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Leeds signing this £3.5m Croatian sensation would get them a perfect Phillips replacement should he depart

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Leeds United Opinion: Whites should snap up Ivan Sunjic

According to Leeds Live, Leeds United have identified Croatian international midfielder Ivan Sunjic as a potential replacement for in-demand academy product Kalvin Phillips, who has attracted widespread interest from several Premier League clubs. 

Leeds Live claims that Sunjic, who currently plies his trade in the Croatian top-flight with Dinamo Zagreb, is expected to cost around £3.5million this summer.

Phillips has emerged as a hot property in the current transfer window following his impressive performances for Marcelo Bielsa’s side in the Championship this past season. 

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The 23-year-old defensive midfielder earned plenty of plaudits for his industrious displays in the middle of the park at Elland Road last term and Premier League newcomers Aston Villa are sniffing around to sign him, although Leeds United have slapped a daunting £30million price tag to keep the potential suitors at bay. (h/t Leeds Live)

The Whites are unlikely to budge on their eye-watering valuation of the player but they might be tempted to cash in on him should a suitable offer be put on the table given that Phillips is currently in the final two years of his contract and has so far refused to sign a new deal. 

However, as the story goes, Marcelo Bielsa and Victor Orta are seemingly wise enough to know that money in the Premier League can do a lot of talking and they have identified Ivan Sunjic as a potential replacement should Phillips head for the exit door. Sunjic, 22, is highly rated at Dinamo Zagreb, a club that has produced some world-class talents over the years. 

Who is Ivan Sunjic?

Born in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ivan Sunjic started his career in the youth ranks at Dinamo Zagreb and made his professional debut in the Croatian top-flight in the 2013-14 season before switching boats to join Lokomotiva Zagreb in search of more regular minutes.

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Sunjic subsequently nailed down a regular starting role at Lokomotiva and scored 7 goals in 72 appearances in all competitions over the course of two seasons before returning to Dinamo Zagreb ahead of the 2018-19 season. 

The 22-year-old featured regularly for Dinamo and made 41 appearances in all competitions as the Croatian heavyweights clinched the domestic title. As a matter of fact, Sunjic also scored in the 4-1 victory over Fenerbahce in the Europa League and earned plenty of plaudits for his performances in the round-of-16 first-leg victory over Benfica.  

Having represented Croatia at all youth levels from U-16 to U-21, Sunjic captained Croatia U-21s in the recently-concluded 2019 UEFA European U-21 Championships in San Marino and Italy.

The highly-rated deep-lying midfielder also earned his senior international debut against Mexico earlier in the year, something which is a testimony to his rapid development, obvious talent and vast potential. 

Pros and Cons of signing him

Leeds United have plenty of issues to address in the summer window ahead of the upcoming season, ranging from bringing in a replacement for Pontus Jansson to identifying a prolific and natural finisher in front of goal to spearhead the attack.

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Samu Saiz’s future at Elland Road continues to be up in the air and Bielsa is also likely to be interested in recruiting a replacement should the Spaniard depart.

One area where Leeds currently do not need to invest is defensive midfield given that the West Yorkshire giants already have established players like Adam Forshaw and Kalvin Phillips vying for the role at the base of the midfield. Hence, Leeds investing in Sunjic ultimately depends on whether Phillips stays at the club for the foreseeable future. 

If the Whites are resigned to losing Phillips this summer or in the near future, then they should probably go for Sunjic as a like-to-like replacement.

The Croatian, though an immensely talented player with loads of potential, would need to acclimatise to the demands of playing in the Championship, whilst Phillips already has a head start in that regard.

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Indeed, Leeds should fight tooth and nail to hold on to Phillips but they might eventually have to let him go if the Premier League clubs match their valuation of the player. 

Looking at things from another perspective, Leeds could do themselves a world of good by being a bit more creative in the market and the acquisition of Ivan Sunjic would definitely be a massive statement of intent from Bielsa and company.

Much like Phillips, Sunjic is also adept at switching between defensive and central roles in the midfield. 

As opposed to someone like Adam Forshaw, Ivan Sunjic has a lot more quality on the ball and the Croatian is head and shoulders above the former Middlesbrough man in terms of technical abilities.

Forshaw and Phillips offer plenty in terms of work rate but Sunjic would have the perfect blend of tenacity and creativity in his game, which might as well make him a better prospect for Marcelo Bielsa. Creativity from deep midfield can often change the complexion of the game.

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The quoted fee of £3.5million shouldn’t be a massive problem for Leeds, given that the Whites have plenty to spend this summer following the lucrative sales of Jack Clarke and Pontus Jansson.

It might sound harsh but there is a strong possibility that Leeds would eventually have to let Phillips depart in the near future, meaning that investing in Ivan Sunjic would be a good move. 

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Sunjic, 22, still has a lot of time to groom himself and match the demands of playing in the Championship and given his talent and potential, few would back against him establishing himself as a key figure at Elland Road.