By Tom Kundert
So what will Lazar Markovic bring to Liverpool? Buckets of talent and plenty of excitement is the short answer.
Brendan Rodgers has earned plaudits for not only dramatically improving the Reds' results but also imprinting an attacking philosophy on his team and, judging by Markovic's one season in Portugal, the young Serbian has every chance of contributing significantly on both fronts.
|WHAT THEY SAID
|"I can say that, apart from Ronaldo and Messi, Markovic is one of the best talents I've ever seen at 19 years of age" - Avram Grant
"It was excellent playing with this fantastic kid for six months. He has massive potential. He could be one of Europe's best players in his position" - Nemanja Matic, ex-Benfica team-mate
"Markovic is a hugely talented player. With the ball at his feet, he's not easy to stop" - Jorge Jesus, Benfica coach
"I believe he is the perfect player. He's the mosted talented Serbian footballer to break through in the last 10 years" - Vladimir Stojkovic, team-mate at Partizan Belgrade
"Markovic is a pure talent. He has special abilities in terms of speed and technique. He can decide a game on his own. He's set to become a very important player for Serbia" - Ljubinko Drulovic, Serbia coach
Markovic hit the ground running in Portugal, impressing in pre-season and making an immediate impact once the serious stuff started. After opening his account against one of the Primeira Liga's small fry, Gil Vicente, in the second match of the season, the attacking midfielder's next test would be far more exacting. One week later the Eagles travelled to fierce cross-town rivals Sporting Lisbon for the Lisbon derby, one of the biggest matches in the Portuguese football calendar.
Perhaps afraid of overwhelming the youngster on such a big occasion, coach Jorge Jesus started Markovic on the bench. Shortly after half-time, though, Benfica's star man, Salvio, was stretchered off injured and the teenager was thrown on, his side trailing 1-0.
He changed the game. Markovic terrorised the previously untroubled Sporting back four. He almost scored a terrific goal after dribbling past a series of defenders at high speed then, 10 minutes later, he tried it again and this time coolly slotted the ball under Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio after he had again left a trail of mesmerised adversaries in his wake. All doubts were dispelled. This was a special talent.
He would subsequently become a virtual ever-present for Benfica, helping the Portuguese giants to become the first club to lift the domestic treble of league, cup and Taca da Liga in a single season, as well as reaching the Europa League final.
Although not a prolific scorer, Markovic seemed intent on dominating the goal-of-the-season competition all by himself, his strikes against Sporting, Academica and Vitoria Guimaraes especially stunning.
His chief assets are his pace, dribbling ability and composure, which he combines to devastating effect. Given space into which to run, either centrally or diagonally from either flank, he is almost unstoppable when travelling at high speed with the ball at his feet - and his exhilarating runs usually come with an end product, be it an incisive pass or a precise finish.
Markovic's impact at Benfica and stats (seven goals in 49 games) are all the more impressive when considering that he was a teenager moving abroad for the first time when he signed for the Portuguese club. The ease with which he adapted to a completely different culture and football environment suggests that settling into the Premier League will not comprise a problem.
Liverpool may have paid a hefty price but there can be little doubt that they have acquired a gem of a player. If he fulfils his potential, it will be money well spent.
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