From Rabbi Matondo's switch to Schalke 04 in Germany to Matthew Smith's loan move to Dutch side FC Twente, Cymru’s young stars have not been shy in expanding their club horizons in recent years.
Dylan Levitt has taken the opportunity to gain more senior experience by joining Croatian outfit Istra 1961 on-loan from Manchester United, and the youngster from Bodelwyddan will find himself competing against fellow Cymru midfielder Robbie Burton after he made the permanent switch from Arsenal to Dinamo Zagreb this time last year.
“Croatia has always had very strong individuals and top results with the national team,” explained Croatian football journalist Elvir Islamović of 24Sata to FAW.cymru. “But as with many other countries in central and eastern Europe, the domestic league is much weaker. Dinamo Zagreb has shown their class in working with young players, and they have proved that they can have an excellent development at the club and progress with their experience in Croatian football.”
With senior team opportunities limited at Arsenal despite captaining the U23 team, Burton made the brave move to join the Croatian side back in February 2020, but his career has been disrupted by the pandemic. “It has been difficult year indeed,” added Islamović. “So it's really too early to make any conclusion, but current Dinamo coach Zoran Mamić believes Burton has big potential and that he will give a lot to the club in the future.
“Dinamo has a proven world class youth programme and their management and strategy in working with young players has produced some superstar names in the last decade or two. Players like Mateo Kovačić and Dejan Lovren made their debuts at the club when they were 17, and soon took on a key role in the team. Burton is still only 21, and when he arrived I thought it was an excellent move by Dinamo.”
Dani Olmo was another prodigious talent who has progressed through the Dinamo ranks as a teenager and has since impressed for Bundesliga side RB Leipzig. “I am sure we can expect to see much more from Robbie,” Islamović added. “It was a strange year as the world faced a global pandemic - everything changed - and we will need time to get back to normal. It's not easy to make progress in any job, especially football, when you have to adapt to many new things.”
However, 2020 proved to be a positive year in the career of Dylan Levitt, and it was during the successful UEFA Nations League campaign that he made his senior Cymru debut in the first of five international appearances before the end of the calendar year. Returning from a recent brief loan spell at Charlton Athletic, he is now looking to help reverse the fortunes of Istra 1961, who currently sit bottom of the Croatian First Division.
“Some of the media here called the move ‘sensational’ and it is really strange to see the bottom club sign a Manchester United and international player,” explained Islamović. “All the Croatian media consider this move very interesting, and many will watch Levitt's performances closely. It is a club where the players should grow and then be sold to the bigger clubs. The whole concept is obviously not at the highest level yet, but the plan is to make progress in the coming seasons.”
The immediate target for Burton and Levitt however will be to make the right impression at their respective clubs and establish themselves in the Cymru squad ahead of the EURO finals this summer. Burton is still yet to make his senior international debut, but if he can add to his appearances for Dinamo Zagreb as the club challenge for the Croatian title and the UEFA Europa League this season, his opportunities will not be too far away.
Meanwhile, the highly-rated Levitt has already shown his ability on the senior international stage, and he has also showcased his talent to Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær with an appearance in the UEFA Europa League last season. This new challenge will only add to his progress and development, and there appears to be a very bright future ahead for both players as they embrace this exciting chapter in their respective careers.