Croatian centre-back Dejan Lovren is one of four players in the current Lyon squad to have recently returned to the club for a second spell. (The other three being Alexandre Lacazette, Corentin Tolisso and Rémy Riou). Lovren re-joined Lyon in January 2023 for a fee of €2 million from Zenit St Petersburg, having previously worn the colours between 2010 and 2013.
Now aged 34, and having won honours with a plethora of top clubs during his distinguished career, Lovren is one of the most experienced and decorated players in the Lyon squad. After almost ten years away, his return midway through the 2022-23 campaign coincided with an upturn in form for Lyon as he immediately re-established himself as a mainstay of the defence.
He’s a natural leader and, when fit, one of the first names on the team sheet. His calming presence at the back was sorely missed when a muscle injury kept him out of the first seven games of the 2023-24 season and the team got off to a dreadful start in is absence.
Growing up as a refugee
Lovren was born in what is now Bosnia, to a Bosnian Croat family in 1989. They, like many others, were displaced from their homeland when war broke out in 1992 and they fled by car to Bavaria, Germany, where his grandfather was working. It was a traumatic time for his family and he opened up about it in a 2017 documentary for LFC TV. After seven years, their permission to remain in Germany expired and the family moved to Croatia and settled in the town of Karlovac, famed for its brewery.
Dejan Lovren eventually found his way into the youth system of Dinamo Zagreb and he made his debut for them in a Prva HNL (top division) match against NK Varteks in May 2006, a couple of months shy of his seventeenth birthday. He wouldn’t feature again for Dinamo for a couple of years as he spent the next two seasons on loan at Inter Zaprešić. They won the Druga HNL (second division) during his first season there (2006-07) but struggled in the Prva HNL the following campaign.
Lovren had shown enough promise by now to be integrated into the Dinamo first team squad for the 2008-09 season and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands, playing 38 times across all competitions and scoring three goals as Dinamo won the league and cup double.
International recognition and a big move
He started the following season in fine form and was soon handed his first international cap by Croatia manager Slaven Bilić. By now scouts from around Europe were monitoring his progress and it was Claude Puel who won the race for his signature, bringing him to Lyon for €9 million in January 2010.
Now aged twenty, Dejan Lovren adapted well to life in France and soon became a regular in Lyon’s back four. Lyon’s seven year domination of Ligue 1 had recently come to an end and they finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 3rd in Lovren’s first spell at the club. The highlight was a Coupe de France win in 2012 when Lyon beat Quevilly 1-0 in the final at the Stade de France at the end of Rémi Garde’s first season as manager.
Garde it was who sanctioned the sale of Lovren to Premier League team Southampton in the summer of 2013, bringing to an end the Croatian’s three and a half year stay in Lyon. The English club paid €10 million to secure his services.
Steady progress in England
Lovren’s stay on the south coast was brief. He played just one season for the Saints but gained many plaudits for his accomplished defensive work as they exceeded all expectations to finish 8th in the table. That summer, he joined team mates Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana in moving to Liverpool, his value having risen to £20 million in the space of twelve months.
Dejan Lovren enjoyed perhaps the best years of his career on Merseyside, although the Reds struggled during his first eighteen months at the club. It was not until Jürgen Klopp replaced Brendan Rogers at the helm in October 2015 that their fortunes began to improve. They made it to two finals at the end of that season, but lost them both. A knee injury kept Lovren out of the League Cup final penalty shoot-out defeat to Manchester City, but he played the full ninety minutes as Liverpool lost 3-1 to Sevilla in the UEFA Europa League final in Basel.
A couple of fourth place finishes followed in successive Premier League seasons before they reached another European final in 2018. This time it was the Champions League and Liverpool faced Real Madrid at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv. Lovren again played a full part, but the result was the same, another 3-1 defeat to Spanish opposition. The match will be remembered for a stunning overhead kick goal by Gareth Bale and some erratic goalkeeping by Liverpool’s stand-in goalkeeper Loris Karius.
Continental and domestic glory
Their disappointment was to be short-lived, however, as they went one better the following season, beating Tottenham 2-0 in the UEFA Champions League final in Madrid. Lovren finally got his hands on European football’s most prized club medal, although he was an unused substitute in the final itself. In fact, his whole 2018-19 season was beset by injury and he only featured thirteen times in the league as Liverpool pushed Manchester City all the way in the title race, eventually finishing second on 97 points, one behind the champions.
Fitness was a continuing problem for Lovren throughout Liverpool’s relentless march to the Premier League title in the COVID disrupted 2019-20 season. However, he did feature often enough to earn a winners’ medal, becoming the first Croatian to lift the English Premier League trophy. That brought down the curtain on his time in England and he was sold to Zenit St Petersburg for €12 million in the summer.
Premier Liga domination
In terms of trophies, Lovren’s time in Russia was an unbridled success. He picked up his first one on his debut, a 2-1 win against Lokomotiv Moscow in the Russian Super Cup. His second was the Premier Liga title at the end of his inaugural season with Zenit. He even took over the club captaincy during the second half of the campaign, although he missed the last few games of the season through injury.
Dejan Lovren collected a second Super Cup in the 2021 pre-season and retained the captain’s armband for the successful defence of their league title, although he once again missed the end of the season due to one of his increasingly frequent injuries. He was back to full fitness for the start of the 2022-23 campaign, but remained on the bench as his team mates scooped a third successive Super Cup win with a thumping 4-0 victory over Spartak Moscow in the season’s curtain raiser.
The first half of the 2022-23 Premier Liga saw Lovren’s most consistent period at Zenit. Finally free of any injury worries, he was almost ever-present and skippered the team to a commanding lead at the top of the table as they entered the long winter break. He left for Lyon during that transfer window, but his erstwhile team mates went on to secure the title and earn him a third Premier Liga medal.
National team stalwart
Dejan Lovren enjoyed a long and distinguished career with the Croatian national team. He earned 78 caps and scored five times for them over the course of thirteen years, before retiring from international duty after the 2022 World Cup.
The highlights were undoubtedly Croatia’s runs to the latter stages of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments. At the 2018 finals in Russia, he played in every match as Croatia made it all the way to the final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Having overcome Argentina, Denmark, the hosts and England en route to the final they eventually succumbed 4-2 to an irrepressible French team.
Four years later, they were at it again in Qatar as what remained of Croatia’s golden generation took one more shot at glory. This time Lovren was ever-present as they sauntered through the group and dispatched Japan and Brazil on penalties before coming unstuck against the eventual winners, Argentina, in the semi-finals. And with that he bowed out from the international scene, having been rested for the Third Place Play-off win over Morocco that secured a bronze medal.