Dinamo Zagreb star Mislav Orsic has been the talk of the town in the past few days. The Croat’s goal against Chelsea last Tuesday turned out to be the winning goal as Dinamo shockingly prevailed 1-0 over the heavy favorites in the Champions League group stages, which led to Chelsea sacking manager Thomas Tuchel shortly afterwards. But did you know that before becoming Dinamo’s talisman, Orsic was honed in the South Korean top-flight?
Orsic was just in his early twenties when he was loaned out by Rijeka to K League side Jeonnam Dragons, where he impressed after scoring nine goals in 33 appearances as Jeonnam finished 9th in the 2015 season. The Dragons were sold by Orsic’s ability, they signed him on a permanent basis for the 2016 season. As the Koreans had difficulties pronouncing his name, Orsic registered his name as “Orsha,” a name that became an endearing nickname to him by the Korean fans.
After making 16 appearances and scoring four times for Jeonnam in the first half of the 2016 season, Orsic was snapped up by Chinese Super League side Changchun Yatai, as part of the league’s big money revolution that saw the likes of Gervinho, Hulk, Jackson Martinez, Obafemi Martins, Burak Yilmaz, Graziano Pelle, Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba signing for Chinese teams.
Orsic’s stay in China did not last long and by 2017 he was back in South Korea, this time with Ulsan Hyundai. As was during his stint with Jeonnam, Orsic became a mainstay for Ulsan throughout his one and a half year there, playing alongside the likes of Kim In-sung, Lee Jong-ho, Danijel Subotic, and Richard Windbichler underneath the watchful eyes of Kim Do-hoon (who would went on to win the 2020 AFC Champions League with Ulsan before going on a Singaporean adventure with Lion City Sailors).
During his tenure at Ulsan, Orsic scored 14 times from 52 league games as well as guiding the Horang-i to the 2017 Korean FA Cup title. Orsic left the Ulsan Munsu Stadium midway through the 2018 campaign, with Dinamo, arguably the biggest club in Croatia, beckoning him to come home.
Throughout his time in South Korea, Orsic had scored 28 goals and assisted 15 times from 101 matches.
Orsic maintained his fine form with Dinamo, bagging 54 goals from 125 appearances that spanned from 2018 to the present day – a period of 4 years. Some of his goals proved to be very pivotal too, such as his hat-trick in his Champions League debut against Italy’s Atalanta in the 2019/20 season.
One year later, Orsic scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 demolition of Tottenham Hotspur in the 2020/21 Europa League round of 16 second leg, helping Dinamo overturning a 0-2 aggregate deficit to win the tie 3-2. The following season, Orsic scored the only goal in Dinamo’s 1-0 win away at West Ham United in the 2021/22 Europa League group stages – albeit playing against a West Ham side already assured of qualification out of the group and playing their reserves.
This was then followed up with his matchwinner against Chelsea last Tuesday, establishing his reputation as “destroyer of London clubs.”
With his European stock rising high – thanks to his excellent performances for both Dinamo and the Croatia national team – Orsic has seen himself transform into one of the K League’s finest exports.
Asian leagues were more often than not more renowned as being a producer of local talent, often employing established foreign stars within their lineups. The K League is no exception, with the likes of Lee Dong-gook, Lee Young-pyo, Park Chu-young, Ki Sung-yueng Lee Jae-sung, Hwang In-beom, and Hwang Ui-jo being honed at the league before their European exploits.
But in the case of Orsic, he’s a relatively unknown foreign player outside of his native Croatia who went abroad to the K League, established himself there, before developing himself even further back in the European stage, proving to a lot of people that the K League can be a happy hunting ground for European clubs to scout both local Korean talent as well as foreign ones.
Should Orsic receive a move to any of the top five European leagues, his reputation as a former K League player would inevitably enhance the league even further.