Every day, young talents burst onto the scene from various leagues. These talents soon shift to bigger clubs, often for bloated figures only for many to fail and fade away. The pressure of being thrust into limelight at an early age and the heavy price tags hinders the player’s growth. While many never reach their true potential due to poor management and extreme hype, some continue to grind away and become better with time. As I explore the depths of the Serie A in this series, we come across another hardworking young gem in the making: Ivan Ilić.
At the tender age of 16, Ivan then playing in the Siberian Superliga was spotted by the likes of FC Barcelona, Sevilla and Manchester City among many others. His ability to detach himself from his opponents and create opportunities soon earned him a contract with Man City. However, Ivan’s career didn’t blossom as quickly as one initially thought it would. Now, at 21, the midfielder plays his trade for Hellas Verona in the Italian League finally catching the eyes of many last season and most recently PSG’s Luis Campos.
Name: Ivan Ilić.
Positions: Central Midfield/ Defensive Midfielder (Double Pivot).
Preferred Foot: Left.
Current Club: Hellas Verona.
STYLE OF PLAY
Standing tall at 6ft 1in, Ivan’s lanky build enables him to control the midfield and assert his dominance. This season the new manager, Gabriele Cioffi, has deployed the Serbian in multiple roles across the midfield, switching between a more attacking role and periodically using him as a defensive midfielder in a double pivot against more attacking opponents.
However, Ilić has looked the most comfortable while controlling the flow of the game from midfield. With Verona’s style mostly built around a rigid defensive structure, it has been hard for Ivan to exhibit all his qualities on the ball but even then, he has shone bright.
Perhaps, Ivan’s biggest asset is his vision. The midfielder is a thorough scanner of space and reads the game wonderfully. Before receiving the ball, he takes multiple glances and finds his best placed teammate to pass the ball to. Due to his ability to anticipate his team’s movements, Ivan has gone on to become a potent passer this season. He has already recorded 14 key passes in 7 league games this season, placing him 8th on the list of key passes in Serie A this season.
However, like any other unfinished product, there is room for improvement. While his vision has been flawless, the execution has been lacking. The Serb has managed to accumulate only a 69.3% passing accuracy this season, revealing a lack of consistency in his passing. A minor detail which in due time will surely be ironed out.
Another raw quality in his possession is his excellent spatial awareness. His ability to detach himself from the opponent helps him ghost into several good positions in between lines and receive the ball. Once in a good position, he is placed perfectly to receive the ball with his sleek first touch and progress the ball. Proving to be press resistant time and time again, the number 14 has been vital to Verona’s progression of the ball into the final third. The Serbia international is also blessed with decent pace which can be a huge asset while progressing the ball.
On his way to becoming a top playmaker, Ilić has already been handed over the keys to the midfield at Verona.
OUT OF POSSESSION
One hard look at Verona’s current structure out of possession is enough to suggest that even a toddler could wriggle its way past them and score. Ivan Ilić has been part of that problem. Not the most gifted defender, the Serb has been known to make positional errors out of possession. This not only leaves space in behind to exploit, but given the physical nature of Serie A, his rather slim frame often fails to help him win the ball back consistently.
But, the 21-one-year-old seems to have been working on positioning and has considerably improved this season. This season, he has recorded 1.91 interceptions p90 in the league compared to his 1.57 last year. He has also gained more mass over the course of the summer and looks much stronger while contesting duels, winning nearly 3.3 ground duels P90. For all you know, he may have been training with Bayern!
ANALYSING IVAN ILIĆ’S LATEST OUTING
FIORENTINA vs HELLAS (FT: FIO 2:0 VER)
Going into the game having accumulated only 5 points in the first 6 games, the mood in the dressing room was grim. To win was merely a distant dream, to survive was the aim. Cioffi deployed his trusted men Ilic and Tameze in a double pivot in front of a back three with the aim of securing his goal and stop any potential counterattacks.
For Ilić, his job on the night was not only to provide his center backs with protection but also to function as a deep-lying playmaker in hope of bypassing the opposition’s midfield by long balls in over them. A herculean task.
The duo of Ivan and Tameze started strong, suffocating the Fiorentina men for space and time. They won nearly every ground duel contested by them, forcing Fiorentina to look for other options to infiltrate the backline. Soon, they started playing wider, finding gaps in behind the wide midfielders and created both their goals on the night from out wide.
Albeit not his finest game, Ilić still managed to make a huge impact on proceedings. Winning 6 out 7 ground duels and 1 aerial duel, the number 14 managed to shut down the middle of the park and overcame his usual defensive vulnerabilities in big games. Despite functioning deeper in the midfield, Ivan also created some chances and made 1 key pass over the course of the game.
At 21, Ivan Ilić is far from a finished product but one with a high ceiling. Now into his third season at Hellas, the Serb has many big clubs including PSG interested. With proper guidance and a system to complement his qualities, Ivan can grow into a decisive player on the grandest of stages in Europe.