Lovren: 'Followed my heart to Lyon'
Despite the interest of prestigious sides such as Tottenham and even Chelsea, Croatia international Dejan Lovren chose to play his football in France with seven-time champions OL… Ligue1.com exclusive interview.
A full professional at Dynamo Zagreb at the ripe old age of 17, Lovren spent two years cutting his teeth at neighbouring club Zaprevic in the Croatian second division. The loan spell paid dividends as the defender, who has represented his country at every youth level - returned to Zagreb to become a starter for Dynamo and break into the senior national team. At 20, he was on the wish lists of some of Europe's biggestsides.
"It was winter time and one day I would hear talk that I was about to sign for Tottenham, the next day Chelsea and the day after that for some other club," Lovren told Ligue1.com. "But deep down, the choice had already been made. I followed my heart to Lyon, because I had faith that they would give me a real chance of first-team football."
While the name Dejan Lovren wasn’t of the household variety in France, the young Croatian was already familiar with OL and the French league. Lovren remembers how news of Lyon's dominance in the last decade reached all the way to the Balkans.
Dream come true
"I remember reading in the paper when I was 16 or 17 that Lyon had won five or six league titles in a row," said the talented centre-back. "In my eyes, that was an incredible achievement. I heard lots of talk about their big players, names like Juninho, Karim Benzema and Grégory Coupet as well as stars who are still in the side today. Now they are my teammates, and it's fantastic."
His dream became a reality during the winter transfer window of 2010. Lyon were looking for a player like Brazil's Edmilson - a central defender who could play anywhere across the back line - and decided that Lovren was their man. But it wasn't all beer and skittles as the 21-year-old adjusted to life in one of Europe's top leagues.
"The first six months were pretty full on," he admitted. "I realised that the French league is much tougher than I thought it was. It might not be as big as the English Premier League, but the football played here is very fast. It's very important in France not to make any mistakes in your first match, you have to be at your very best."
'I'd even play as a goalkeeper'
Lovren buckled down as he learned the ropes of French football, using his versatility to maximise his playing time and gain as much experience as possible.
"My preferred position is in central defence, but I have no qualms about playing on the right or the left," he said. "I always give my very best for the team because I really want to win the league. If I had to, I'd even play as a goalkeeper."
The Croatian's work ethic and competitive spirit - not to mention his considerable talent on the field - helped him to settle in quickly with the seven-time champions and Lovren says he is very happy at his new club.
Falling into place
"That coach has faith in me, and that's very important," said the defender, who has made 20 league starts in his debut season in France. "I have an excellent understanding with Cris - we even talk to each other in French! It's the same with Pape Diakhaté in English or in French. Irrespective of which of them I'm playing with, there is a solid connection there, which is great, because after all, the team's performance is the most important thing."
But Lovren isn't about to rest on his laurels now - the Croatian prodigy knows that he will have to keep his nose to the grindstone in order to achieve his lofty aims.
"I think I've improved since my arrival, but I know that I have to keep progressing, which means working harder and harder every day. My dream is to win the league with Lyon. I've spoken about it with some of the other players, who haven't won anything for two or three years, and who don't really know why."