Josko Gvardiol made 59 Bundesliga appearances for RB Leipzig. - © Getty Images
Josko Gvardiol made 59 Bundesliga appearances for RB Leipzig. - © Getty Images

Josko Gvardiol: Who is the ex-RB Leipzig centre-back now on Manchester City's books?


Former RB Leipzig centre-back Josko Gvardiol plays like a seasoned veteran - and has the full beard and battled-hardened demeanour to prove it. But what else is there to know about the Croatia international who recently rocked up at English champions Manchester City?

Stats correct as of 6 August 2023

Josko Gvardiol

Age: 21 (born 23 January 2002)
Club: Manchester City 
Position: Centre-back
Country: Croatia (21 caps, two goals)

Key stats

The 6'1" defender started out at NK Tresnjevka as a seven-year-old, where he was taken by his father Tihomir, an amateur footballer himself. A year later in 2010, Croatian giants Dinamo came calling, and he stayed there for over a decade until his switch to Leipzig in summer 2021.

Over the course of the 2018/19 season, 17-year-old Gvardiol helped Dinamo to the UEFA Youth League quarter-finals - where they lost on penalties to English side Chelsea - and lifted the Croatian youth league title.

He was promoted to the second team the following campaign but, after making just two appearances, was promptly called up for first-team duty and made his Zagreb debut in October 2019. Having represented Croatia since starting out with the U14s in 2016, Gvardiol also made his U21 debut a month later against Lithuania.

Watch: Gvardiol's best goals, assists and skills

Gvardiol - named as one of The Guardian's 60 Next Generation European footballers ahead of the 2019/20 campaign - featured a total of 11 times in the league that year as Dinamo clinched the title. He also got his first taste of UEFA Champions League football at the start of 2020/21, with two qualifying matches as Zagreb were knocked out in the third round by Ferencvaros.

Gvardiol's debut season at Leipzig in 2021/22 underlined his top-level credentials. He made 29 Bundesliga appearances, scoring twice, whilst featuring a further 17 times across the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and DFB Cup. Victory in the latter was his first trophy outside of his homeland. He became a full Croatia international over the course of the campaign, and started every game during his country's run to earning the bronze medal at the 2022 World Cup, even scoring the all-important opener in his side's 2-1 triumph over Morocco.

His 2022/23 numbers were equally as strong, featuring a total of 41 times as he and Leipzig retained their DFB Cup crown for a second straight year, while also scoring twice in the Champions League, first in a famous 3-2 win over Real Madrid in the groups and then in a 1-1 first-leg draw against his new side Manchester City in the round of 16.

Plays a bit like: David Alaba

Perhaps the most important aspect of Gvardiol's game is that he is a left-footed centre-back. This provided a fantastic outlet for Leipzig as it allowed the team to line up the Croatian alongside a right-footed partner.

Alaba has perhaps established himself as the world's best left-footed central defender, and Gvardiol has many similarities. You may think 6'1" is no mean height for such a physically demanding position, but his real strength comes in exactly that - his strength. Gvardiol is rarely bullied off the ball by his opponent, having learned how best to use his body in the school of hard knocks that is the Croatian league. He has also built his confidence on the ball, where he is just as comfortable bringing possession out of defence as he is playing it to a teammate in a better position.

Gvardiol (l.) has outfoxed the best in the business, including Robert Lewandowski (r.). - Sebastian Widmann/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Did you know?

Due to the similarity between his surname and "Guardiola", Gvardiol is known as "Little Pep" in a nod to the ex-Bayern Munich tactician. The nickname was even more fitting in his younger years, with Gvardiol first playing in central midfield before Zagreb youth coach Dalibor Poldrugac moved him back into the heart of the defence.

What they're saying

"Gvardiol is the best central defender in the world. He's so mature. The way he plays, with the grace he controls the ball - it's amazing." - Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic

"Everyone is talking about this boy. All the top clubs in Europe know him. Gvardiol is an extraordinary talent. He can play great long balls, is a fine technician and is physically very strong." - Croatia assistant coach and former Bundesliga forward Ivica Olic

"With Josko Gvardiol we were able to sign one of the greatest European defensive talents. - ex-Leipzig sporting director Markus Krösche