Duje Ćaleta-Car joined Lyon from Southampton on a season-long loan in August 2023 following the English club’s relegation from the Premier League. Lyon paid a loan fee of €1.54 million to secure the Croatian international centre-back’s services for the year.
Lyon were desperately in need of reinforcements in that department following the sale of Castello Lukeba to RB Leipzig, and the twenty-six year old Ćaleta-Car, with his extensive top level experience, seemed to fit the bill. He was already familiar with Ligue 1, having spent four seasons with Lyon’s bitter rivals Marseille, and he would have the chance to pair up with his Croatia team mate Dejan Lovren in defence.
Difficult start at Lyon
Erstwhile Lyon manager Laurent Blanc threw Ćaleta-Car straight into the starting line-up for his debut on the opening day of the 2023-24 season, a 2-1 defeat to Strasbourg at the Stade de la Meinau. However, Lovren’s absence through injury meant that Blanc was unable to align his two Croatian defenders in tandem prior to his sacking after the 4-1 defeat to PSG on matchday four.
Ćaleta-Car was paired with Sinaly Diomandé during those opening four fixtures, which brought three defeats and a draw. Having been ever-present under Blanc, he then didn’t feature in the team at all during the entirety of Italian manager Fabio Grosso’s disastrous seven-game tenure. Grosso’s replacement, Pierre Sage, immediately brought Ćaleta-Car back into the fold when he was appointed as caretaker manager at the end of November 2023 and he was used as a late substitute in defeats at Lens and Marseille.
By now, Dejan Lovren was fit again and Sage chose to start the two Croatians together for the first time in the home match against Toulouse on the tenth of December with Lyon sitting rock bottom of the Ligue 1 table. He also made a tactical switch to three at the back, with Lovren and O’Brien aligned either side of Ćaleta-Car in the back line. It was this change of personnel and formation that heralded an upturn in Lyon’s fortunes and they beat Toulouse 3-0 before sneaking a 1-0 win at Monaco with the same system five days later.
Ćaleta-Car has played alongside Lovren during many of his twenty-three appearances for the Croatia national team, so it makes sense that they should perform well together at club level. Hopefully he has now got over his indifferent start to his time at Lyon and can go on to be part of a solid defensive unit during the second half of the season. Then Lyon will have to decide if they want to try and purchase him outright or allow him to return to his parent club. His future may depend on whether or not Southampton gain promotion back into the Premier League.
If they’re good enough, they’re old enough. Or not!
Duje Ćaleta-Car began his career with his hometown club, Šibenik, and was something of a teen prodigy, making his first team debut aged just fifteen in the Druga HNL (Croatia’s second division). Unfortunately for him and his club, the league rules stipulated that players must be at least sixteen years old to play in the competition, so Šibenik were docked a point on the very first day of the season.
The rest of that 2012–13 season panned out pretty well for the youthful Ćaleta-Car on the pitch. He was called into the Croatia U-17 squad and made seventeen appearances for Šibenik as they finished fourth in the table. Off-field, things weren’t shaping up so well. Šibenik had fallen into financial difficulties and were relegated administratively by the football authorities at the end of the season.
Unable to hold onto their rising star, Šibenik were forced to offload him in summer 2013 and he made the move north to Pasching in Austria. Ćaleta-Car adapted well to his new surroundings and helped his new club to a second place finish in the Regionalliga Central, one of three regionalised third tier leagues in the Austrian football pyramid.
By now, he was attracting the attention of scouts from larger clubs and Red Bull Salzburg moved to secure his signature before loaning him out to FC Liefering in Austria’s second tier. However, it wasn’t long before they decided he was ready for Bundesliga action and recalled him to their own squad.
Hitting the big time
Duje Ćaleta-Car enjoyed three and a half glittering seasons with RB Salzburg and picked up four Austrian titles along the way. He also lifted the cup on three occasions and was selected in the Austrian Bundesliga Team of the Year for the 2017-18 season.
He was also selected for Croatia’s World Cup squad that summer and made his international debut in a pre-tournament warm-up match against Brazil at Anfield. Duje Ćaleta-Car only featured once in the finals themselves, in a Group D victory over Iceland, but picked up a silver medal as Croatia reached the final, losing 4-2 to France in Moscow. That achievement saw Ćaleta-Car and the rest of the Croatia squad awarded the Order of Duke Branimir by Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.
Five days after the World Cup final, Olympique de Marseille shelled out €19 million to take the twenty-one year old Ćaleta-Car to Provence. He had played against the French club in the Europa League semi-finals a couple of months earlier and had obviously caught their eye. He spent four seasons at Marseille, finishing fifth, second, fifth and second again in Ligue 1, but failed to lift any silverware.
Ćaleta-Car moved on again in the summer of 2022, swapping the French south coast for the English version when he joined Southampton for €8 million. It was a difficult season for the Saints. They finished bottom of the table with just 25 points and Ćaleta-Car was a peripheral figure, making only thirteen league appearances. He also lost his place in the Croatia squad and missed out on World Cup 2022. Therefore, he arrived a Lyon this summer looking to arrest a gradual downturn in his career trajectory and get back to performing at the top level.