World Cup Talent Scout: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
With Sergej Milinkovic-Savic currently on the radar of every self-respecting super club, we run the rule over the Serbian midfielder's opening two performances at the World Cup.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Destined to be an athlete, Milinkovic-Savic was born into a sporting family; both his parents were professional sportspeople, his father, Nikola, played football in Spain, while his mother, Milana, was a pro basketball player. He is the older brother of Torino keeper, Vanja.
The 23-year-old came through the ranks at Fudbalski klub Vojvodina in Serbia but, after just 16 appearances at the Serbian SuperLiga club in which he won the Serbian Cup, was on the move to Belgian side Genk for a fee believed to be in the region of £900k in 2014.
The three-time Belgian First Division winners finished eighth in the Serbian's only season. However, that campaign was bookended by Serbia's surprise U20 World Cup triumph - Milinkovic-Savic's performances in midfield earned him the bronze ball and a move to Lazio, for £16 million; a pretty decent mark up for Genk.
His international career only started in 2017 and the match against Costa Rica was his first competitive match for his country.
Serbia's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has a shot at goal before being flagged for offsideGetty Images
- Age: 23
- Club: Lazio
- Previous clubs: Vojvodina (2013-14), Genk (2014-15)
- Position: Central midfield
- Linked to: Manchester United, Real Madrid
- Market Value: £80 million
Strengths: A physically imposing presence with a gracefulness that defies categorisation, Milinkovic-Savic appears to meet the criteria of the modern shape-shifting midfielder: basically, he can play anywhere in midfield but is best dictating in the attacking third.
Weakness: Such are his gifts, he could fall into the Paul Pogba category of being used incorrectly. He is an imposing figure with balletic grace - a hugely talented creator and a middle of the road destroyer. The temptation to convert him to a box-to-box player must be resisted.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic of Serbia is challenged by Francisco Calvo and David Guzman of Costa RicaGetty Images
EXPERT VIEW FROM ITALY
Alberto Coriele, Eurosport.it:
" Milinkovic-Savic was the best midfielder in the whole of Serie A last season, and would effortlessly adapt to the Premier League. He scored 12 goals this season plus 9 assists, but what is most impressive is the different types of goals and assists. Lazio’s president Claudio Lotito, a really able negotiator, would never sell him for bids lower than €100 million. But he is worth the money, he almost dragged the team to Champions League qualification (they lost in the last match of the season against Inter). He deserves to join a top team, which can be in Premier League, in Serie A or in Liga. "
FIRST GAME REALITY
Milinkovic-Savic started in the No. 10 position and was eager to join Aleksandar Mitrovic in the box as regularly as possible. In the opening exchanges, his excellent technique and audacious close control was on display as he twice lost markers in tight pockets of space – on the second occasion using a maneuverer straight out of the Zidane playbook.
His goal threat was evident on 27 minutes when a run behind the defence saw him pull the ball down and scuff a shot at the keeper, but the offside flag had been raised. The flag was up again, erroneously, on 43 minutes when he made another run in behind and executed a stunning overhead kick which Keylor Navas saved.
Milinkovic-Savic is not only a threat in his own right, though. On 50 minutes he showcased his creative side with a superbly-judged through ball for Mitrovic, who should have done better with his finish. Mitrovic was wasteful again following another sumptuous pass from Milinkovic-Savic in the closing stages.
He took a few risks in possession with one indulgent moment just outside his own box on 79 minutes which could have cost his side. But this was a statement performance from Milinkovic-Savic, who boasts physical presence and technical brilliance wrapped up in one compelling package.
Costa Rica's midfielder Bryan Ruiz (L) is marked by Serbia's midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-SavicGetty Images
WHAT THEY SAID ON TWITTER
SECOND GAME REALITY
Again Milinkovic-Savic started in the attacking midfield role, but he failed to impress as much as he did in the opening match. A few nice touches and one fizzing shot aside, there was little of note to mention in a performance that flew under the radar in a helter-skelter game.
The most he was seen was celebrating Serbia's first-half goal, scored by Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic; Aleksandar MitrovićGetty Images
WHAT THEY SAID ON TWITTER
WHO SHOULD BUY HIM
At 6'4'' he naturally appeals to Mourinho's predilection for height and the links to United are no surprise - but how could you fit him and Paul Pogba in the same team? One would have to play deep, neutering their best tendencies. Talk of a move to Juventus seems much more likely. But if any Premier League club has the means to sign him this summer, they should do so on this evidence.