“He’s a player with a rare talent. The raw potential is absolutely enormous. If he can progress at the present rate he’s going to be worth twice the money that they paid for him in 12 to 18 months’ time, so it’s a good investment.” European football expert Andy Brassell
Liverpool continue to make short work of their Luis Suarez compensation, with a reported £20m deal for Benfica winger Lazar Markovic bringing Brendan Rodgers’ spending so far to just shy of £60m.
Markovic’s rise over the past twelve months has been borderline meteoric, if not entirely unexpected.
Last summer, rumours swept through Partizan Belgrade – where Markovic had been a fixture since the age of 14 – that the Serbian international was set for Chelsea, who would then loan him straight to Benfica.
In the end, the Stamford Bridge switch failed to materialise and Markovic headed for Portugal with no strings attached, where he played a significant role in denying Porto the Liga Sagres title for just the third time in 12 seasons.
The rapid wideman, who only turned 20 in March, made Champions League, Europa League and Primeira Liga teamsheets 26 times in his sole season at the Estadio da Luz.
Benfica completed an unprecedented Primeira Liga, Taca de Portugal and Taca de Liga treble, but couldn’t quite lay a 62-year ghost to rest by beating Sevilla in the Europa League final, which the Andalusians won on penalties.
Markovic missed that match after getting himself sent-off late on against Juventus in the semi-final for fighting with Old Lady Striker Mirko Vucinic, despite being substituted three minutes earlier.
Liverpool will look to curb some of that tempestuousness, although they have a similarly scrappy young winger in the form of Raheem Sterling, who Markovic will be expected to compete with for starting honours.
A number of parallels can be drawn between the young international pair, with each possessing electric pace and the ability to beat players – Markovic made more dribbles than starts in European competition last term, while only Eden Hazard and Luis Suarez completed more mazy runs in the English top-flight than Sterling.
Their goal records weren’t wildly divergent either; Markovic notched five in 26 Liga Sagres appearances, whereas Sterling fired home nine times in 33 Premier League fixtures.
With £25m new signing Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho expected to take up two of four attacking pitches in Rodgers’ XI, behind Daniel Sturridge and occasionally Rickie Lambert, Markovic’s task during his debut season at Anfield may be to provide relief for Sterling, his junior by nine months, whilst continuing to develop his game.
The England breakthrough will be faced with his first Champions League challenge after lighting up the top flight last term, but Sterling’s previous, debut season in the seniors ended in March – with burnout the reason given – so it seems his gaffer isn’t taking any chances.