When Paul Pogba completed his world record transfer to Manchester United in August 2016, an opportunity was seen by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to become Serie A’s new golden boy. Milinkovic-Savic took the Italian league by storm, prompting immediate interest from the European elite. With the rumours circulating of incoming transfer offers, will the Biancocelesti hold onto their star man?
Where it all began
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was born in Lledia, Catalonia in February 1995. He began his youth career at the Austrian sports club Grazer AK, before returning to his parent’s home country of Serbia with Vojvadina. In December 2012, SMS signed his first professional contract, debuting in the following November against Jagodina. In his first full season with the senior team he made 13 appearances and scored 3 goals, helping his team to lift the Kup Srbije.Embed from Getty Images
In June 2014, he joined Belgian club K.R.C Genk for a reported €1m. After a year which saw the youngster play 24 times for the Blauw-Wit, he had attracted the attention of numerous Italian clubs. With Fiorentina seemingly reaching an agreement with the Belgian team, SMS travelled to Florence to sign on the dotted line. However, whilst in transit it was said that the Serb had a change of heart.
“I’m not sure this would be the best decision for me. I need time to think about it.” – Milinkovic-Savic on his transfer to Fiornetina (2015).
A few days passed before he signed for SS Lazio. A curious turn of events in the circumstances. Although he didn’t stay in Belgium for long, Lazio’s hot prospect was filled with praise for the league.
“In Belgium, football is rough, physical and demanding. The aggressiveness, the action, aerial duels… There are a lot of strong players there and that’s why the league is perfect for youngsters to toughen up and improve.” – Milinkovic-Savic
After committing his future to Serbia at a young age, SMS began to work his way through the age groups. In 2013 Savic was part of the Serbia under 19s team to claim it’s first ever UEFA Under 19s Championship, before reaching the semi-finals the following year.Embed from Getty Images
In 2015, a similar squad went on to win the Under 20 Fifa World Cup. Milinkovic-Savic was awarded the Bronze ball, an accolade given to the third best player in the tournament. In winning this award, he joined a list of stars including; Dani Alves, Giovanni Dos Santos, Djibril Cisse and Pablo Aimar. Savic was beaten to the award by Adama Traore (1st – Malia, Monaco) and Danilo Barbosa (2nd – Brazil, Braga), who are both now finding it difficult to become a first team regular for their club.
Since his triumphs with the youth teams, Milinkovic-Savic has been called up by the Senior National team on two occasions. However, he is yet to make an appearance for two different managers – He even chose to leave his latest call up for friendlies against Cyprus, Israel and Russia, after being left on the bench in first two games.
Upon his arrival to Serie A for somewhere in the region of €18 million, SMS had to find his feet quickly. He finished the season having played 25 times for the eventual 8th place team. Although the youngster only managed the one goal, the qualities he developed in Belgium were evident. The towering 6 foot 3 Serb finished the season with an average of 3.6 aerial duels won per game, the second best in the division.Embed from Getty Images
With the departure of Pogba fresh in the minds of Serie A supporters, SMS went from strength to strength. He began to showcase his full range of abilities as the star man under Simone Inzaghi. Inzaghi deployed Milinkovic-Savic as a marauding box-to-box midfielder within a 4-3-3. This was extremely similar to the position of Pogba this previous season in Juventus’ 3-5-2. The position allows the player the chance to hold their position and dictate play, but also an opportunity to dribble with the ball into the space behind the striker.
A testament to Inzaghi’s coaching ability is highlighted in his use of the youngster. The minor weaknesses in his defensive contribution were improved through work on the training ground, improving his statistics in process.Embed from Getty Images
The Serb finished the season having played 34 times, scoring 4 goals and providing 7 assists. An improvement was seen in his tackling, interceptions and even aerial duels. He eventually topped the table with 149 aerial duels won, 10 more than his closest competitor having played more than 300 minutes less.
With SMS’s ability on a steady incline, interest from the world’s elite was expected. An apparent €27 million bid – from 5 time European champions Liverpool – surfaced in the summer, but was quickly batted away by the club President Claudio Lotito. The President has since stated that interest was high in the young Serb throughout the summer with suitors in “Madrid, Manchester and Milan”. When these links were brought to the attention of Savic’s agent, the infamous Chelsea flop Mateja Kezman, he was quick to shut down a potential move.
“Sergej is very happy at Lazio and recently renewed his contract.”
“He’s not for sale at any price.”
Mateja Kezman – July 2017
Contradicting quotes emerged from Milinkovic-Savic’s brother, who is also a professional footballer. When Vanja Milinkovic-Savic was asked about the Lazio man’s future, he was quoted as saying that his brother “only wants Juventus”.Embed from Getty Images
Whilst there were claims that these quotes were false, they added to the already swirling speculation around the Serbian wonderkid. The question was posed to Juventus’ CEO, Giuseppe Marotta about the Old Lady’s interest in Lazio’s star man. Although the quote seemed to suggest the club are not currently in negotiations for the player, his stance was questionable in terms of an eventual bid being made.
“Milinkovic-Savic? Lazio have many important top end talents. We haven’t contacted them on the matter.” – Juventus CEO, Giuseppe Marotta.
Many players in Savic’s position choose to keep quiet and let their agent do their talking for them. SMS has taken a slightly different approach. As well as his noncommittal approach to media questions on his future, he has claimed an affiliation for his brother’s previous club Manchester United.
“As a child, I was crazy about Raul, today it’s Ibrahimovic. He’s my favourite player.
Just as those who train him. Mourinho is the best coach in the world.”
“I’ve renewed my contract, but regarding a transfer elsewhere you never know. I am tied to Lazio, but what will happy next, we’ll see. It’s up to the club to decide.”
Although the young Serb has gone on record saying he is happy at the club – Renewing his contract in April until 2022- he has undoubtably left the door open for a future transfer. Whether that is in the near future or not is up for debate however, with his stock at an all time high it may be beneficial for all parties if the deal went ahead.
Josh Jones – Trigger the Press