Living the suite life: Dejan Lovren's new Hotel Joel

Following Croatia's World Cup success, we look at Dejan Lovren and his gracious new Hotel Joel on Pag island
© Bernard Dino Ninković
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Though he's best known for his footballing skills, it turns out Dejan Lovren has a flair for design too. After co-creating a fashion label with buddy Lovro Krcar, the top-tier footballer announced his foray into the hotelier business, with a stylish new hotel on the island of Pag. 

It’s hard to feel sympathy for a Champions League player, but the life of a footballer must be a transient one. Travelling from city to city for games, for those in the uppermost echelons, success can also mean you're uprooted from the place you currently call home, transported to a different, bigger club, maybe in a new country, maybe with a different language. 

Dejan Lovren plays for the Croatian national football team, one of the heroes responsible for their recent success in the World Cup. His has been such a life. Having fled from war in his birthplace of Bosnia, and having moved from Germany to Croatia while still a child, a transient life is something that Dejan Lovren is perhaps more familiar with than most.

Dejan Lovren has just built and opened a new luxury four-star hotel on the Croatian island of Pag. In doing so, it seems that the star defender, who currently plays for top Premier League side Liverpool, is ready to commit his long-term future to Croatia, no matter where his career or life may take him.

When it comes to hotels, jet-set footballers know exactly what they want when travelling the world, far from the comforts of home. Joel is an exclusive hotel in Novalja on the island of Pag, a two-minute stroll from the beach. A more intimate affair than many, it has 17 rooms (each with designer kitchens), so the entire complex, with its swimming pool, Mediterranean restaurant and cocktail bar, concentrates on quality, not quantity. It does so throughout with an attention to detail which is expressed immediately in its stunning and luxurious interior design.

A ziggurat structure of white stone and glass, Hotel Joel is an intriguing example of Adriatic modernism. The rooms exude a cool, breezy aesthetic – a theme continued throughout the public areas, defined by sleek lines, curvaceous slabs of polished stone and sparse furnishings. The cocktail bar, conveniently located by the outdoor pool, offers spectacular views of the crescent-shaped beach, backed by a sprawling green pine forest.

Lovren has already committed more than €3 million to the enterprise and in naming the hotel after his children, Josip and Elena, he signals that Croatia is firmly within his family's long-term plans. The comfort and reassurance that comes with such a setting, such a permanence, is something that has not always been present in Dejan Lovren's life.

In 1989, when Dejan was born, his parents were among Croatians who made up 20 percent of the population of the city of Zenica in former Yugoslavia. The Lovren family were forced to flee from the city when war broke out. Dejan Lovren was just three years old when he arrived in his new home of Munich, Germany.

He started school, spoke to all his friends in German and was assimilated into the normal routines of a child in Munich. It was here that Dejan Lovren began to play football. However, this stable existence was not to last. His family were forced to leave Germany as they did not have the documentation necessary to stay.

They instead settled in Karlovac, southwest of the capital city Zagreb. Karlovac as a city had suffered badly in the war. Economic opportunities for the Lovren family in Karlovac were not as promising as those in Munich; Dejan's mother worked on the supermarket checkout, his father was a house painter. Theirs was a modest existence. The family's simple third-floor apartment stands in sharp contrast to the luxurious Joel hotel Dejan Lovren now presides over.

In and around its bombed-out buildings, Karlovac did hold one advantage; the city was full of parks and surrounded by greenery and nature. Its sports fields had not suffered the same damage as its infrastructure. It was outside the confines of the family home and frustrations of school (he struggled with the switch from German to the Croatian language) where Dejan and younger brother Davor began to shine. The boys were becoming serious about football.

Dejan played for local teams NK Ilovac and NK Karlovac as a youth before his talent for the game brought him to the attention of Dinamo Zagreb, one of the two biggest teams in Croatia. In 2006, he made his professional debut for Dinamo's first team, aged just 16 years old.

Around the time of his seventeenth birthday, Lovren found out he was on the move again; to ensure he got the playing time necessary for his development he had been loaned by Dinamo to NK Inter Zaprešić. He stayed for two seasons before returning to Dinamo as a regular starter in the team's first 11. In his second season at Dinamo, he played in all four of their Champions League qualifying games. But following international exposure, Dejan Lovren was to be uprooted once again. Before the end of the season, he was bought by French club Olympique Lyonnais.

Mauricio Pochettino is now regarded as one of the best and most promising future managers in Europe, aged just 46. He currently manages Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur. But in 2013 he held the same position at a resurgent Southampton FC and was looking to strengthen his side with spectacular talent. He signed Dejan Lovren from Olympique Lyonnais in the summer of 2013. Lovren scored right at the start of the season, a goal that ensured Southampton defeated Liverpool at their home ground in front of a shocked audience. The name of this new entrant to English football, Dejan Lovren, would not be forgotten on Merseyside. Liverpool were so impressed with Lovren they monitored him during his first season in the Premier League. By the season's end, they had seen more than enough. In the summer they pounced and stole Lovren from Southampton, signing him for a reported fee of £20 million, making him the most expensive defender in Liverpool's history.

Dejan Lovren scored on his debut for Liverpool and has remained key to their plans ever since. The four successful seasons Dejan Lovren has already spent at Liverpool is the longest duration he has been at any club in his professional career. In that time, he has received medals as a Europa League runner-up, then as a Champions League runner-up and now as a World Cup runner-up.

At 29 years old, he is at the peak of his game as a defender and looks more settled than he ever has before. You can see it in Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp's faith in Dejan; Lovren was first asked to captain Liverpool in 2018. You can see it in the strong partnership he has built with co-defender Virgil van Dijk; the pairing has proven key to the resurgent club's major success in the Premier League and the Champions League. And you can see it in his latest venture, the spectacular Hotel Joel on Pag, where Lovren is finally planting roots in Croatia.

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