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Lazar Markovic proves he may be worth the wait

Liverpool winger Lazar Markovic is acclimatising to English football, proving he may be worth the effort, faith and the wait after all.

ANALYST
Feature 16 Jan 2015, 03:10 IST
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Lazar Markovic celebrates his winning goal at the Stadium of Light

He was not the one they were drooling over. Perhaps it was the anxiety of his parents which provided the platform for, what he hopes, a bright, fledging professional career. Accompanying his older brother Filip, Lazar Markovic had made the three-hour trek from Cacak, a small city a couple of hours from the Serbian capital Belgrade. A decision which transformed his life.

Partizan Belgrade had expressed an interest in Filip yet, although Lazar’s elder sibling seemed destined to become the first professional footballer to emerge from the Markovic household, with their father a serious amateur, their mother and father worried. Their principal concern was how their eldest son would adapt to Belgrade, the Serbian capital, and for his mental health, for the sake of avoiding home sickness.

Partizan had come in primarily for Filip yet they immediately recognised Lazar’s talent, lighting fire to a career which has plummeted him to the heights of Anfield aged just 20.

The winger impressed on Saturday at Sunderland, netting the winning-goal to secure three crucial points in the pursuit of Champions League football. A worthy Man of the Match recipient, Markovic marvelled, a combination of persistence, skill and audacity. The turning point for the vaunted Serb? Liverpool will certainly hope so.

They will also hope, though, that there is more to come from Markovic, so eagerly pursued by elite clubs across Europe. Having made the grade at Partizan, it did not take long for the continent’s elite to encircle the mercurial talent.

Lazar, though, would always become a footballer. Cacak was a town famed for its several monasteries and for its fashionable propensity of producing footballers, with Milan Jovanovic, the attacker formerly of Liverpool, among the town's lengthy production line. Dearth of opportunities, Lazar would always become a professional footballer.

Partizan had come in primarily for Filip yet they immediately recognised Lazar’s talent, lighting fire to a career which has plummeted him to the heights of Anfield aged just 20.

The winger impressed on Saturday at Sunderland, netting the winning-goal to secure three crucial points in the pursuit of Champions League football. A worthy Man of the Match recipient, Markovic marvelled, a combination of persistence, skill and audacity. The turning point for the vaunted Serb? Liverpool will certainly hope so.

They will also hope, though, that there is more to come from Markovic, so eagerly pursued by elite clubs across Europe. Having made the grade at Partizan, it did not take long for the continent’s elite to encircle the mercurial talent.

Chelsea’s determined pursuit

Perhaps it is slightly bewildering he ever did join Brendan Rodgers’s side in the summer. For so long, Chelsea had scouted the winger, arranging meetings and presenting the winger with a guided tour of Stamford Bridge in 2013. Markovic swore allegiance to Chelsea, speaking of how he had idolised Gianfranco Zola, of how the magical Italian had inspired him to prosper in Cacak.

When Markovic quit Partizan for Benfica, the Serbian club’s president, Dragan Duric, emphasised the likelihood of Markovic gracing Stamford Bridge one day, stating that the winger’s Portuguese switch was merely a precautionary measure intended to further enhance Markovic’s development. “Chelsea wants to loan Lazar to Benfica for two years,” he said, a remark later excused as having been “lost in translation”, hours after it had been confirmed Markovic had, in fact, agreed to a five-year deal in Lisbon.

Even as Liverpool negotiated with Benfica, in the hope of acquiring one of Europe’s brightest prospects, the menace of a Willian-style hijack loomed hazardously in the shadows. The Serb could be acquired for as little as £12.5 million, thanks most prominently to the healthy diplomatic relations shared between both clubs. Chelsea and Benfica are frequent traders in the transfer window, with the likes of Ramires, David Luiz and Nemanja Matic exchanged in the space of five years. Chelsea, though, passed on their first option priviledge, instead leaving the 20 year-old available to alternative potential suitors.

Perhaps it was sagacious from Jose Mourinho to decline the opportunity to sign Markovic. The Serb would have been added to a glamarous bounty of young midfielders off a soley attacking ethos, the promising likes of Lucas Piazon, Thorgan Hazard and Mohamed Salah. Mourinho’s mentality during the summer transfer window was one of a “win now” objective, acquiring Cesc Fabregas, a proven Premier League class act, and Diego Costa, the 26 year-old tailor-made for the Premier League, a player Mourinho believed would acclimatise seamlessly to the unique challenges posed by the English top-flight. All in all, he was deemed an unneccesary addition.

Even with Mourinho rendering Chelsea excluded from the scurry to capture Markovic, Liverpool endeavoured arduously to seal the deal, one of immense complexity. The Serb’s third-party ownership status proved a laborious task, a process which flourishes in South America and Eastern Europe. Benfica had merely partly owned Markovic when acquired from Partizan, half-owned by a players’ investment fund linked to the superagent Pini Zahavi.

The 20 year-old, perhaps, is showing why he may be worth the effort, faith and the wait. Although laborious at first, the midfielder is acclimatising to English football, complimently improved displays in the Capital One Cup against Bournemoth and AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup with a Man of the Match performance on Saturday at Sunderland.

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