Sime Vrsaljko has been hailed as “one of the best defenders in Italian football” and Atletico Madrid’s full-back “for the next 10 years”.
Sassuolo confirmed on Saturday that Atleti were closing in on a deal to sign Vrsaljko, and former Sporting Gijon and Real Zaragoza striker Mate Bilic, who scored three goals in six Croatia caps as a player, believes his countryman has what it takes to star in La Liga.
“This season, he’s been among the four or five best defenders in Italian football and spent several years in the national team. Croatia and Atletico have a full-back for the next 10 years,” he told Marca.
“He’s a good signing especially because, despite being young, he has a lot of experience after playing for Dinamo Zagreb, Genoa and Sassuolo.
“At 24 years, this is his second European Championship and he’s also played at a World Cup [in 2014].
“He’s very competitive and tough, and he can also play at left-back. He’s a bull, very powerful and learned how to position himself in Italy.
“He also has a good engine, and when he reaches the byline, he puts [crosses] in well. He’ll adapt to Atletico because he always does what’s asked of him and works very well.
“The League is faster in Spain, but he comes after a great learning curve in Italy. He’ll prove great competition for Juanfran.
“He won’t have it easy, but his competition will be very good. It’s clear that Atletico are betting on his youth, but he has character.
“I don’t see anyone who can displace him from the national team in the coming years.
“[He and Mario Mandzukic] are different players with different characters. Vrsaljko’s style fits with Atletico.
“They’re a very well-drilled team at the back, and he’s a very good signing for their future. I hope he adapts as quickly as possible.
“His decision to join [Atleti] is to his credit because he was wanted by big clubs in Italy, such as Juventus and Napoli. It highlights the desire that weighs on his career.”