"This had a profound impact on me"

Dani Olmo on how Croatia and football have shaped him

Dani Olmo, a midfielder for RB Leipzig and Spain, has been a part of the Common Goal movement since 2020. This is a piece he wrote on how Croatia and football have shaped him.

I’m asked about it all the time.

How could you leave La Masia?! There are a bunch of stories online all about that decision: the kid who left Barcelona for Dinamo Zagreb.

Sometimes though, life opens a door you never expected and when you walk through it, you start charting a new course.

Let’s be clear, I didn’t join Dinamo to profoundly change as a person – I was a kid, I wanted to play, I joined for football.

It just so happens that the experience became something deeper. The place came to mean more than I ever imagined.

Dani Olmo playing for Dinamo Zagreb

That’s life. You can’t predict the people you will meet, the connections you will make, or the experiences you will have before you make the leap. You have to trust your gut and follow your drive.

Throughout my six years living in Croatia, the country began to feel like home. I even got a nickname while playing for Dinamo – Olmić. It was quite endearing – most Croatian names end with ‘ić.’

And although I left a few years ago, it’s still important to me to stay connected with the country and the people living there.

Over my time in Croatia, I learned about the history and the war. It took a while for my teammates to open up to me about it but slowly I learned how the conflict still affects people.

This had a profound impact on me and is the reason why I joined Common Goal in the first place. Croatians are my family now. I want to help the country overcome the challenges of the past and build a brighter future.

My 1% goes to Cross Cultures, an organisation working in Croatia that uses football to bridge communities affected by war. I really believe in their philosophy.

This summer, on my last visit to the country, I met up with Cross Cultures.

I saw the work they were doing first hand and it only reconfirmed my belief in the power of football. So few other things can unite people on a big scale, especially in Croatia.  Football is like a religion there. People are devoted to the game and I’ve seen how it can heal and help people process.

When I arrived at Cross Cultures, I did not expect the welcome I received. On that day they brought young people from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia together. Everyone was so eager to play, their enthusiasm and joy were contagious.

I loved seeing all their smiles and getting to know them on a more personal level. For me, that’s what this day was all about. Seeing the beauty of football in everyone else.

I feel so grateful that I took the leap at 16. That I got to know Croatia and the incredible people there. That my journey took me to Cross Cultures.