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Award-Winning Tudor Takes Plaudits In His Stride

Tuesday 1st January 2002

Juventus star Igor Tudor has admitted he was surprised by winning Croatia's Player of the Year award and now one of Europe's most coveted defenders has vowed to make a big impression in the World Cup finals.

Tudor became the first defender for 17 years to win Croatian football's highest accolade when he beat legendary striker Alen Boksic into second place.

I am really honoured, said the 23-year-old centre-back. I have proved to myself and to others that I can become a good player and I must confess that I have worked really hard, especially at Juventus.

Still I am little surprised, added Tudor. I didn't expect that this year was going to be great like this. This award is very special to me at the end of a successful year.

That year ended with Tudor linked with a £15 million move to Manchester United, and although Juventus dismissed the approach, to be courted by the world's richest club is a measure of the startling progress the youngster has made.

Tudor spent just one season with Hajduk Split before Juventus moved in with a £2.5 million bid in 1998. His debut for the national team came the previous year against the Ukraine and he has been a regular ever since, being part of the team that finished third in the 1998 World Cup.

In 25 games for Juve last season, the big defender found the net six times, convincing coach Marcello Lippi he could move forward into midfield.

The Turin boss used Tudor in a holding role when Edgar Davids was ruled out with his drugs ban and made such an impression that Lippi likens the youngster to the great Marcel Desailly.

"I can see him becoming our [Marcel] Desailly, Lippi declared. He could do even better than Desailly did for Milan because technically he is a better player."

Lippi's judgement is backed by national coach Mirko Jozic who rates Tudor his most valuable player and there is no doubt he will be a key figure in Croatia's World Cup bid in the summer.

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© 1999-2000 Catherine Craveiro