicely after an extensive rebuild, it is the only position other than at right-back that they could immediately and significantly improve. Livakovic might want to continue playing Champions League football, but he has no guarantees of starting week in and week out at those teams.
Should he want to prioritise consistent, first-team football – think Emiliano Martinez joining Aston Villa – then a move to an up-and-coming team like Palace could prove to be astute. Impress, and a bigger club will inevitably come calling further down the line.
Andre Onana was signed as a free agent in the summer, ostensibly to take the reins from veteran goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, whose game has been plagued by mistakes over the past couple of seasons.
Onana, however, hasn’t fully convinced for either Ajax or Inter since returning from his controversial 12-month ban by UEFA after testing positive for a prohibited substance. Beyond that, he was also dropped and then sent home from the World Cup early by Cameroon manager Rigobert Song, reportedly due to an argument over his distribution.
It would be unfair to write off Onana but given the consistently disastrous performances of Handanovic, who is still somehow still club captain, Inter need another goalkeeper and would do well to bring in someone of Livakovic’s quality.
You’re probably sensing a theme here, so we’ll keep this one simple. Jan Oblak has been one of the best goalkeepers in Europe since breaking into the Atleti team during the 15/16 and a crucial part of their success during the Diego Simeone era.
But like Atletico Madrid as a whole, his form has taken a nosedive over the course of last season and especially during the current campaign.
The defence, of course, hasn’t helped him. Long gone are the days of Diego Godin and Miranda keeping clean sheets for fun.
Livakovic would provide instant competition for the number one shirt, either claiming it for himself or giving Oblak the kick up the arse he needs to return to his best. It’s a win-win either way, should Atletico Madrid go for it.
This, to me, is the one that makes the most sense. Even if it does require RB Leipzig to replace their captain Peter Gulacsi. There’s no room for sentimentality at the very top of football.
Gulacsi has been Leipzig’s starting goalkeeper since they earned promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016. While there is something to be said for loyalty to a long-serving player, the club has outgrown Gulacsi’s ability and are now Champions League regulars.
Should they wish to take the next step and start posing a serious challenge for the Bundesliga title on a consistent basis, they will need to be ruthless and replace their goalkeeper with an improved, younger model.
Livakovic fits the bill and wouldn’t cost the Earth coming from Dinamo Zagreb. For Livakovic, the appeal would be a starting spot for one of the Bundesliga’s best teams and Champions League knockout football to come.
What’s not to like for both parties?