It’s true that a lot of football experts in Croatia said at the time that going to Ligue 1 was perhaps the most difficult choice and the least suited to my qualities, but I don’t I’ve never been afraid. I knew I needed a new challenge to discover new limits, to take new steps as a player, and Rennes quickly became the perfect club for that in my eyes. Before signing, I saw the team play, I knew that the coach liked to play, to create things, to produce positive football, I also learned about how the club worked with young players… I didn’t know a lot about the city, but I really felt that it could be the right project for me.
“The football we offer with Rennes is clearly the one I like to watch. »
Your coach, Zlatko Dalić, pushed for this option and felt, for his part, that going to Ligue 1 could make you mature tactically.
And he was right. The Croatian championship is a good championship, but the structures, whether lawns or stadiums, are not at the same level as in France. Another thing: in Croatia, there are many players of good technical level, but tactically and physically, the championship is incomparable with Ligue 1. Today, I am no longer the same player. I arrived in Rennes at the end of the summer transfer window, which is therefore about ten months, and I have made enormous progress thanks to the club, the staff…
Seeing a Croatian player succeed in adapting so quickly to a foreign championship has finally become quite rare. In recent years, we have seen many leave the country, then break their teeth. What made the difference in your case?
Many players think that their basic qualities and talent are enough, but from my first day in Rennes, I knew that I was going to have to work even harder, but also smarter than before. Without a few small changes in my daily work, I would never have been able to achieve a season like this.
What role did Bruno Genesio have in this development?
For me, he’s a great coach, probably the best I’ve worked with since the start of my career, honestly. He is someone who knows how to put you in the ideal conditions, in training and during matches, and who has a very modern approach to the game, whether offensively or defensively. I think a lot of players really enjoy working with him. The football we offer with Rennes is clearly the one I like to watch: lively, attractive football, with lots of goals… It’s just fun.
Concretely, what is your mission in the coach’s game project?
The project was not built around the qualities of one or two players, but really around the qualities of all the players in the group. My mission there is ultimately quite simple. When I say simple, it’s because he never told me: “Lovro, these are the ten things you absolutely must do. » It is rather two or three precise instructions each time, to ensure that the whole remains coherent. He puts a lot of emphasis on running as one, pressing as one, attacking as one. Offensively, the coach also pushes us to express our creativity. He wants the wingers, the torchbearers, everyone to be quite free, that we combine quickly, that we connect with one or two touches of the ball. He does not let us do what we want, but he wants, thanks to the system, that everyone can express their ideas. I finally do the same thing as when I was at Dinamo, but with more speed, more repetitions. It definitely forces you to think faster. An example: I think that today I press more intelligently than before.
You completely exploded in the eyes of Ligue 1 during the match against Lyon (4-1), in November, where we had the feeling that you connected with your teammates as if you had been playing with them for three or four seasons already. Did you have that feeling too?
Yes, there was this feeling of quick connection, of being at the club longer than I really have been, but that is quite easily explained. Whether in football and in my private life, I am living the best time of my life. I am happy, I feel very good physically, very good mentally. This match against Lyon was also in November, so I still couldn’t communicate very well with my teammates at that time. I had just had my first full game against Mura and they were really great. All the players have helped me since day one and made things easier for me. Sportingly, it was also not easy right away, because I injured my hip with the selection at the beginning of September. I stayed a few weeks on the side, but it also allowed me to take the time to adapt to the environment, and if I look back today, I am clear: this season could not have be better off.
“I’ve been to Saint-Malo, Mont-Saint-Michel… We haven’t been to Dinard yet, but it’s on our list. It’s also the great side of this season: with my girlfriend, we feel very good in Brittany and it’s an essential key to performing well. »
Were you able to take the time to discover the region a bit?
Sure. I’ve been to Saint-Malo, Mont-Saint-Michel… We haven’t been to Dinard yet, but it’s on our list. This is also the great side of this season: with my girlfriend, we feel very good in the region, the people in town are very nice, there is a very positive atmosphere at all levels and this is an essential key to perform well. This match against Lyon during the first part of the season helped to fully launch this spiral. After that, I felt 100% integrated into the team, confident. A player needs to feel all that, to see that he is on the level. It’s not just: “I’m not afraid of anyone, that’ll do. » That day against Lyon, I understood that I could express my qualities in Ligue 1 and that I had the level for Stade Rennes.
Your good season has also helped you with the selection since you have chained several games since November.
(He cuts.) As soon as I signed in Rennes, there was this instantaneous change: I was immediately called up, I had a few tenures, it quickly followed. This season is really unique at all levels and it started a very long time ago because I played my first match on July 6, with Dinamo, in the Champions League. Before arriving in Rennes, I played thirteen games in one summer, which is still quite enormous. There, I am in selection until next week, and it will therefore be almost a one-year loop filled with matches. I don’t feel tired, I still feel physically fit, motivated… I’m just looking to progress, again and again.
You faced the France team on Monday evening, where you were able to see a lot of Ligue 1 players again. Did you help the coach prepare for the match?
Still not (laughs), but it was good to play against the France team. It was a good game, not very open, because the two teams have been in place for a long time. I had the impression that everyone first tried not to make mistakes. Tactically, I think it was a good match for both teams and, as often when it’s like that, the final score (1-1) was pretty fair.
In selection, even if you often come inside the game, you do not have exactly the same role as in club. What is Zlatko Dalić asking of you?
It’s true that I play more on the right wing, that’s not the position I occupy most often, but I still enjoy it. Afterwards, as you said, I am not a traditional winger, so I try to integrate myself as much as possible into the heart of the game, to create numerical superiority, to find flaws in the opposing organization.
You play very close to Luka Modrić. Do you manage to pick up a few details of his playing?
Luka is the best player in the history of the Balkans, he has already won almost everything, but he continues to be stunning on a daily basis. That’s mainly what I watch: he is 36 years old, he arrives every morning motivated as if it were the first training session of his career, he is always 100%. I try to learn from everyone, I’ve never been ashamed to ask other players questions, especially the more experienced ones. Luka didn’t necessarily advise me when I left Croatia, but I remember he told me one day to always enjoy football as a game, to always work as much as possible on my body and that behind , when you are in this state of mind, the results come automatically.
“Several things are written about my future, but the interest of other clubs, I take it for the moment only as a confirmation that I am doing things well. I’m happy in Rennes, I like the city, the club…”
You talk about taking care of your body. So far, you’ve always been super on point about sleep, food, you also work with a personal trainer…
(He smiles.) If I managed to be transferred to Rennes one day, it was precisely because I worked hard and always tried to train myself. For example, I know I’ve always been a very technical player, physically pretty fit, but I’ve never been the fastest player. By dint of exercises, repetitions, I progressed on this point. Afterwards, I think that these last months have made me grow and that I now work a little smarter. Pre-training, post-training, recovery, food, everything is in the details, and if I had such a good season, I think I also owe it to Thomas Choinard, the performance manager at reindeer. His work with the players is really amazing: he prepares your body as well as possible, and it’s not for nothing that the squad hasn’t had a lot of injuries this season. If we put aside the injury I had when I arrived in France, I only missed one league game.
And did you let go of your PlayStation controller or not at all?
(Laughs.) When I was younger, it’s true that I played a lot, I even did online tournaments in Croatia, but today it’s rarer, it’s not as crazy as before ! Unfortunately, my teammates in Rennes play other games than me, so I usually play alone. I am call of dutybut the 2, an old one, and counter strike. They are rather Fifa, Rocket League Where black ops.
In recent months, your name has been mentioned in several clubs. What do you see yourself doing?
At the moment, as I said, everything is fine. I think I’m in a good period, that I had a good first season in France, that things are going well with the selection, but that I can also still progress in several areas. For example, I know that I still have to improve in my heading game. Even though I have scored three headed goals this season, which is still crazy for me, it was never my thing. I know that several things are written about my future, but the interest of other clubs, I take it for the moment only as a confirmation that I am doing things well. I am happy in Rennes, I like the city, the club, I continue to learn French… For the moment, I have one or two lessons a week, but still a season, and I will be able to speak even better language.
Interview by Maxime Brigand and Anna Carreau, in Split