Meet RB Leipzig’s $116 Million Man

It is an incredible amount of money. Both Bild and Sky Germany reported on Tuesday that RB Leipzig defender Josko Gvardiol has an exit clause in RB Leipzig contract for 2024 worth €110 million ($116 million).

Should any club trigger the clause in 2024, Gvardiol would immediately become the most expensive center-back in history—the current record is held by Harry Maguire, who joined Man United in a deal worth €87 million ($93m) from Leicester City ahead of the 2019/20 season. But following an incredible World Cup with Croatia, where Gvardiol helped his side reach third place, the center-back is already on the radar of high-spending Premier League clubs like Chelsea and Man United.

But any club looking to sign the Croatian might fall on deaf ears in Leipzig. “All emails have gone straight to the spam folder,“ Leipzig’s new sporting director Max Eberl recently, said to the Austrian TV station ServusTV earlier this week. “Gvardiol, offer, straight to spam. Hence, I have not received anything.”

Gvardiol, in fact, has just signed a new contract until 2027 last September. The player’s camp also does not intend to leave the club soon. Gvardiol sees Leipzig and the Bundesliga as the perfect place to further develop before potentially making the next step in his career.

Leipzig, too has no pressure to sell and plans to finish the season with Gvardiol and then keep him around for the 2023/24 season. But there is a good chance that the Red Bulls will bring in a long-term replacement next summer as an understudy to learn the defensive system and be ready for when Gvardiol leaves.

That player could very well be Busko Sutalo. The 22-year-old Dinamo Zagreb center-back is currently out with a fibula fracture but is expected to return from his injury in January. Sutalo is highly regarded among scouts, and Leipzig has a strong relationship with Dinamo Zagreb, from whom they signed Gvardiol and Dani Olmo. Sutalo, however, is the future.

The now is Gvardiol, a center-back that will provide the backbone for Leipzig’s defense when the Bundesliga returns on Jan. 20. That Friday, Leipzig will host Bayern Munich and, with a win, could reduce the Rekordmeister’s lead to just three points, underlining the Red Bulls’ ambitions to challenge for the title this season despite a poor star.

Although Gvardiol’s futile attempt to stop Messi in the semifinal will be burned in many fans’ memories, make no mistake, the Croatian is a world-class defender. His clearance and one-v-one ability were there at the World Cup for everyone to see.

According to Wyscout, Gvardiol—together with Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco)—led the tournament with 68 defensive duels. The Croatian also made the most interceptions (50), and his 72.06% won duels was the ninth highest at the tournament. Substantial defensive numbers that underlined Croatia’s defense-first approach.

Those defensive numbers dip a bit when one looks at Leipzig’s season in the Bundesliga. With head coach Rose having the Red Bulls play a more attacking style, Gvardiol ranks far lower in all those categories among Bundesliga players.

What makes him essential for Leipzig, however, is his ability to progress the ball out of his own third quickly. Gvardiol leads the Bundesliga by ball progressions (7.2 per 90) ahead of Dayot Upamecano (6.45) and Edmond Tapsoba (6.4).

The contrast in numbers is what makes the Croatian valuable to Leipzig and clubs trying to sign him. Gvardiol is both a fundamentally strong defender but also fantastic in the buildup. It is a perfect package that could one day make him the most expensive defender on the planet.

Manuel Veth is the host of the Bundesliga Gegenpressing Podcast and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth