Who is Marko Grujic? Here are five things Reds fans need to know about him.
1. He’s a World Cup winner (at U-20 level)
Grujic, 19, has represented Serbia at multiple age groups and was a member of their squad when they lifted this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Serbia’s previous involvement in winning a global crown was as part of the fabled generation that won Yugoslavia a junior world title in 1987.
Serbia beat Brazil 2-1 in this year’s final, with Grujic’s most notable contribution being a successful penalty in the shootout victory over the United States in the quarterfinals. He is now a regular for Serbia’s U-21 side.
2. He’s been compared to Steven Gerrard
No pressure or anything but the headline of the Serbian article linked in Grujic’s Facebook post, which called him “Serbia’s new Steven Gerrard,” wasn’t even the first such claim made.
The Reds great happened to be the first reference point used when Grujic was described to the Liverpool Echo by Serbia-based journalist and Reds follower Vlastimir Stevanovic: “If I had to compare Marko Grujic to anyone in terms of style of play, I’d compare him to our own Steven Gerrard. In Serbia they call him ‘the new Matic’ and in Italy they call him ‘the new Pogba.'”
As if those names were not illustrious enough, Stevanovic said some were “calling him the greatest talent to come out of Red Star Belgrade since Dejan Stankovic.” Again, no pressure.
A box-to-box player with a good engine rather than an out-and-out attacking or defensive midfielder, Grujic’s mixture of vision and athleticism means he is able to play as an advanced midfielder or deeper, as he currently does for Red Star.
3. He’s not expected to join until the summer
Having been at Red Star Belgrade since he was nine years old, Grujic has spoken of his loyalty to his hometown team for whom he made his debut in May 2013 aged just 17. He was given a run in the side early this season when a surprise exit from Europa League qualifying sparked a clear-out of players.
In debt to the tune of around €40 million, a sum not helped by them being banned from participation in last season’s Champions League because of Financial Fair Play breaches, Red Star have a motivation to sell, with Grujic expected to command a fee in the region of £4.3 million after they have paid Liverpool a loan fee. His club’s need to wipe out their debts and pay former players to have their Champions League sanctions lifted is likely to hasten a sale in January, but any such deal is expected to involve the player being loaned back to them for the rest of the season.
4. The appeal for Liverpool is obvious
The ways in which Grujic could help to meet shortcomings in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool squad are numerous. Good in the air and tall at 6-foot-3, he would offer some presence at set-pieces, an area in which they have leaked goals all season. Adding ballast to a midfield, much in the mould of Nemanja Matic, would also give Klopp more options in front of his back four.
Red Star manager Miodrag Bozovic has enthused about the 19-year-old’s dynamism, saying “Grujic is the leader of this team… he pulls us forward.” And five goals in 19 league appearances suggest a valuable source of extra goals at a time when Klopp’s choices in attack are limited by the fragility and apparent incompatibility of some of his forwards.
5. He will keep us posted
He told journalists in Serbia this month that he had spoken to Liverpool, saying: “I’ll try to respect the club, the fans and the general public, but again I think that for myself I have to choose the best environment where I get the chance to play and where I work with good coaches in good conditions. It is certain that I remain here until the end of qualifying for the Champions League. I had a talk with Liverpool but I did not receive yet any agreement. I’m still a Red Star player.”
The presence of Stankovic at Inter (where he works as a scout) led Grujic to tell reporters Inter was “a possible destination,” while Matic “is a friend, he’s Serbian and he’s been at Chelsea for more than a year — he told me they want me.” Liverpool’s trump cards may prove to be Zeljko Buvac, Liverpool’s Bosnian Serb assistant manager, a Serbian speaker, and Klopp, who is reported to have telephoned Grujic personally. The player has also spoken of his desire to play in England.
Grujic arrived on Merseyside on Monday for his medical with an announcement expected very shortly before he proceeds back to Red Star on loan. Right now, it is likely Klopp would prefer him to stay but that may not be possible.