It’s been tough to know exactly what Liverpool will be getting when Marko Grujic eventually joins up with the squad. Coverage of the Serbian leagues is sparse, and it’s often difficult to get entirely accurate translations of Serbian newspaper reports, which are often misconstrued by the English media.
Thankfully, filmmaker, Liverpool fan, Red Star supporter and Serbian football expert Vlastimir Stevanovic has answered some of our questions and provided superb insight on just what we’ll be getting for our money.
Some recent stories have emerged which claimed Grujic had picked up an injury and Liverpool were angry with Red Star as a result, but Vlastimir has cleared all this up, as well as providing an excellent overall scout report on our £5.1m midfield signing.
For those who don’t know much about the young Serb, the first official signing of Klopp’s tenure, give this a read.
You can follow Vlastimir on Twitter, here: @
Q: Hi Vlastimir, thanks again for talking to us. First up, how long have you been following Marko Grujic’s progression at Red Star?
A: It’s a pleasure, Jordan. I’ve been following Grujic since the beginning of this season, since Serbia won the U20 World Cup. 2015/2016 has really been a spectacular, record breaking season both for him and for Red Star.
Q: We’ve heard various reports that he’s a central midfielder, but others suggest he’s more of an attacking midfielder – capable of playing no.10 or on the flanks. Where has he played for Red Star, and where would he naturally fit in at Liverpool?
A: He is a very versatile player. During the first half of this season he played as a central midfielder, in almost a deep-lying playmaker role. But after signing for Liverpool, the Red Star coach decided to move him further forward, so he also played No.10 for a couple of matches – which led to him scoring some stunning long range goals. I am not suggesting that this positional change was related to him signing for Liverpool, it just occurred at roughly the same time.
Veljko Paunovic, the coach of the U20 national team that won the World Cup, also claimed that Grujic is better suited to the No.10 role. However, with Coutinho, Firmino, and potentially Götze in the team, I firmly believe that he will be employed in a box to box position at Liverpool. Grujic said himself that Klopp saw him in this position.
Q: It’s difficult for us Merseysiders to see much footage of the Serbian league and it’s hard for us to form a proper opinion fn Grujic. Is he as talented as has been suggested? What other Serbians have received similar hype, and how good could he be?
A: He definitely is as talented as suggested. Teams like Inter, Juventus and Chelsea wanted him as well! I don’t remember ever seeing a more talented midfielder at this age in the Serbian league. People may disagree with this statement, but I really do think that he is one of the greatest talents to come out of Serbia in a while, and I fully expect him to reach the level of players like Nemanja Matic or Dejan Stankovic, and even surpass them. Whether he’ll do that is completely up to him, but he has the potential to do it. In Italy they call him ‘The next Pogba’. Now, I’m not a fan of these monikers, but it’s a great compliment nonetheless. I remember that I compared him to Gerrard once. I wasn’t suggesting that he could be the next Gerrard, but there are some aspects in which he reminds me of Stevie. Especially his ability to shoot from long range. If he trains hard, which I think he will, and keeps the desire and confidence high, the sky is the limit for him. It’s also great to see that he is a big fan of Liverpool, which can only help. He religiously follows all the games.
Another player from Serbia who I’m sure will go on to become a star is Andrija Zivkovic. Also a member of the U20 World Cup winning squad. After a disagreement with Partizan about his new contract, he has become marginalised and demoted to playing for the B squad. His contract is running out soon, so whatever team gets him for free will hit jackpot. Hopefully, this whole contract situation hasn’t affected his confidence.
Q: What would you suggest are his biggest strengths, and what will he need to work on to make it in England?
A: He is very strong, has great vision and passing skills. His long range shooting is also very good. Of course, as he is still very young so there is still room for all-round improvement, but that is a good thing. As far as weaknesses are concerned, he doesn’t have any significant ones. As I’m sure you are aware, he is a tall player, which means that agility may not be among his strongest attributes, but then again for his height, he can shift.
However, since he’s never played in a league outside of Serbia, I would advise patience from the fans. This will be a huge change for him, and too much pressure certainly won’t help. He does not lack confidence, but it’s still an enormous change and patience is absolutely required.
Q: We’re aware that Grujic has been injured recently, and there’s been some confusion as to whether Red Star misdiagnosed his problem. Can you clear up what happened, and what the player had to say about it?
A: As far as I’m aware, originally he was diagnosed with a pinched gluteal nerve, and it was a minor injury. However, in a recent interview with zurnal.rs he claimed otherwise: “I was given the wrong diagnosis. As a result of which I have trained harder than usual which made things worse. I did some additional analysis, including ultrasound. If the results aren’t good I will travel to Liverpool for further treatment.
“People from Liverpool called me every day, they were worried. They suggested coming to Serbia, or me going over there. There was no anger, and I was flattered that they were so interested in my injury situation.”
It turned out that the results were good, and he will probably play a part in the upcoming derby against Partizan. And of course, in a typically LFC fashion, it turned out to be a hamstring injury. I guess he was destined for LFC!
Q: And while you’re here… What’s the Serbian view on Lazar Markovic? Has the country given up hope of him developing into a world-class attacker? Should he leave Liverpool?
A: There hasn’t been much Serbian talk about Markovic lately, ever since the rumour surfaced that his agent was offering him to Fiorentina. I know that Liverpool scouts were present at his games often which might be a suggestion that Klopp likes him.
To be honest, I really don’t know what to think about Lazar’s future. He was a spectacular player for Benfica, and I hoped that he will be even more spectacular at Liverpool but that didn’t happen. Whether it was the weight of the shirt, lack of confidence, or Rodgers’ man management I cannot say, but certainly a lot of the players who were average under Rodgers are becoming much better under Klopp.
I’m not suggesting that we should blame Rodgers for Lazar’s bad form, but we all saw what the winger is capable of in that game against Sunderland. If he can remain fit and regain lost confidence, I think he will come good, especially now under Klopp.
Let’s not forget that he too is still very young! I hope that he hasn’t given up.