Sunday 28 December 2014

Liverpool's £20m signing Lazar Markovic always seemed destined for Chelsea

Chris Bascombe

Published 15/07/2014 | 17:58

Lazar Markovic

Lazar Markovic has seemed destined for the Premier League since he was a teenager, but it is somewhat of a surprise he finds himself holding aloft a scarf at Anfield rather than Stamford Bridge today.

All roads appeared to lead to Chelsea for the 20-year-old, so much so it was twice erroneously announced he’d joined the London club in the past three years only for hastily prepared denials to follow.

Markovic has even been quoted saying he is a Chelsea fan and revealed how he spent time in London in 2013 to meet club officials and tour the stadium ahead of a proposed move.

“It is true that I was on a tour of the city and the stadium ... and met people from Chelsea, but I have not signed any contract or pre-contract,” said Markovic at the time.

“I had a great few days, however, it is far from being all done.”

Even this summer, while Liverpool concluded negotiations for the right winger, suggestions Chelsea could pounce and take advantage of a significantly reduced fee of 15 million euros had cynics wondering if a Willian-style hijack was being prepared.

Instead, Liverpool have completed a £20 million deal following complex discussions with Benfica during which the thorny issue of third party ownership needed to be negotiated and overcome.

Benfica only partly owned Markovic when they signed him from Partizan Belgrade last summer. He was half-owned by a players’ investment fund connected to the superagent Pini Zahavi.

Such third party ownership is banned in the Premier League but having flourished in South America it has become increasingly common and is perfectly legal across most of Europe, particularly in Spain and Portugal where investment funds have prospered. Clubs such as Atlético Madrid, Porto and Benfica have found it especially beneficial – anyone who thinks Atlético Madrid’s success last year was a tale of the plucky outsider overcoming the superpower of Real Madrid and Barcelona should pay more attention to how they signed so many top class players.

As the Premier League rules dictate, Liverpool have taken full ownership rights of Markovic on completing the £20 million transfer, but the traditional notion of a ‘club to club’ transaction is rapidly becoming infrequent when signing the most coveted overseas stars.

In this country, the shadow of the Carlos Tévez affair looms large and the Premier League’s focus is on ensuring the clubs solely own players’ contracts. However, there are signs they are not being attentive enough to what is happening abroad and how it can impact on the competitiveness in England.

What if clubs are investing in overseas players, part owning them and benefiting from their increased value at a later date? Is it conceivable for English clubs to take shares in the most highly rated overseas players in the knowledge they can buy them at a cheaper rate later, or influence to whom they are bought and sold?

Is it perfectly reasonable for clubs to yield significant profits from transactions which, on the surface at least, they have no obvious connection?

Markovic is one of several Premier League bound players this summer whose ownership situation has only become clear now he is joining an English club.

There was some confusion surrounding his economic rights prior to his arrival on Merseyside, an assortment of investment groups linked to him incorrectly.

When Markovic signed for Benfica last summer, Partizan Belgrade’s club president Dragan Duric suggested it was a temporary arrangement.

“Chelsea wants to loan Lazar to Benfica for two years,” he said.

Eight hours later it was stated these comments had been ‘lost in translation’ with Markovic penning a five year deal in Lisbon.

The London club were again linked with a move for youngster during the course of last season but, instead, it is destination Anfield.

The Liverpool perspective on this is they have shown their intent in the transfer market and moved swiftly to beat several competitors to his signature.

The club was prepared to pay a sizeable fee for one of Europe’s most highly rated players. They know third party investors have profited with Benfica but this is necessary to recruit such a promising and exciting youngster. No rules have been broken. This is the modern transfer system in operation, especially at the top end of the market.

For the curious, the feeling lingers that Liverpool have benefited because Chelsea have opted out of a deal that seemed to be going their way for three years.

Maybe the abundance of wide players already at Stamford Bridge, not least Willian and Mohamed Salah (both former Liverpool targets) is a logical explanation. Jose Mourinho may have his eyes elsewhere or simply not recognise the talent the Liverpool scouts have identified.

Markovic himself will know he is more likely feature regularly under Brendan Rodgers than Mourinho, who has so many more alternatives.

Maybe this deal demonstrates the lure of Liverpool is so much greater now they are back in the Champions League.

Having missed out on so many targets that were diverted to Stamford Bridge, Liverpool fans will no doubt welcome a situation where – in stark contrast to those transfer disappointments during their Champions League exile – they have signed a player that was pursued for so long by their top four rivals.

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