With Lazar Marković finally seemingly ‘gone for good’ after his departure on deadline day, Sam Millne (@sammillnelfc) asks where it all went wrong for the young Serb.
It’s the summer of 2014 and Liverpool have just come closer to a league title than in any of the previous 24 years. Luis Suárez has departed for Barcelona, leaving the club’s pockets jangling. As a result of a failed cash plus Alexis Sánchez deal with Barca, Brendan Rodgers opts for spreading his money out across a lot of different players. Amongst his new signings were Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Mario Balotelli, Emre Can and Rickie Lambert, but, perhaps the player that supporters were most excited about was a young Serbian winger.
His performances in the 2013/14 Europa League campaign, which saw his Benfica team reach the final, caught the eye of many a manager. Liverpool were the ones to secure his services, signing him for around £20 million from the Portuguese giants. Despite having only joined Benfica from Partizan Belgrade the year before, Brendan Rodgers thought that he had seen the potential for him to become a world class winger.
From my point of view, part of Markovic failure at Anfield was down to the set-up, which he was a part of. Several new signings, the loss of Suárez and Sturridge’s increasingly frequent injuries meant that the manager didn’t know his best team. At times during the 2014/15 season, Rodgers dabbled in a system with three centre-backs. This required wing-backs. Alberto Moreno was made for the role on the left but we lacked someone to play on the right. Rodgers tried several options there, such as Raheem Sterling, Javier Manquillo and Lazar Markovic. Playing at wing-back and out of position restricted Markovic’s game massively. It required defensive responsibility as well; something which Markovic couldn’t deal with.
Personally, I felt that when Markovic did get the chance to play further forward, he didn’t perform badly. Arguably his best performance for Liverpool lasted just 15 minutes. It came after half-time in Liverpool’s final Champion’s League group stage game; a match that they needed to win. Subbed on for Lambert at half-time to provide extra creativity and pace, Markovic made an instant impact and looked as though he could help drive Liverpool to overturn their 1-0 deficit in order to qualify for the next round. Sadly, his influence on the game was short-lived, as, on 60 minutes, the referee wrongly dismissed him. Markovic was running with the ball and swung his arm back. This seemingly made the referee believe that he had elbowed the opposition player behind him. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. There had been little if any contact with his fingers. Going off on a tangent slightly, UEFA decided to then extend Markovic’ ban, despite him clearly being wrongly red carded. To this day, no one knows the reason. It really does make you wonder…
Despite this setback, he still enjoyed some decent performances in the FA Cup, however, like his Reds career, his FA Cup run that year ended in dismay, as he was substituted at half-time in Liverpool’s 2-1 semi-final defeat to Aston Villa.
February and March saw Liverpool and Markovic himself’s form pick up. Three starts in a row culminated with a 2-1 victory over Manchester City. Markovic then missed the next month. His return at The Emirates started well. Liverpool were dominating the play and Markovic had started well. This all turned on a moment still clear in my memory. Markovic found himself through on goal, one-on-one with Ospina. He had two options. He could shoot or play a simple three-yard pass left, to Sterling, who had an open goal. Instead, he played a strange pass too far in front of Sterling and the chance had gone. His head had gone and the whole team’s performance dipped. The game finished 4-1 to Arsenal and we were left rueing his missed chance to take the lead. Markovic didn’t start any of the final seven league matches following that match.
The manager took the decision to loan him out the next season. In the eyes of supporters, this all but ended his chances of eventually being a success at Liverpool. His year in Turkey at Fenerbache didn’t go as planned due to him being injured for much of the campaign. Next, a succession of loan spells at Sporting Lisbon, Hull City and Anderlecht all ended underwhelmingly. Even the arrival of Jurgen Klopp, a man notorious for improving the players which he inherits, couldn’t help the young Markovic.
Maybe if his flying volley against Sunderland, which hit the post, had moved 20cm to the left, his time at Anfield would have led a different path, but it wasn’t to be.
On 31st January 2019, late on deadline day, a club finally made a permanent move for the Serbian international.
Hopefully, Fulham will give the chance for Markovic to rekindle and restabilise his career and at the age of just 24, there is certainly still time for him to reach his potential.
Whether Markovic was a victim of circumstances, mentality or simply his footballing ability, this £20 million purchase will go down as one of the club’s worst ever transfers and just one of the stepping stones towards Brendan Rodgers’ downfall at Anfield.