According to the Daily Mail, Leeds United are ready to launch a bid to sign Croatia U21 international Ivan Sunjic as a potential replacement for apparent Aston Villa target Kalvin Phillips this summer.
Marcelo Bielsa is reportedly reluctant to sell his midfield man and the club have slapped a transfer fee of £30m on Phillips’ head for any side to pay if they want to prise him away from Elland Road, though are seemingly looking at the Dinamo Zagreb man as a potential contingency plan.
Sunjic featured prominently in the U21 European Championships for Croatia, playing the full 90 minutes as his side drew 3-3 with England and it’s been reported that Birmingham City have fielded a £3.5m bid for the player, so does appear to have made an impression on at least two clubs in the English second tier.
At the U21 Euros, he featured in all of Croatia’s group games, averaging an impressive 2.3 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1.7 clearances and 41 passes per game, as well as clocking up a 91.1% pass success rate, according to stats via WhoScored.
Indeed, Leeds Live compiled a list of facts about the player following the reported interest, suggesting Sunjic was capable of dropping between the two centre-backs and recycling possession, something Phillips was adept at last season, judging by his 82.1% passing accuracy, as well as 4.6 long balls per game. Sunjic himself averaged 3 for his country this summer and obviously boasted a higher accuracy (albeit in fewer games collated by the analysts), so would appear to have the raw tools to fit in.
While similarities like that were mentioned in their breakdown of the player, it’s important to remember that Phillips is a seasoned Championship operator despite his young age, racking up 128 appearances (Transfermarkt), and the Mirror claimed in June that his boyhood club didn’t want to sell him.
Clearly, the 23-year-old is acclimatised to life in the second tier and has already worked under Bielsa for a year, so would be more familiar to the system than a new arrival would be starting fresh.
However, director of football Victor Orta has previously spoken of the club’s need to be ‘creative’ in the transfer market and, if Aston Villa do stump up the apparent £30m it’d take to sign Phillips, it does seem as though Leeds are being smart in their reported pursuit of Sunjic, in terms of the profile of the player.
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