Nikola Maksimovic: Torino’s ‘new Vidic’ who could start a Manchester tug of war
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- Date of birth: Nov 25, 1991
- Place of birth: Bajina Basta, Serbia
- Height: 6ft 3in
- Position: Centre-back
- Current club: Torino (75 apps, 0 goals)
- International: Serbia (9 caps, 0 goals)
Maksimovic began his journey at Serbian second-tier side Sloboda Uzice, where he made his senior debut as a 17-year-old. The defender immediately made an impact as he helped the club earn promotion, with his subsequent performances in the top flight earning him a move to Serbian football royalty in March 2012: Red Star Belgrade.
Things moved quickly for the 6ft 3in stopper after that, Maksimovic winning his first Serbia cap under Sinisa Mihajlovic two months after signing, before Torino came calling in July 2013. The youngster departed Belgrade on loan with an option to buy – and one season was all it took to convince the Granata that he was worth the expense.
Maksimovic secured a regular first-team spot by December in his debut season, helping the club qualify for Europe by finishing seventh in Serie A. The Serb’s performances and quick adaptation were encouraging, along with the versatility he displayed by performing a number of duties across defence and midfield under coach Giampiero Ventura. Unsurprisingly, Torino exercised the right to buy in the summer of 2014, securing the talented defender for a reported £1.9 million.
Maksimovic continued his rapid development last season, playing a crucial part in Toro's top-half league finish and impressive run to the Europa League last 16, which included a dramatic 5-4 aggregate win over Athletic Bilbao.
Ventura’s side had enjoyed two golden seasons, and unsurprisingly the rumour mill began to churn. Speculation eventually turned into activity as Napoli desperately pushed to sign the 24-year-old, but their bids were constantly rebuffed, largely because the Granata hierarchy didn’t believe they were being offered his true value.
This season has been a mixed bag for Maksimovic: a foot injury slowed his progress, ruling him out for the first four months, but he has returned to play every minute of every game since. The Serbia international signed a new contract until 2020 in December, but with Toro sliding down the standings to 13th and Ventura believed to be heading out this summer, it appears highly likely that Maksimovic will also be seeking new pastures in a few months' time.
Why you need to know him
Torino value Maksimovic at £20 million and if United are to pursue him with intent, they’ll have to fight off noisy neighbours Manchester City
The Torino defender has drawn comparisons with compatriot Nemanja Vidic and it's easy to see why: his physicality and comfort on the ball ensure the similarities don’t end at nationality. Maksimovic could even claim to have the upper hand over his celebrated countryman, having settled in Serie A with far more ease than Vidic did during his injury-plagued spell at Inter.
Maksimovic is a battler, just like the Manchester United icon was, and his experience of playing in midfield means he has the technical ability required to excel at the top level. Recent reports have spoken of United’s interest in bringing him to Vidic’s former stomping ground; after Matteo Darmian trod the path from Turin to Manchester last summer, there’s no reason the 24-year-old couldn’t follow.
Torino value Maksimovic at £20 million and if United are to pursue him with intent, they’ll have to fight off noisy neighbours Manchester City according to La Stampa.
Competition is also fierce in Serie A, where the Serb’s talent is no secret. As well as Napoli’s persistent interest – they came back in during the January transfer window – Roma and Milan have been linked with moves.
Napoli will be back for a third time this summer and look likely to have Champions League football as a selling point, while if Milan keep hold of coach Mihajlovic they will have a trump card. Maksimovic has described his former national boss as a ‘mentor’ and if Rossoneri president Silvio Berlusconi resists entertaining his manager-sacking hobby this summer, the chance to work with 'Miha' could appeal to his former pupil.
At 6ft 3in, the Serb is a strong physical presence and always lets his marker know they’re in a game
His aforementioned technical skills are an asset, as Maksimovic is often seeing carrying the ball dangerously out of defence to unsettle opposition defences that generally don't expect to see a roaming centre-back coming in their direction.
At 6ft 3in, the Serb is a strong physical presence and always lets his marker know they’re in a game. His anticipation is excellent too: statistics show he makes an average of 4.1 interceptions a game, and 2.5 tackles.
He also has a decent turn of pace for a man of his size and can pick his passes well – he has hit the target with 84% of his balls this season.
He's been in and out of the Serbia team, picking up a total of nine caps, and the Europa League adventure with Toro last season was his only meaningful experience of top-level European competition
Considering his technical ability and inclination to get forward, Maksimovic has a surprisingly poor strike rate, even for a defender. He struggles to capitalise on his aerial advantage from set-pieces and has failed to score for Torino in 75 appearances. While this isn’t the first thing asked of a centre-back, the ability to chip in with the odd goal would certainly add to his game.
Maksimovic has also not been tested too much outside of Serie A. He's been in and out of the Serbia team, picking up a total of nine caps, and the Europa League adventure with Toro last season was his only meaningful experience of top-level European competition. The step up to title battles and Champions League campaigns could be a demanding one.
“I'm not the type of guy to change his mind only because a big club mentioned my name. There's no point in going to a big team only to watch other people play. That does nothing but ruin you.”
Maksimovic wasn’t holding back on discussing transfer speculation when asked by Gazzetta dello Sport about his future in February.
Did you know?
Testament to Maksimovic’s versatility as a player is that his two self-confessed role models are legendary centre-back Alessandro Nesta and Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard.
What happens next?
Torino can’t hope to achieve anything particularly meaningful this season other than avoiding relegation, and if Ventura leaves as expected it may only be a matter of time before Maksimovic follows.
The club’s president Urbano Cairo said in January amid Napoli’s interest that "if someone wants to leave then it’s right to let them go... I want to hold on to Maksimovic at least until the end of the season."
However, Cairo wants £20 million for the defender and Napoli’s refusal to offer that figure is the reason he's still at the Stadio Olimpico. The Manchester clubs may be more willing to part with that kind of sum, but the Partenopei’s persistence and Milan’s possible entrance into the discussion suggest a bidding war could take place.
If the right offer comes in, it’s more likely than not that the Granata will let their talented 24-year-old leave. It’s time for Manchester United & Co. to decide if they’re willing to take a gamble that ‘the new Vidic’ will live up to his nickname.