Sergej Milinkovic-Savic: Liverpool transfer target who's had a Pogba-like impact on Serie A
The 60-second story
“If I was a sporting director of any top European club now, the first player I would buy is Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.”
These are the words of Leonardo, PSG's former director of football and the Brazilian who was responsible for bringing in the likes of Kaka, Alexandre Pato and Thiago Silva among others during his time at Milan.
Liverpool's €28m bid for the player was rejected swiftly as Lazio are reportedly asking for a stupendous €70m to allow their most prized asset to leave Rome
When Paul Pogba made a record-breaking transfer from Juventus to Manchester United last summer, it wasn't expected that another young midfielder playing in Serie A would rise to prominence so soon and command a whopping fee for his transfer.
That's exactly what is happening now with 22-year-old Serbian Milinkovic-Savic, who became Lazio's most important player after a superb campaign in Italy. Liverpool's €28m bid for the player was rejected swiftly as Lazio are reportedly asking for a stupendous €70m to allow their most prized asset to leave Rome.
Whether their price is realistic or not, Lazio know they have a rising star in their ranks that already attracted the interest of Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester United recently and may yet draw them all into a bidding war.
Why you need to know him
Born in Lleida just a hundred miles west of Barcelona, Milinkovic-Savic’s genes mean he was destined to become a professional athlete. His mother Milana Savic was a top basketball player in the former Yugoslavia, while his father Nikola Milinkovic played football professionally in Serbia, Spain, Portugal and Austria.
My parents were following their own ambitions and desires when they were young and because of that, they allowed me pursue my own. I'm grateful to them
“I started to kick the ball since I made my first steps,“ Sergej said in an interview with Mozzart Sport in Serbia. ”I watched my father doing it and I wanted to be like him. My parents were following their own ambitions and desires when they were young and because of that, they allowed me pursue my own. I'm grateful to them because of it.“
Sergej followed the path of his father and inherited his height (just under 6ft 4in), but in terms of footballing talent, he quickly surpassed him. After spending their early life in Spain and a brief period in Austria, the family returned to live in Serbia where the young footballer joined the youth academy of FK Vojvodina.
He immediately impressed there and was a part of Serbia U19 team which won the European championship in 2013. After just a single professional season in Vojvodina, the 18-year-old Milinkovic-Savic signed for Genk.
The Belgian side has been a springboard for numerous talented players in recent years. Kalidou Koulibaly, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Christian Benteke and Wilfred Ndidi all benefited vastly from their experience there.
“It was a key year for my development,” Milinkovic-Savic said. “In Belgium, football is rough and physically 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.”
Just like in Vojvodina, his spell at Genk only lasted a year before he moved to another country – but not before he had further international success with Serbia.
The towering Serb was awarded the Bronze Ball for his displays at the tournament where he was a dominating figure in midfield against almost every opponent Serbia faced
In the summer of 2015, Serbia won the U20 World Cup and Milinkovic-Savic was instrumental to their triumph. The towering Serb was awarded the Bronze Ball for his displays at the tournament where he was a dominating figure in midfield against almost every opponent Serbia faced.
Upon his return, he found out that Lazio and Fiorentina were fighting for his signature and it was the Rome club who in the end came out as winners, forking out €9m for his services.
Adapting to a new league and country didn’t prove a problem for Milinkovic-Savic. In his maiden campaign, he made 35 appearances in all competitions for the Biancocelesti. Yet it was in the 2016/17 season and under the guidance of head coach Simone Inzaghi when all of his qualities and his evolution as a player came to the fore.
“It is unreal how much Italians focus on tactics,” he stated. “I heard and saw some things before, but before I experienced it, I didn’t believe it. Tactics, tactics, tactics! It’s good that I came here young, because I learned a lot and I’m more confident now.”
The 22-year-old has now established himself as indispensable part of the team who finished the season in fifth place. His seven goals and nine assists in Serie A and the Coppa Italia tell just a part of the story of his significance on the pitch. His dazzling two games against city rivals Roma earned him heroic status among Lazio supporters.
Bernardo Corradi, Lazio's former striker, was in awe of the Serb's performances last season. “He has so much room to grow as a player and is already making difference on the pitch. He brings a lot to this team and many top teams will be after him in a near future. Lazio must hold onto to him.”