Not for the first time Filip Krovinovic is smiling. It is bucketing down at West Bromwich Albion’s training base but after making light of the British climate and highlighting Luka Modric as his idol, the Croatian playmaker, whom Slaven Bilic made his first signing this summer, is describing how his older brother, Tomislav, and his family also became an instant hit with fans after joining them on a supporters’ coach for the opening-day win at Nottingham Forest.
“They loved it,” Krovinovic says. “They liked the atmosphere on the bus. They took some beers and some fans took a picture with my brother. They asked: ‘Where are you from?’ And my brother was like: ‘We are here visiting my brother.’ They said: ‘Ah, who is your brother?’ He went: ‘Fil.’ They were like: ‘No, show me your ID, show me your ID!’ And then I saw some photos in my Instagram messages of my brother with the fans.”
The room fills with an infectious laugh but it is another marker of the warmth Krovinovic says he has felt from all quarters since arriving on a season’s loan from Benfica. Krovinovic is refreshing company, gregarious and easy-going and that the 23-year-old twice checked the timings of his first major interview since signing speaks volumes for his character. He has slotted into a positive dressing room and has enjoyed his first taste of the Championship, playing all 270 minutes to date with Bilic’s side unbeaten before hosting Reading on Wednesday. Krovinovic is the first Croat to play for West Brom but he acknowledges the success of his compatriots here, such as when Modric, Vedran Corluka, Niko Kranjcar played in the Premier League.
“At that time I think everybody in Croatia was crazy about Tottenham because of those three – and also about Arsenal because of Eduardo da Silva,” he says. “Because I am a similar position of Modric, I always like this guy. I know he is amazing. I like to see how he is playing so I can maybe steal some things from how he is playing. For me he is number one but we have a lot of other great players, like [Ivan] Rakitic, [Mario] Mandzukic, [Domagoj] Vida – everybody. Vida is a big warrior. We have a strong national team.”
Krovinovic grew up in Zagreb but left for the Portuguese side Rio Ave as a 19-year-old before joining Benfica, for whom he played in the Europa League last season, on a five-year contract two years ago. “They are a very, very big club with great fans – it is like an invasion all over Europe,” says the midfielder, who in Lisbon played alongside João Félix as well as Raúl Jiménez, who has made a substantial impact nine miles up the road with Wolves.
“He is a very good guy, a hard worker. I saw that he was destroying it last year and that Wolverhampton bought him for big money. When I was playing, he was most of the time entering off the bench for 10 or 15 minutes because we played normally only with one striker. But every time when he entered the pitch, he did something, an assist or a goal. This summer I was maybe not thinking about him [in particular] but, when I came here, I knew it was a big stage and, if I do a good season, a lot of things can happen. If I do a good season, I could go to the national team, which would be amazing.”
Representing his country at senior level is something Krovinovic, who has under-21 caps, is determined to do, especially after an anterior cruciate ligament injury put paid to his hopes of going to the World Cup last summer, when Zlatko Dalic’s side finished runners-up. “I had some contact with the coaches from the national team and people said I didn’t need to worry, that he [Dalic] was counting on me and that I just needed to continue doing what I was doing and that a big future was in front of me,” says Krovinovic. “Then I got injured, unfortunately the World Cup went but, OK, no problem because I don’t regret. The new chance came, I’m using it like 120% and everything is like before.” The bounce in his voice in the last sentence says everything: Krovinovic is a glass-half-full man.
He is confident that Albion, who made nine summer signings, including the £4m Charlie Austin from Southampton, can achieve automatic promotion after watching them reach the play-off semi finals from afar last season. It has been a busy start to life in England for Krovinovic but last Sunday was a day off well spent; he enjoyed some downtime with his mother, Snjezana, and father, Jasenko, who are visiting until the end of the month, by going sightseeing in London following victory at Luton. They checked off a few landmark attractions: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, where Krovinovic, who enjoys watching TV series and films in his city-centre apartment in Birmingham, made sure to get a picture with a street performer dressed as Yoda from Star Wars.
“I am a very big fan of Harry Potter,” he says, before breaking into a mean Dobby impression. “I like things like Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, invented things, science fiction films. I have watched them all many times. I can say that Harry Potter, for example, I have watched every part like maybe three times. When I was alone in Portugal and no one could visit me, I was like: ‘What can I do today? OK, let me open Harry Potter one more time, this part or this part.’ I haven’t visited [Harry Potter World] but I would like to see the scenes where it was filmed. I think when I next visit London I will just go for a free walking tour … but only about Harry Potter.”
The Guardian Sport