Very few players leave La Masia when they’re tipped to be the Barcelona academy’s next breakout star, but Dani Olmo did just that.
In the summer of 2014, the then 16-year-old brought his seven-year spell with the Catalan club to an end. He didn’t tread the path carved out by Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué, though. Instead, he ignored the potential lure of the Premier League to head to Croatia.
Olmo weighed up his options and decided Dinamo Zagreb could give him the footballing education he felt he needed all while exposing him to the first-team minutes he craved.
“There is no other club where, at my age, I would get so many chances as Dinamo,” he told Jutarnji list in 2015.
“I am developing a lot faster than I would anywhere else, even at La Masia. My former team-mates at Barcelona were first shocked, and then they understood my decision to move to Dinamo was the right one.
“Whilst I am playing senior football, they will have to wait two or three years, and that’s if they make senior football.”
His decision has been more than justified.
With over 100 appearances for the Modri, the four-time 1.HNL winner was one of the stars of 2019 European Under-21 Championship winners Spain.
Olmo is ahead of his peers. He’s more accomplished in key situations and there’s a confidence to his game that so many his age lack.
Olmo reacts quickest after Ruiz's shot was spilled and Spain are right in the driving seat in the @UEFAUnder21 final!
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) June 30, 2019
His form hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.
Barcelona reportedly wanted to bring him back to the Camp Nou last season while Liverpool and Milan showed an interest in the versatile midfielder during the winter window.
Now reports in Croatia claim Manchester United are keen on Olmo with Bayer Leverkusen rivalling the Red Devils for his signature.
The 20-year-old remains grounded despite being chased by many of Europe’s elite.
“[I want] a club where I will play,” he told Croatian publication T-Portal when asked about the transfer rumours. “I am still young and, for me, it is most important that I have minutes.”
Unlike many others his age, Olmo does warrant a starring role in any team moving forward. That doesn’t mean he should be a guaranteed starter but by no means should he be considered as a squad filler or one for the future. He’s ready for the here and now.
The 5ft 10ins midfielder could thrive in a number of positions but perhaps his best one currently is as a free number eight. Despite his tender years, he’s managed to strike a balance between attack and defence.
During the 2018/19 campaign with Dinamo Zagreb, he averaged 0.43 goals from an expected goals return of 0.30. An overperformance, yes, but even if he reverted back to the average it’s still an impressive return for a player who spent a large part of the season as a central midfielder.
He underperformed his expected assist average (0.21), but overall it showcases just how involved he is in an attacking sense.
He attempted 8.15 dribbles per 90 and completed 70 per cent. Given Olmo was initially a wide forward, he has transferred the skills he honed on the flank into central areas and it’s had a huge impact on the game.
The 20-year-old averaged just 2.66 touches in the area yet the majority of his goals come from efforts in the box. He isn’t someone with an unsustainable output, his form seems to be reliable and is something he can transfer across countries and leagues.
Olmo isn’t shy when it comes to doing the dirty work. Last season he battled for 2.93 aerial duels per 90, winning 50 per cent of them, and made an astonishing 4.6 interceptions as well as 6.44 ball recoveries in the opposition half.
He’s like a right-footed Bernardo Silva. He does everything. He does it all well.
He’s very much the definition of an all-rounder. Even for the mooted €35million being reported in the Croatian press, Olmo could potentially be one of the best value signings of this summer.
The 20-year-old wouldn’t look out of place in any of the top teams in the Premier League. Best of all, though, his performances don’t hinge on the style of the team. He’s effective in a possession-based style as well as a counter-attacking set-up.
For example, for Dinamo Zagreb, he averaged just 33 passes per 90 last season. For Spain at the under-21 tournament, that figure rose to 55. He didn’t look out of place in either side and like a chameleon adapted to the system he was in.
Olmo’s options aren’t as limited as others might be this summer. If he makes the right choice and continues his development then it won’t be long before people start considering him to be one of the best in the world at what he does. He just needs a bigger platform to showcase his talents.
Barcelona have let a number of players who turned out to be world-class leave, but Olmo could be their biggest regret yet.