This morning we were linked to 18 year old Serbian Lazar Markovic, a name probably unfamiliar to most of you. I doubt too many people have seen him, as the Serbian League isn't exactly on everyone's must see TV list. I'm certainly right there with all of you on that, as I can't say I've watched a single Partizan Belgrade game this season. I have seen Markovic quite a few times on the international level though (mostly at last summer's U17 UEFA championships), and it's been hard not to come away impressed by what he does to other players in his age group. I'd imagine the Serbian coaching staff feels the same way, as he made only a pair of starts at the U21 level this fall before being promoted into the senior national team this past February.
Markovic hasn't only been impressive for his country though...at the club level he's been exceptional as well. The youngster was just awarded the Partizan player of the year award, not a minor feat considering that they just won their 5th consecutive Serbian SuperLiga title. He's made 35 appearances for club and country this season, scoring 7 goals in all competitions. The 5'9" Markovic plays a very similar type of game to our own Gael Kakuta, and can be moved to either wing, anywhere in the midfield, or as a supporting striker. Where he'll ultimately end up playing is uncertain at this point, but I'd assume it will not be in a #9 role.
Being on the smallish side and possessing pretty good speed, my guess is that Markovic eventually finds his home on a wing. He's noted for being a very good dribbler, and he's not noticeably better with either foot. That type of two footed ability will certainly help him break through, as he's far more likely to be able to fill multiple roles because of it. His first touch is also noted as being fairly excellent for a young player. He generally does a nice job gaining control quickly, and he's actually very good with his head when he can get to the ball. That's a useful skill for poaching goals, although he'll never likely be an aerial target.
Markovic has several areas where his game does lack some polish. Despite playing quite a bit on the wings, Markovic isn't noted as being an exceptional crosser at this point. He's not really noted as a fantastic creator yet either, although that is probably due in part tot the general lack of talent in the league as much as anything. The unfortunate part about being so much better than your peers at such a young age is that you'll generally see those players take too much on themselves (see Lukaku, Romelu). The talent is certainly there though, and training and playing at a higher level should certainly help in that regard.
Markovic is also not a very strong defender at this point, although very few young attackers are. Where he's willing enough in tracking back, his small frame tends to lead to him being pushed off the ball quite often. It is worth noting though that the Serbian SuperLiga is a very physical league, possibly even more so than the Premier League in that regard. Having just turned 18, I'd expect Markovic to eventually develop more strength. That said, I doubt he'll ever be noted as a fantastic defender. Just being capable will do for a player with his attacking talent though, so there's certainly reasons for optimism.
Now for the fun stuff. Here's a few video's of Markovic in action. The first one was published last summer, so it doesn't have any of his work from this season included:
Here's a little more recent highlight reel of Markovic's, this includes mainly highlights from this past season:
As always, it's hard to take much from these types of highlight reel videos. They do give us a nice look at the player though, so at least we can picture what he actually looks like on the pitch. It's also nice to see him in action in several areas of the pitch, as we can really start to envision how he'd fit in for the future.
As mentioned earlier, this rumor is still just that...a rumor. I don't think there is any doubt that we're interested, as are just about every club out there (Barcelona have been heavily linked as well). Should we manage to finalize this deal, I'd have to think Markovic would be loaned out for another season or two before ever factoring into Chelsea's first team plans. That said, he'll certainly be one to watch regardless of what happens this summer. Feel free to discuss below, and let us know your thoughts on this kid.
One more point...if signed this summer, Markovic will be capable of qualifying as "homegrown" by the FA standards. Not a huge deal, but it's certainly worth considering.