Markovic: Of course Liverpool will win the title
Lazar Markovic is just 20 years old, but he already has a CV which would be the envy of many seasoned professionals. Three league titles in Serbia with Partizan Belgrade and one in Portugal with Benfica: that is some record.
So, does he expect to win the title this campaign with his new club, Liverpool? The answer is emphatic. “Of course.”
Flanked by an interpreter Markovic drifts comfortably between Serbian and English, delivering answers which brim with confidence and mischief.
Does he, for example, expect to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s best players? “Most likely. I am hoping so and I believe I will,” Markovic replies.
And what about the language barrier? “I understand most of it,” he says. “I only have a problem when journalists are asking the questions.”
The broad grin spreading across his face makes it clear Markovic is teasing, but his ease at jousting with the reporters gathered around him underlines his deep sense of belief. And no wonder: a gifted attacking player, who was given the nickname ‘The Butterfly’ because of his elusive speed and dribbling, Markovic commanded a £20 million transfer fee as part of Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers’s prodigious squad strengthening this summer.
“I was lucky enough to play in Serbia and play in Portugal but although Liverpool is different I have experienced a lot so young and obviously that has given me confidence,” Markovic explains. So why Liverpool? “Firstly, it is one of the best clubs in the world. Secondly, it is one of the best leagues in the world and, thirdly, Liverpool are superior and the strongest team, in my opinion, in England.”
Rodgers has brought in nine first-team players in all – with Divock Origi on loan for a season – at a cost of more than £100 million, a sum largely funded by the £75 million sale of Luis Suárez. Mario Balotelli is the latest and most high-profile signing at a cut-price £16 million from AC Milan.
The prospect of playing alongside the mercurial Balotelli is one to relish. “Yes, I am excited – I love good players and want to play with good players,” Markovic says. “We are all competent and good enough to win the title. It’s the confidence that I feel.”
Markovic has already described Steven Gerrard as the “king” of Liverpool and is clearly keen to learn from the club captain. “He gives advice all the time,” he says. Does Markovic always listen to advice? “Only the good stuff,” is the typically cheeky response.
A hamstring injury has stalled Markovic’s Liverpool career so far – limiting him to a single appearance, 45 minutes against Olympiakos in the pre-season tour to the United States – but he is now fully fit and hoping to be involved in tomorrow night’s hugely significant Premier League match away to the champions, Manchester City.
The game represents something of a reunion for Markovic: the City squad includes fellow Serbs Matija Nastasic and Aleksander Kolarov, plus the Montenegrin Stevan Jovetic.
“I spoke to them before I came here because I knew them and I’ve been in contact with them since I have been at Liverpool as well,” Markovic says. “I am quite good friends with Matija and with Jovetic as well – we speak every day.”
Markovic is from Cacak, in west-central Serbia, a town with a population of just under 75,000 but still renowned for its sporting prowess. Markovic was a good tennis and basketball player. “It’s famous for football. My brother Filip plays football. My father played football. They are similar players to me.”
Nevertheless, his father Negoslav did not rise higher than the amateur ranks and it was his brother, two years his elder, who was first spotted by Partizan.
“My brother was a big talent,” Markovic says. “But he was young and my family was not keen for him to go too early. I ended up going with him. They wanted my brother first but we followed him as a family and I ended up playing for Partizan.”
Both Markovic brothers joined the Partizan academy, the famed Youth School Belin, and Lazar progressed quickly, making his first-team debut at 17. Soon he was “winning a few titles” and coming to the attention of other clubs.
While Filip, an attacking midfielder, now plays for Real Mallorca in Spain, Lazar was initially being linked with a big-money move to Chelsea. “I was a Chelsea fan as a child because I liked Gianfranco Zola,” Markovic says. “I loved everything about him, the way he played.”
A poster of the Italian was above Markovic’s bed and he still dreams of emulating his joyous style. “Zola is the only one, but it will be possible. It is possible to be similar to Zola, but Zola is Zola.”
The link to Chelsea remained, even after his move to Benfica, with the Portuguese boasting a strong relationship with the west London club having sold the likes of David Luiz, Ramires and another Serb, Nemanja Matic, to Stamford Bridge.
Markovic enjoyed another outstanding season last year – even if he was denied an appearance in the Europa League final after a bizarre sending-off against Juventus in the semi-final when he clashed with Mirko Vucinic – but ultimately it was Liverpool who made their move.
“I watched Liverpool – I watched every one of their games last season because I love the Premier League,” Markovic says. “Their style of football is one of the main reasons why I came here. Last season, only bad luck played a part in the outcome: Liverpool were the best team.”
The scale of the fee for him is of no concern to Markovic and neither, he adds, is money a motivation. “I am not money‑orientated,” he says. “If I was money-orientated I would have gone somewhere else.”
Would that have been Chelsea? Markovic laughs. “I love Liverpool.”