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Andrija Radulovic: Why are Man City and Barcelona keen on 'the Serbian Shaqiri'?

9:00 pm AEST 18/5/21
Andrija Radulovic Red Star Belgrade NXGN GFX
The 18-year-old attacking midfielder is set to be available for around €5 million this summer after falling out with his manager at Red Star Belgrade

If you thought Manchester City were good now, just wait until their next generation emerges.

As well as celebrating winning the Premier League in recent days, City have also been toasting the success of their youth teams.

Both their Under-23s and U18s won their respective league titles in 2020-21, with the likes of Liam Delap, Cole Palmer, Romeo Lavia, James McAtee and Carlos Borges having served notice of their talents over the course of the campaign.

And while City have a number of top young players learning their trade at the Etihad Campus, there are a whole bunch of other talented teenagers whom they have bought, or are in the process of buying, starring elsewhere.

Brazilian right-back Yan Couto and Spanish forward Pablo Moreno have spent the season on loan at Girona; Jayden Braaf has played his first professional minutes at Udinese.

Another Brazilian, Diego Rosa, has taken his first steps into European football with the City Football Group-owned Lommel in Belgium, after joining from Gremio in January in a deal that could be worth up to £23 million ($32m).

City also have deals in place to sign South American starlets Kayky and Dario Sarmiento from Fluminense and Estudiantes, respectively, with Partizan winger Filip Stevanovic having also joined the club's ranks since the start of 2021.

Stevanovic has seen out the season on loan in Belgrade, but when he does board a plane from Serbia to England this summer, he may not be the only uber-talented teenage footballer on board.

That is because City are now being linked with another precocious youngster in the shape of Andrija Radulovic.

Though the 18-year-old has only played a handful of games for the Red Star Belgrade first team, he has caught the eye sufficiently to have a number of top European clubs pursuing him.

Barcelona, Inter, AC Milan, Tottenham and Benfica have all been credited with interest, yet it is City who reportedly find themselves at the front of the queue for the attacking midfielder.

"Radulovic is one of the greatest prospects in Europe,” his agent, Igor Koijc, told Interlive.it before the turn of the year, with Radulovic having enjoyed a meteoric rise since being invited to his first trial at Red Star in 2016 following impressive displays in a youth tournament close to where he grew up in Kotor, Montenegro.

A boyhood Red Star fan, Radulovic impressed enough to be enrolled into the club's academy, which lies in the shadow of the imposing South Stand at the club's Marakana stadium.

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Though he consistently shone as he made his way through the youth ranks, it was not until 2019 that he truly came to prominence, thanks to his performances in the UEFA Youth League.

He was Red Star's top performer as they qualified for the knockout rounds from a group containing Bayern Munich and Tottenham, the latter of whom Radulovic scored an excellent angled finish against in a game that, it is claimed, first brought him to City's attention.

Radulovic boasted of "smashing the English" in the aftermath, with the diminutive left-footer having thrived in a new No.10 position, though he has also been deployed on both flanks, and even at left-back, during his short career so far.

His versatility, low centre of gravity and willingness to show off his skills have seen him likened to Xherdan Shaqiri, though Radulovic's own footballing hero is a little different when it comes to stature.

"My biggest role model is Cristiano Ronaldo," he told Kurir. "He achieved everything with work and effort. I like his character, thinking and lifestyle.

"The man is a machine, he is dedicated to work. He gave everything for football and the game gave back to him."

If that is Radulovic's attitude, then the game has already begun giving back to him.

Having spent the majority of the 2019-20 campaign with the Red Star youth team, he was called up to train with the senior squad for the resumption of top-level football following the coronavirus-enforced shutdown.

With the league title secured, he was brought on for his debut as a half-time substitute against Radnik on June 6 before netting a penalty on what he describes as the "most beautiful" day of his life.

"I fantasised while playing on the academy fields that one day I would be playing at the Marakana as a champion," he told Blic. "I am happy and proud because I have loved Red Star since I was a child, and I have given my all to be a first-team player.

"I will not stop. I am going to get even stronger to help me be better. I believe that I will bring a lot of joy to the fans, because I think I can do even more."

And while Radulovic backed up his debut goal with an assist in his second appearance, the 2020-21 season has not gone quite as he would have hoped.

Having begun the campaign on the bench, he made nine appearances before the turn of the year, only to be told on January that manager Dejan Stankovic wanted him to join Red Star's affiliate club, Graficar, on loan in the second division.

WIth interest in him from Red Star's domestic rivals and clubs abroad, Radulovic refused, instead insisting that he deserved more opportunities with the first team.

That, though, did not go down well with ex-Inter midfielder Stankovic, who in turn banished Radulovic back to the youth ranks for the remainder of the campaign.

As it turned out, the youngster may not have been available for much more of the season regardless, having been out of action since April as he recovers from mononucleosis.

Now all attention turns to his future and whether he has played his final game for the team he has supported all his life.

With his contract having just over a year left to run on it, Radulovic could be available for as little as €5m (£4.3m/$6m) this summer should City or any of the other interested parties be willing to test the water.

And while there is certainly room for improvement in 'the Serbian Shaqiri's' game, there is no doubt that a potential buyer would be getting a supremely gifted young footballer.

City have a lot of those as it is, but there is always room for one more.