Date: 23rd December 2010 at 3:00pm
Written by:

The news of Chelsea striking a cooperation agreement with Slovenia’s 2nd best team NK Maribor has somewhat gone under the radar.

However, it seems that Chelsea are ready to reap the rewards. I’d like to think of myself as a bit of an expert when it comes to European football outside these shores and I follow both the Serbian and Croatian leagues with some interest. But, I have to admit I knew very little of Slovenian Championship and its participants.

The trouble with gaining reliable information from obscure places like Slovenia is simple lack of information. England senior team will be well familiar with Slovenian national team; meanwhile Slovenia caused the biggest shock in the World Cup qualifiers after knocking out heavy favourites Russia in the play-off games. More significantly perhaps is the rise of the new generation of talented youngsters from Slovenia.

Not only Slovenia, but the boom of talent coming out of former Yugoslav countries in the last 5 years has been incredible. Slovakia, Serbia, Slovenia – all qualified for the World Cup, whilst Bosnia fell at the last hurdle in the play-offs against France. Montenegro are taking the European Championship qualifiers by storm with their impressive start. We, at Chelsea, should know better than most about what sort of talent these countries produce, with Branislav Ivanovic on our books.
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Chelsea had already missed out on one NK Maribor player with Siniša Andelkovic poised to join Palermo in January. Significantly, the player returned to thank his coaches and donate his signing on fee to the youth academy that he graduated from. It’s no wonder, since NK Maribor’s football academy is hailed as the best in Slovenia. The under 18s are headed by vastly experienced club legend Zvonko Breber. The first team aren’t doing too shabby either, leading the championship by 9 points, still unbeaten with only 8 goals conceded in 19 matches.

Chelsea have recently had representatives assessing the academy in Slovenia and have identified several players to come over on trial this January. The most prominent name is the 18 year old striker Liridon Osmanaj who has been a prolific goalscorer at youth level with over 200 goals to his name. Meanwhile the rumour mill, this morning, is suggesting that we are set to beat AC Milan to the signature of Luka Krajnc, from NK Maribor. The towering centre half is only 16 but already stands out amongst his peers both with his physical presence and the ability on the ball.

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