Marko Grujic: Meet Liverpool's new Serbian World Cup winner

Charles Ducksbury profiles the Anfield side's new man from Red Star who might just have saved his club's finances for a little while longer... 

Fact file

  • Date of birth: April 13, 1996
  • Place of birth: Belgrade, Serbia
  • Height: 6ft 3in
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Current club: Red Star Belgrade (36 apps, 7 goals)
  • International: Serbia U21 (5 caps, 0 goals)

The 60-second story

After being removed from the 2014/15 Champions League for breaching UEFA’s FFP guidelines, Red Star (or Crvena Zvezda as they're known in Serbia) returned to European football in July with a Europa League qualifier against Kairat of Kazakhstan. A vociferous Marakana crowd greeted the sides, but things deteriorated after just three minutes when Savo Pavicevic was sent off for the home side. Kairat went on to record a 2-0 away win, eventually winning 4-1 on aggregate and Zvezda were out of Europe again. New coach Miodrag Bozovic offered his resignation, fans protested against the board (eventually forcing all members to resign) and with the club lumbered with €40 million of debt, it was labeled the lowest moment in the club’s history. Bozovic’s resignation was rejected, and he immediately made changes. On the bench against Kairat was a young midfielder called Marko Grujic, initially deemed too inexperienced for the rigours of European and Serbian SuperLiga football. Ahead of him in the side were Aleksandar Kovacevic and Vukan Savicevic, but both were sold soon after the Kairat debacle and Grujic was thrown into the team.

He has been a revelation since, taking the league by storm and attracting an army of scouts, though he has already stated he wants to stay at Zvezda until at least the summer, and that “not even Barça” could tempt him away should they make the group stages of the Champions League next summer, though without his sale Zvezda may have to cancel any European tour plans.

Why you need to know about him

Even if it is against his wishes, there remains little doubt that Grujic, the son of a Belgrade football journalist, will be on the move from his boyhood heroes. Perhaps no other club in Europe attracts such devotion from fans and players, and Grujic has been at the club since he was nine years old.

However, such is Zvezda’s debt level that a deal for his sale will be made this coming January, though he will remain at the club until after next season’s Champions League qualifying campaign. Grujic’s projected sale value of around €5m will be used to pay off debts owed to former players, one of the stipulations required to gain a UEFA licence to play in the Champions League, and the main reason why they weren’t allowed to play in the competition two seasons ago.

Grujic’s projected sale value of around €5m will be used to pay off debts owed to former players, one of the stipulations required to gain a Uefa licence to play in the Champions League

So while the midfielder doesn’t want to leave, it is unfortunately a necessity for the Serbian giants. With that in mind, dozens of clubs have headed to the Balkans to run the rule over the youngster, though the teams who have shown the most concrete interest have been Inter, Udinese, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and HSV. After Zvezda beat Cukaricki 7-2 last weekend (a game in which Grujic scored with a low drive to make it 1-1), Liverpool even took the youngster and his agent Zoran Stojadinovic out for dinner.

Serbia U20

Serbia's Under-20 world champions celebrate their achievement

Strengths

Standing a massive 6ft3in at just 19 years old, Grujic uses his athleticism to cover the whole length of the pitch. Though obviously not in the same bracket of ability just yet, his style closely resembles Patrick Vieira and Yaya Toure: quick to reach both penalty areas without ever seeming to be reaching top speed.

His style closely resembles Patrick Vieira and Yaya Toure: quick to reach both penalty areas without ever seeming to be reaching top speed.

He is the player Zvezda immediately look for when launching an attack, due to his ability to bring the ball out of defence and into the midfield area. His positioning on the field shows far more maturity than he should have at his age, offering easy passes for his team-mates and positioning his body superbly when receiving the ball to allow himself to move away on the front-foot when Zvezda are attacking. Grujic also possesses impressive shooting accuracy for his age and position, netting five times in 19 league games, a good record for someone who isn’t an ‘attacking’ midfielder.

Weaknesses

Though every footballer in the world could improve, it is very, very difficult to pick out a real weakness in Grujic, especially for such a young player. He would benefit from a touch more pace, but his height means it would be unlikely for him to be much faster.

He perhaps isn’t the most creative midfielder and won’t lay on dozens of chances in a game for his teammates, but again this is more due to his style of play rather than a lack of ability.

I would like to go and play in England. I love the atmosphere in the stadium, and how the fans are close to the pitch, and how that energy transfers to the players

- Marko Grujic

He said...

The midfielder spoke to Belgrade journalist Jovan Terzic in October and opened up about his future plans. He said “I would like to go and play in England. I love the atmosphere in the stadium, and how the fans are close to the pitch, and how that energy transfers to the players.” When pushed on who he would like to play for, he stated “I would actually prefer to start at a smaller club, and then in the future, who knows?”

Did you know...

Grujic was a member of Serbia’s Under-20 World Cup-winning squad last summer, beating Brazil 2-1 in the final in New Zealand. Though the full national side has at times disgraced Serbia in the past two years, the youngsters flew the flag with pride, lead by captain Predrag Rajkovic (then of Crvena Zvezda, now of Maccabi Tel-Aviv). Tens of thousands gathered on the streets of Belgrade upon the side's return, with some of the squad becoming national heroes before playing a single professional game for their parent clubs.

Talentspotter ratings

  • Shooting: 7
  • Heading: 8 
  • Passing: 8
  • Tackling: 7
  • Pace: 6
  • Dribbling: 7
  • Creativity: 6
  • Work-rate: 8

What happens next?

The Belgrade native will see out the remainder of the season at Red Star, where he'll hope to go out on a high. Next season, who knows? Grujic's father warned against a lack of opportunities, and it's perhaps easy to understand why. Danilo Pantic, a Serbian midfielder who left Partizan for Chelsea last summer, was loaned to Vitesse and has played just six Eredivisie games this term. 

With a four-and-a-half year contract in the bag, he'll get his chance eventually. 

More features every day on FFT.com